Film and TV can open your mind to a world of possibilities, and they can also be the catalyst for a sense of wanderlust. Take The Two Popes for example. Set primarily in Rome, the film explores dozens of historically significant places in the Italian capital that will make you want to experience the city ASAP. But exactly where was The Two Popes filmed, and was it shot on location?
It certainly was. Filming started in late 2017, beginning in Buenos Aires. Here the production team filmed scenes for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce) to capture his backstory before making his way to Rome. This included flashback scenes that were shot “at the exact spot where [he] made the decision to enter the priesthood,” and also included the “village quarters where [Bergoglio] served as a Cardinal for several years,” as entertainment site The Cinemaholic notes.
Filming then moved onto Rome, which included locations such as the exterior of Casa Gandolfo, “the summer residence used by Pope Benedict during his papacy,” and other important places across the capital and Vatican City. The world-famous Sistine Chapel played a major role in the film, which is known for its strict policies on filming and photography. As The Los Angeles Times reports, the real Sistine Chapel “limits its number of daily visitors and forbids any kind of photography.” They also note that the Vatican “does not allow any narrative projects to film on location,” except for documentaries that “are approved on a case-by-case basis.”
With this in mind, the team didn’t even bother trying to get permission to film in the Chapel. Instead, production designer Mark Tildesley used Rome’s Cinecitta Studio to re-create the world-famous spot. Production took 10 weeks and is truly a sight to behold. “Ours is actually 1 or 2 inches bigger than the original, so we can technically say that we made the bigger Sistine Chapel,” Tildesley told The LA Times.
Guided by historian and art expert Enrico Bruschini, who “gives group tours of the chapel weekly,” art director Stefano Maria Ortolani was tasked with re-creating the interior of the building alongside Tildesley. It was a hefty task, but thanks to some production magic the team were able to make the detailed artwork throughout the Chapel as realistic as possible.
This was done by using the “tattoo wall” technique, where “an image is printed onto a film, transferred to a surface and covered with a substance that sucks the paint into the plaster,” as The LA Times explains. “It had to be the highest possible quality because we knew there would be close-ups,” Tildesley said.
The end result is a remarkable rendition of the Sistine Chapel, which can easily be mistaken for the real thing. If you’ve never experienced the Chapel in person — or Rome in general — The Two Popes is a fantastic reason to explore the city.