D Dipasupil/FilmMagic
Lanford Beard
January 15, 2017 10:00 PM

While it’s certainly not the first time Jude Law has bared himself — spiritually and physically — on camera, but usually he hasn’t stepped straight into papal robes after.

As a controversial new head of the Catholic Church in the new HBO series The Young Pope, Law strips down for not one but two scenes within the first minute.

Of the risqué depiction of his holiness, Law tells PEOPLE: “What Paolo [Sorrentino, the show’s creator] wanted to demonstrate early on was this idea of him being [on the cusp of his new power] — you see the man, his naked form and then the costume, as it were, the outfit that he then puts on that, if you like, comes to define him.”

And though Law’s Pope Pius XII (né Lenny Belardo) shows that one, brief glimpse of that naked vulnerability, the rest of the series shows him ruling the Vatican with an increasingly iron fist — a character trait the 44-year-old actor admits he wasn’t entirely

“There aren’t too many qualities that I would say I share with him,” says Law. “Certainly some opinions of his and the treatment of certain people [I had to reconcile as an actor]. It was not hard, but it’s not always nice playing someone who’s so brutal. But that’s what it’s always like. If you play someone, you have to understand them and love them for all of their qualities — good and bad.”

For that task, the two-time Oscar nominee found a very specific, ritualistic way to access the psyche of Lenny, an American orphan raised in an extremely conservative Catholic parish.

“I was really interested to work out a list of rules that Lenny used to maneuver through the terrain of the Vatican,” he reveals. “It was a process of creating survival techniques that went back to when he was a boy — who he chose to shut out, who he chose to let in and why, how much he reveal to who when. And it was literally a list of rules that I had tacked up in my dressing room and looked at every day.”

The Young Pope airs Sundays and Mondays (9 p.m. ET) on HBO.

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