James Cromwell: Jude Law’s Pretty Pontiff on HBO’s ‘The Young Pope’ Better Watch His Back

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Imagine totally dedicating yourself to your career. You sacrifice everything to one day be top dog. And then you’re passed up for your own babyfaced protégé. THAT. CUNNING. LITTLE. BASTARD. Such is life for The Young Pope‘s Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell), who was primed to make the Vatican his digs when his slippery surrogate son, Lenny (Jude Law), unexpectedly beat him to the papal throne. In tonight’s episode, Spencer finally tells Lenny that he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take this anymore. We talked to Emmy winner Cromwell about the shocked and flawed holy man.

Spencer’s a shrewd guy. How’d Lenny slip by him?
Lenny mirrors back only what people want to see. Spencer was completely fooled into thinking that Lenny supported his raison d’être, which was to be pope. What Spencer should have done is turn the mirror around and look at his own overweening ambition.

What’s Spencer’s plan B?
He still thinks that somehow he can be pope. You’ll see him do anything, even abase himself, in the hope that Lenny will change his mind or they’ll find some way of excommunicating him.

RELATED: Jude Law: The Young Pope‘s Protagonist Is Unpredictable

Is he more a baddie or more a goodie?
You could say Spencer’s a really bad guy, but I don’t. I see him like somebody at Enron who got passed over for CEO. He’s still got his job as the vice president of international affairs or whatever, but he’s galled and can’t (or won’t) hide it.

What’s the deal with the aviator sunglasses that he wears inside his already batcave-dark house?
I picked those glasses! If the eyes are the gateway to the soul, Spencer’s eyes would betray his cowardice, his envy, his pettiness, and his grief. So he hides them.

Lenny is a total conservative—much more like our old pope, Benedict, than our current one, Francis.
I’ve got to hand it to the Catholic Church with Francis. I haven’t really heard of any man of faith standing up and addressing the things he does or talking about protecting the environment the way he did. People rarely listen to their government, but they almost always listen to their religious leaders.

The Young Pope, Monday, January 23, 9/8c, HBO