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Benedict Cumberbatch Reflects on the Difficulties of Playing Julian Assange

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: Actor Benedict Cumberbatch attends The Cinema Society with Vanity Fair & Richard Mille screening of DreamWorks Pictures'
Cumberbatch. Photo: Stephen Lovekin/2013 Getty Images

WikiLeaks was not happy about the release of The Fifth Estate, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the organization’s founder, Julian Assange. At the end of September, Josh Singer’s script was WikiLeaked, along with point-by-point refutation of the film’s depiction of events. And yesterday, WikiLeaks published Assange’s dramatic, negative response to Cumberbatch’s request to meet with him before filming. (“You will be used, as a hired gun,” Assange wrote. “To assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it.”) Nevertheless, the Cinema Society screened the movie last night, and Cumberbatch was there to introduce it. The actor began by describing the most famous resident of London’s Ecuadorean embassy as “an extraordinary man to portray,” though he acknowledged that the project was “not without its difficulties.”

“These people, as you all know, by now, a man who didn’t want to meet me to condone the film by having any sort of association with it,” Cumberbatch said. “Who very articulately as you can all read on the internet when you get home tonight or you probably already have had very clear reasons for why he didn’t want to participate, and why he didn’t want me to participate in the telling of the story.”

“This version of events, this is a version, this is a film, this is a dramatization, we hold our hands up about that, and are very honest about it. But, I think what he can never admit to hopefully, that you will be able to admit to having seen the film tonight, is that we explore an incredible idea and evolution in both social media and society where by we are not just bringing people journalism, which is what ‘the fifth estate’ obviously refers to, to the fore,” he continued. “It’s a painful evolution, it involves a re-evaluation of everything that diplomacy is being based on. And the currency of secrets, or what should be secret, what should transparent, what should be known what should be unknown, the private, the public. As an actor, I obviously have opinions on that as well. My work is work is public and my private life is private. That’s my gambit on that. But at the same time, really to portray someone who founded this idea of this organization was a real privilege.” We can’t help but think Assange secretly enjoyed it, as well.

Cumberbatch on Difficulties of Playing Assange