A Film About A Legend... And A Legend In Its Making
About the production
"We first thought of filming in Italy," remembers producer Kurt Unger, "but came to the conclusion that it would be too expensive. So we decided on England. At the same time, we shot about three weeks in Romania that was a brand new type of location never seen on film. We also shot in Cypress, which stood in for Athens.
The Romanian film industry was of course very small," continues Kurt. "I think the idea of shooting some of the major scenes added to the look of the movie - the hills, mountains, castles. We had the contrast of coming from affluent London to a very poor, run down, tightly controlled Romania and it was very interesting to work with film crews whose only goal was to make a good film."
Casting Pope Joan - a highly contended role
The script had been sent around to several different agents leading to an enormous interest from many women, including Helen Mirren and Vanessa Redgrave. "The one who wanted it most of all was Susannah York," recalls scriptwriter Briley. "She actually wanted to do an audition for it, she wanted the role so badly. She had a feeling at the end of the interview that she wasn’t going to get it and left the room crying."
Kurt Unger also has vivid memories of the casting for Joan, "The star had to be able to convince an audience that she could actually get away with being a man and that’s not easy." Briley adds, "The more we saw of Liv Ullman, the more we felt that she was not only physically right for it, it was also a wonderful opportunity to get a great performance in the critical role."
Casting the other leads
Unger reflects, "We spent a lot of time on casting the film...almost as much as making it. Ullmann was still a foreign artist so the complimentary cast had to be strong. I think we were very lucky in getting Franco Nero, he was practically born for that role. We realised we were better sticking with European or English actors and actresses.
The casting of the other parts was also not easy as they were all very strong characters. For anybody to represent a Pope, that actor has to be only the greatest otherwise it would not be believable."
Choosing the support cast
She Who Would Be Pope reveals an amazing cast list including some wonderful early appearances from a wealth of British actors and actresses. Most notable among them were Jeremy Kemp, a fine actor who appeared as Joan’s father; Patrick Magee, a familiar face to millions of cinema audiences the world; Andre Morell made a brief appearance as Emperor Louis; Lesley Anne Down appeared as Cecilia, the ill fated friend of Joan; also making his debut and cast as young monk was Nigel Havers.