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Sebastian Roché Is a Villain and a Man of God

The actor opens up about playing two very different roles

At the moment, actor Sebastian Roché’s two roles could not be more different: In The Man in the High Castle, he plays Reichsminister Martin Heusmann, a high-ranking Nazi serving Hitler in an alternate universe where the United States lost WWII. In The Young Pope, he’s a pious man of the cloth, Cardinal Michel Marivaux. Despite the stark and obvious contrast between these characters, the two shows share something in common (besides intricate costumes, which Roché says make it much easier to get into character). Neither depicts the world as it really is, but both television universes are plausible and powerful enough to spawn a slew of think pieces pondering faith, bad vs. good, and of course, the recent presidential election.

One look at Roché’s Twitter makes it clear why he was drawn to such thought-provoking shows. He does not hold back his opinions on much. Here, he elaborated a bit on his roles and the state of the world.

Who is your character on The Young Pope?

I play the head of the Congregation of Saints, Cardinal Michel Marivaux. I will appear in the last four episodes. You can see me in episode one and two, but it’s just amongst hundreds of cardinals. But then you’ll see that [Pope Pius XIII] starts having a closer relationship with the cardinal who he meets. He tends to surround himself with people who he finds are honest and earnest and true believers in the church. In the faith. I approach him about canonizing this saint who I’d been researching because that’s my job as the leader of the Congregation of Saints, and he gets very inspired by my story. 

Could you imagine life as a priest or cardinal?

I can understand. I think it comes from a deep faith and passion. Myself, I was bitten by the acting bug. The dedication I have to acting and the passion that I have for it, I think I can truly make a correlation with having faith. I think it’s a very subjective and personal thing when you find that faith, that passion. I can totally understand being completely dedicated to one’s faith and the Catholic church.

Sebastian Roché

How realistic is The Young Pope?

I mean, I think it’s very close. Paolo [Sorrentino’s] approach is somewhat different because he introduces a whole new world of images that are sort of philosophical images that I think he feels illustrate what is going on at the same time. There’s an extraordinary amount of poetry. I think no one has ever seen something like The Young Pope as a miniseries because of the incredible personality and poetry that Paolo infuses in the work. In the reality of it, I think it could be close to the politics that go on within the vatican. Men are men, after all. They are fallible creatures, as we can see right now in the government that God knows why they elected.

Has the Catholic church given a reaction to this show?

They’re usually very silent on this sort of thing unless it’s a huge attack on the Catholic church, and I think judging by the huge number that they got in Italy, I wouldn’t be surprised if [Pope] Francis watched it.

Your character on The Man in the High Castle is pretty much the opposite of a priest—he’s a high ranking Nazi officer. With that show, has there been any controversy or backlash? 

It’s very strange actually, playing a high ranking Nazi who, I in a way become the fuhrer, without divulging too much. I understand the controversy, it’s very difficult for certain people to see such a symbol. With our election, I think, with the rhetoric that’s being spewed, which is a little scary, there’s a timely element to the series. So I understand why there was controversy [when season one came out]. This time, when the series came out it was not really a controversy, but more like people equating the show with reality. 

You’ve been very vocal on Twitter about the election. Why is that so important? 

I was reading quotes from Martin Luther King, I’m sort of paraphrasing but I think he said there’s nothing more criminal than to be silent. That’s my take on it. I was born in France, my father was not a political figure, but he was a mayor and he was very engaged into what he was doing and what the political party was doing. I’ve always believed that it is important to have an opinion. I’ve found that a lot of people would rather “not talk about politics” and would rather be quiet. I believe that it is our right as citizens, and if you look at the constitution it is our right to voice our opinion. Especially in this day and age when you have an administration that is on the verge of repealing health care to 30 million people, which is, in the rest of the civilized world, literally an unconscionable thought. It’s important to voice your opposition to that if you’re against it and to voice your opinion. When you have a buffoon of a president-elect who is showing himself to be a buffoon by tweeting in the most unconscionable way every single day about things that are of no consequence, I think it’s time to denounce it.