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Why The Pope From The Pope's Exorcist Looks So Familiar

"The Pope's Exorcist" may focus heavily on Russell Crowe's Father Gabriele Amorth and his attempts to perform a particularly tricky exorcism with Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), but as the title implies, the head of the Catholic Church is very much a part of the proceedings. Amoth's mission to save young Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) comes specifically from the Pope, after all, and the Holy See is extremely connected to the case throughout the events of the film. 

When the hero of the movie is played by a star of Crowe's caliber, it takes a truly magnetic screen presence to portray the supreme pontiff during their scenes together. "The Pope's Exorcist" solved the dilemma by casting veteran actor Franco Nero in the role. Active since the early 1960s, Nero has won numerous awards for his acting work, and he's appeared in some truly memorable roles over the decades. Let's take a look at some of his best-known roles.

Nero was the original Django and turns up in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, too

Today, the name "Django" calls to mind Quentin Tarantino's celebrated 2012 Western "Django Unchained," but the movie actually draws inspiration from Sergio Corbucci's classic 1966 Spaghetti Western, which is simply called "Django." Franco Nero plays the titular role, which marked his big breakthrough in the Italian film industry. Tarantino actually acknowledged Nero's status as the original Django by giving him a cameo in "Django Unchained," showing Nero's Amerigo Vessepi character briefly discussing the pronunciation of the name Django with Jamie Foxx's protagonist. 

Nero was to Corbucci what Clint Eastwood was to fellow Spaghetti Western icon Sergio Leone, and as a Western star, he got to rub shoulders with some extremely well-known names in the industry. In an interview with Cine-Excess, Nero shared a peculiar acting tip he received from none other than John Wayne himself. 

"I met John Wayne a few times and I can tell you this story because it's terrible!" Nero said. "He once looked at me and said, 'They tell me that you are doing Spaghetti Westerns?' I said, 'Yes.' He went on, 'When you choose a horse, what do you do? Do you choose a big horse?' I said, 'Well, yes!' He said, 'Never choose a big horse.' I said, 'Why?' He continued, 'Because if you do, the audience will be looking at the horse and not at you!' So the idea was to choose a small horse to make yourself look more important. It was very funny, that advice, and I was very surprised that such a big American star was so concerned by these things!"

He was the partisan Lescovar in Force 10 from Navarone

A lifetime of working in international movie productions all across the world has both kept Franco Nero busy and made his career all but impossible to sum up in one article. Since the early 1960s, he's amassed multiple acting credits almost every year, acting in a wide variety of roles. He's often operated in his native Italian language, but he's hardly an unknown entity in the English-speaking corners of world cinema, either. 

One movie English-speaking movie aficionados will quite likely remember him from is Guy Hamilton's 1978's war movie classic "Force 10 from Navarone." A sequel to 1961's "Guns of Navarone," one of the movie's main missions involves tracking down a major traitor from "Guns of Navarone," Nicolai (Tutte Lemkow). Now played by Nero and operating under the guise of a partisan commander called Lescovar, the character proves to be an even worse force of chaos than he was in the first movie. 

The comparatively pulpy "Force 10 from Navarone" didn't exactly enthrall the critics when it came out, but as time has passed, it has grown into one of the underrated war movies you should see. Acting opposite stars like Robert Shaw, Carl Weathers, and an early-career Harrison Ford — fresh off from his breakthrough role as Han Solo, no less — the mustache-rocking Nero brings his own considerable charisma in the mix, deftly holding his own against the Hollywood heroes. 

His minions attacked Dulles International Airport in Die Hard 2

The Republic of Val Verde must not be a very nice place to live, considering that it's ruled by a dictatorial drug lord called General Ramon Esperanza. Franco Nero portrays the villain in Renny Harlin's sequel to the classic Christmas movie "Die Hard." In "Die Hard 2," the plot revolves around a terror attack orchestrated by the imprisoned Esperanza's ally, Colonel Stuart (William Sadler). Unfortunately for the villains, John McClane (Bruce Willis) happens to be at the airport to pick up his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), and once again manages to save the day after facing almost but not quite insurmountable odds. 

The Renny Harlin movie might not live up to its stone-cold classic of a predecessor, but "Die Hard 2" is still a fun action thriller that features some pretty amazing set pieces — including the grand finale that shows McClane trying to stop Esperanza's escape plane. It may seem strange to see an Italian star like Nero portraying a Latin American dictator, and in an interview with Flashback Files, the actor described the convoluted route that ended up landing him the part.  

"I had an accountant in America, named Fred Altman, who was the same accountant that Joel Silver, the producer, used," he said. "Fred always liked to have movie posters in his office from all over the world. He asked me if I could bring him some movie posters from Poland or the Czech Republic. And I did, but I only brought him posters of my movies. So Fred put them all up in the corridor of his office. One day Joel Silver comes in and he sees all these posters: Franco Nero, Franco Nero, Franco Nero. He asks Fred: 'Do you know this Franco Nero?' Fred said: 'Yes, he's my client.' Joel Silver said: 'I want him!' Next day Renny Harlin called and said he grew up with my movies and he wanted me for 'Die Hard 2'."

He managed the Rome branch of Continental Hotel in John Wick: Chapter 2

Who do you cast when you need to introduce a new branch of the Continental Hotel in a "John Wick" sequel and need a manager who can live up to the suave charm of Ian McShane's Winston? Franco Nero, that's who. Nero joined the "John Wick" universe in 2017's "John Wick: Chapter 2" as Julius, the owner of Rome's very own Continental Hotel. 

Julius is the same kind of powerful, yet affable person that Winston is, and Nero being Nero, the delivery isn't a problem. Amusingly given the actor's role in "The Pope's Exorcist," Julius' biggest concern about John's (Keanu Reeves) presence in Rome is the possibility that he might be out to take out the Pope, but otherwise, he's cool as a cucumber with both Mr. Wick and the other notorious assassins that he hosts. 

Though Nero and McShane don't actually appear in the movie together at any point, Nero's casting as Winston's European counterpart was doubly appropriate because the actors know each other and actually go way back. "The last time I worked with Franco, we did a TV movie together back in 1978 — Harold Robbins' 'The Pirate,'" McShane told Den of Geek in 2017. "I remember it because we spent most of the time going to the World Cup. Franco and I used to go down there all the time with another Italian producer called Fernando Ghia. When soccer wasn't so much a known thing."