They've already courted controversy among Catholics by casting Jude Law as an ultra-conservative American Young Pope. Now TV companies HBO and Sky are set to cause further consternation with the announcement of a spin-off series, The New Pope, which will be filmed late next year. While creator Paolo Sorrentino hasn't ruled out the idea of Law appearing in the series in a reprisal of his Pope Pius XIII character, he won't be the show's focus.
So with a casting search underway to play the central role in the new drama, Christian Today thought it would be helpful to present the producers with a few options. Here's our entirely speculative list of actors who'd each bring something very different to the role of Pope.
The Action Pope – Jason Statham
Just as the producers of the Fast and Furious film series discovered, there's no-one more qualified to breathe new life into a long-running franchise than 'The Stath'. Imagine the Transporter star kicking and punching his way through the corridors of the Vatican in a long white dress. When a 400-year-old canon law needs changing, this is the Pope who'll get the job done.
The Female Pope – Meryl Streep
Every time the BBC casts a new Doctor Who, a loud lobby of fans and equality campaigners asks: 'Why can't it be a woman this time?' The new series could blaze a trail where Who has so far feared to tread by casting one of Hollywood's multitude of talented actresses. And who better than perennial Oscar-nominee Meryl to take on the job of adding a feminine touch to the Holy See?
The Statesman Pope – Sir Michael Caine
A veteran of nearly 90 films and counting, the one-time 'Top Geezer' of swinging 60s cinema is now playing more refined and statesman-like roles. At the age of 84 he's at the sort of age consistent with real-world popes, and just like the last few octogenarians to take up the highest office in Catholic showbusiness, he's lost none of his sharpness. Imagine the scene at his election when the papal conclave ends with a surprise explosion: 'You were only supposed to blow the... white smoke out.'
The Serious Actor Pope – David Oyelowo
Selma and Queen of Katwe star Oyelowo has already played one iconic religious and political figurehead in Martin Luther King, so perhaps the papal reins are the next natural step. After being shockingly overlooked for awards in his most famous role, he'll be certain to sweep the board at the Emmys, Golden Globes, Baftas (and possibly even the Grammys) the next time he's given a meaty populist part. As one of the best actors working in Hollywood – and a committed Christian – he'd be a great choice if Sorrentino wants to add some gravitas to the show.
The Comedy Pope – Steve Carrell
Even though Sorrentino's first series was a dark, simmering drama, there's no reason why the spin-off has to follow suit. Instead it could be a slapstick comedy, or even a mockumentary in the style of Spinal Tap. In either case, we think American Office and Evan Almighty star Carrell would be perfect in the lead role, as a bumbling Pontiff who gets locked in the Popemobile, loses his hat on the balcony in St Peter's Square, and get's caught in an excruciating PR disaster after mixing up the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
The Devout Pope – Frank Skinner
After upsetting Catholics with his first series, Sorrentino could look to re-engage them by casting a devout practising Catholic in the new role. British comedian Skinner regularly talks about his faith on screen at every opportunity – rarely does an episode of his hit show Room 101 go by without references to it – so playing the earthly figurehead of his denomination could be the natural next step.
The Unlikely Pope – Russell Brand
If it's stunt casting that Sky and HBO are after, then they could do worse than approaching long-haired comedian-turned-philosopher Brand, who has announced his admiration for most belief systems at some point. Having been on his own redemptive journey (during which he may have committed almost all of the possible sins listed by the Catholic Church), Brand could add some intriguing depth to the role, and play the Pope as a YouTubing football fan who's trying innovative new methods to reconnect the Church with a younger generation.