Interview: Anthony McCarten, Screenwriter of The Two Popes

Posted on December 20, 2019 at 7:22 am

My interview with screenwriter Anthony McCarten (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Theory of Everything”) about “The Two Popes” has been published by the Association of Women Film Journalists. An excerpt:

Sometimes history is made by groups of people in labs or courtrooms or legislative bodies or battlefields. Sometimes history is made by two people talking to each other quietly. We hear those stories less often. It may be that what makes those changes possible is keeping them secret. Perhaps that is what makes imagining them so irresistible. That is what screenwriter Anthony McCarten has done in fact-based films like Bohemian Rhapsody, The Darkest Hour, and his latest, The Two Popes.

For the first time in nearly 700 years, a pope (Sir Anthony Hopkins as the more conservative Pope Benedict) resigned instead of serving until death. That made it possible for him to play an unprecedented role in encouraging and supporting the choice of his successor, Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce as the first pope from the Americas).

Copyright Netflix 2019

In an interview, McCarten talked about what “great directing” by Fernando Meirelles added to the film, and why this is his “most adventurous” film…..Minow: In some of your other films based on real-life characters you had tremendous amounts of information about what went on even in their private moments. You had correspondence and diaries as well as a lot of documentation of their public moments. But here you really had to imagine conversations that no one knows anything about.

McCarten: You’re quite right. This is probably the most adventurous of the films I’ve done. There’s some artistic license but, I hope no less responsible than anything that I’ve done and ultimately, hopefully, no less truthful. These conversations that I imagined are based on deep research. In fact I did so much research that there’s an accompanying nonfiction book that you can buy in all good bookstores which shows how I really went into their pasts and looked at all the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Pope Benedict. It’s essential in all these ventures that you get it right as much as possible and in this particular case it is literally sacred ground. So, it cannot be careless and it cannot be flippant in any way. It has to be embedded in known truths. In fact, even when I create these long dialogues between these two, those dialogues are reflections of their stated positions about the future of this 2000 year old institution.

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