×

Listen: Anthony McCarten on Writing ‘The Two Popes,’ a Movie About ‘Two Old Guys in Dresses Talking About God’

Anthony McCarten was in Rome when his sister called to tell him that one of their cousins had passed away. She asked him to stop by a church and light candle.

The Oscar-nominated screenwriter headed to St. Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis was giving an open mass.

“Having been raised Catholic in quite an intensely Catholic family, I knew about that Pope. And I also knew there was another one, there was a second Pope — a shadow Pope — the German Pope who had resigned. And although I was raised Catholic, I didn’t know the details of that resignation,” McCarten says on this week’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast. “It kind of passed me by. So I got out my phone and I Googled, ‘When was the last time a Pope resigned?’ And the number 700 came up, 700 years. It was 1213 when a man called Celestine V decided to resign because he just had enough.”

And that’s when McCarten decided to write a play that would eventually become “The Two Popes,” the Netflix film starring Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as the Argentinian cardinal now known as Pope Francis. The film imagines a series of conversations between the two men as Pope Benedict reveals that he is going to resign.

Popular on Variety

No surprise, but McCarten didn’t have any access to the actual popes. “They didn’t supply me with a giant key or anything like I got an entry to the walled city,” McCarten said. “No, it was one of the more interesting experiments I’ve done with the biographical form in a way in that I did enough research to know what the stated positions of each character was and their idiosyncrasies and how they were. But they had delivered these statements and proclamations and so forth in separate rooms. So this is where I got involved and got excited was that I opened doors and got them into the same room and contrived a conversation, a debate between them.”

Directed by Fernando Meirelles (below left with McCarten, right), “The Two Popes” goes into the Golden Globes with four nominations, including nods for best picture, McCarten for screenplay, Pryce for lead actor and Hopkins for supporting.

Fernando Meirelles and Anthony McCarten'The Two Popes' film gala screening, Arrivals, AFI Fest, TCL Chinese Theatre, Los Angeles, USA - 18 Nov 2019
CREDIT: Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

“The Two Popes” has also been a part of the Oscar conversation since it premiered at Telluride, with McCarten’s track record consistently referenced as a hopeful talking point. He wrote “The Theory of Everything,” “Darkest Hour” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which earned Oscars for Eddie Redmayne, Rami Malek and Gary Oldman, respectively.

McCarten insists he’s already won. “Audiences are responding in an unbelievably cool way,” he said. At one screening, a man fell into McCarten’s arms with tears streaming down his face. “We had about 20 people who you wanted to say to them, ‘Don’t drive home in this condition. Sit down for 10 minutes,’” McCarten recalled. “Who would think that a movie about two old guys in dresses talking about God would do this?”

Besides, McCarten added, he’s changed since the first time he did the awards circuit. “I have a relaxation that I didn’t have,” he explained. “I was very anxious and quite competitive and I’m from a very large family and I’m quite a competitive person. So I remember the first go around, I bought into it. I was really wanting to win. [But] it can overwhelm you. It’s not good. It’s not good. It doesn’t bring out the best side of your nature. It’s not good for your creativity. It’s not good for the reason why we’re all here — to make good art. Artists shouldn’t be put in competition with each other.”

“The Two Popes” is available now on Netflix.

Next up for McCarten is a Broadway musical based on the life of Neil Diamond as well as a biopic about the Bee Gees. You can find out what he had to say about these upcoming projects by listening to the full interview below. (You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.)

More Film

  • Nardjes A.

    ‘Invisible Life’s’ Karim Ainouz Drops Trailer for 'Nardjes A.’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    On Feb. 14 last year, Karim Aïnouz arrived in Algeria to trace via the story of his parents the Algerian Revolution which happened 60 years ago – its 1954-62 War of Independence from France. The uprising he very quickly started to shoot, however, was one happening right then, the Revolution of Smiles, whose first street [...]

  • Call of the Wild

    Harrison Ford in 'The Call of the Wild': Film Review

    Dogs, in their rambunctious domesticated way, can lead us overly civilized humans a step or two closer to the natural world. So it’s only fitting that the best dog movies have saluted that unruly canine spirit without a lot of artificial flavoring. Hollywood’s classic dog tales, like “Old Yeller” (1957) or “Lassie Come Home” (1943), [...]

  • Adventures of a Mathematician

    Indie Sales Unveils Trailer For 'Adventures of a Mathematician' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In the run up to Berlin’s European Film Market, Indie Sales has unveiled the trailer for Thor Klein’s “Adventures of a Mathematician” which had its world premiere in Palm Springs. The film tells the inspiring true story of a Polish-Jewish mathematician who got a fellowship at Harvard and went on to join the prestigious Manhattan [...]

  • Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE

    How Internet Backlash Helped 'Sonic the Hedgehog' Avoid Box Office Disaster

    It’s not a stretch to say Universal’s “Cats” and Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” had two of the most polarizing movie trailers in recent memory. Both caught fire online for all the wrong reasons after fans on social media torched the questionable CGI. “Cats,” an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, used a new science called [...]

  • Neumond Berlin Germany Restaurant

    Berlin Offers Diversity in Restaurant Scene

    Berlin Film Festival attendees have a chance to sample the diverse cuisine of a foodie city. Some of the top pics for a pre-film repast: Adana Grillhaus  A hugely popular Turkish restaurant in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, Adana Grillhaus now has a second location right around the corner. Manteuffelstr. 86 +49 30 6127790 Skalitzer Str. 105 [...]

  • my salinger year

    Berlin Festival's New Selection Committee Takes Off

    Berlin’s new seven-member selection committee — four women and three men — comprises the core of new director Carlo Chatrian’s programming staff, which is led Canadian critic Mark Peranson. Peranson was the Locarno Film Festival’s chief of programming when Chatrian headed that Swiss festival. This year, Berlin is opening with “My Salinger Year,” starring Sigourney [...]

  • Mariette Rissenbeek Berlin Film Festival Executive

    Mariette Rissenbeek Faces Challenges as Berlin Festival Executive Director

    Making her debut as the new executive director of the Berlin Film Festival this year, Mariette Rissenbeek is facing some big challenges after taking over management duties at one of the world’s biggest public film fests. Rissenbeek and new artistic director Carlo Chatrian succeed Dieter Kosslick, who left an indelible mark on the fest after [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content