Set to star in Anthony McCarten’s papal play The Two Popes, Miriam Balanescu speaks to venerated actor Anton Lesser
From playing prime ministers in The Crown and A United Kingdom, to regal roles in Wolf Hall and The Hollow Crown, Anton Lesser is no stranger to characters of authority. Renowned for screen appearances in the likes of Game of Thrones, Endeavour and Killing Eve, Anton will soon make his stage return as one of the most imperial figures of all.
The Two Popes last ran as The Pope in 2019, and its popularity persists post-pandemic. “People are fascinated by a human being who has authority thrust upon them,” says Anton. “When you put a crown or mitre on their head, they become something other than human. It’s an enduring theme of all the great writers: what is it to be in authority, and does that authority persist even when the trappings are taken away?
“As we go into a world where there are bigger problems common to us all, and we’re dealing with things on a global scale,” Anton continues, “institutions like monarchy must be continually re-examined as to their relevance and function. Whether they’re actually an expression of something that’s true, or something that’s been outdated. That’s why a series like The Crown is interesting, because it shines a light on what’s been a mystery, but is increasingly less mysterious as the world becomes more connected.”
Hinging on conversations between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergoglio) before the former’s resignation in 2013, Anthony McCarten’s original script soared to the big screen with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce. “I remember watching the film and feeling two things,” says Anton. “Envious of the breadth of canvas – you can actually go to the places that Francis talks about in his past – but also happy that it’s a different genre, a different way of expressing something. Theatre has the benefit of allowing you to concentrate on the relationship. The scenery is better – because you make it up!”
Continue reading in the September issue of Cambridge Edition here.