‘Fifth Estate’ star Benedict Cumberbatch wanted to meet Julian Assange

Benedict Cumberbatch, Julian Assange, The Fifth Estate
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in “The Fifth Estate.”
Credit: Getty Images

It’s no secret that Julian Assange isn’t thrilled about the new film “The Fifth Estate,” in which “Sherlock” star Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the embattled WikiLeaks founder. The anti-secrecy website even published email correspondence between Assange and Cumberbatch in which the actor sought a meeting with Assange before taking the role — only to be asked not to do the film.

Cumberbatch admits that his correspondence with Assange — who told the Hollywood Foreign Press he thinks “The Fifth Estate” is “destined to be a box office failure” — was brief, and that the gist of Assange’s message was that he didn’t want Cumberbatch to take the role. “It was sort of expected, and his arguments were very strong. And I had some very strong counter-arguments,” Cumberbatch says.

“I would have loved to have met him. I think like any artist: Being in front of a live subject is far more productive and informing than working from a photograph,” Cumberbatch says, a tinge of remorse in his voice. “I sadly didn’t get the chance to do that, but I quite respect his standpoint, and I reasoned in my communication with him that I thought it was not totally well-founded, that I think there was a lot to celebrate in our version of the story because what it does is bring back into focus how important WikiLeaks is as an idea and the integrity of that idea, personal politics aside.”

Cumberbatch decided to press on despite his subject’s disapproval. And portraying Assange has led to the actor having to field questions about government activities, politics and the security industry. ”You do have to become an instant overnight expert, and that can be quite daunting. There’s a lifetime of commitment and knowledge behind these people’s activities,” he admits.

“I am an actor, I’m not a political activist. I’m not a founder of a Web site. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an expert pundit. I’ve touched on what I’ve needed to grasp to try and manufacture a characterization, and I’m the first person to hold my hand up and say that I’m an amateur in all other classes other than my chosen profession.”

And while the movie itself may be finished, there are of course new developments almost daily connected to WikiLeaks and Assange’s fate. “[Julian and I] are weirdly tied together now a little bit,” Cumberbatch admits. “With Julian and history, it’s a ways down the line as to how we get an objective perspective on this — if ever — because I think that the arguments and the context for the story are just going to keep evolving. I think we’re living through fascinating times.”


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