VATICAN CITY – Welsh actor and singer Jonathan Pryce served as a body double for Pope Francis during a six-day trip to Mexico last February, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed on Saturday. The sixty-nine year-old Pryce, who appeared in a number of high budget films including Pirates of the Caribbean and GI Joe: Retaliation, was contacted by the Vatican last year to act as a stand-in for the pope amid heightened security concerns surrounding his trip to Mexico.
Despite safety assurances from the Mexican government, which deployed some ten thousand soldiers and police throughout the country ahead of the papal visit, Vatican officials remained uncertain as to whether Pope Francis would be adequately protected. “The decision to use a body double was not an easy one,” Father Lombardi explained. “His Holiness expressed regret over his absence but took solace in knowing his spirit is forever present among the Mexican people.”
In the weeks leading up to the pope’s historic visit to Mexico, actor Jonathan Pryce traveled to Vatican City where he shadowed Pope Francis day and night in an effort to learn his mannerisms and speech patterns. “[The actor] displayed an almost godlike ability in his portrayal of His Holiness,” Father Lombardi said, adding that even the pope’s closest advisers were unable to distinguish between Pryce and Pope Francis.
Pryce’s acting abilities notwithstanding, Vatican officials expressed some doubt over his capacity to lead Mass, particularly in Ciudad Juarez – a border city plagued by kidnappings and cartel violence – where the pope was scheduled to address a congregation of 200,000 people. Despite their misgivings, Pryce exceeded the Vatican’s expectations and even diverted from script when the actor addressed what he called an ongoing “humanitarian crisis” along the U.S.-Mexico border.
According to the Vatican, Pryce received no compensation – monetary or otherwise – for acting as a stand-in for Pope Francis. However, Father Lombardi said the Holy See has pre-approved Pryce for canonization by which, upon his death, he will be inducted into sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church.
Jonathan Pryce, who portrays the High Sparrow in the HBO series Game of Thrones, has since appeared in place of the pope on two other occasions since returning from Mexico. “In late April, His Holiness was suffering from a touch of the flu, so I was flown in to lead Mass in St. Peter’s Square,” the actor told the Daily Mail. “The following week I had the distinct honor of performing a number of papal blessings at the Basilica,” Pryce said, adding that performing as a body double for Pope Francis has been “the greatest role” of his life.