Benedict Cumberbatch at the “Fifth Estate” premiere in Toronto
One of the advantages of making a movie based on a real person who is still alive would seem to be the chance to discuss the project with the film’s subject. But Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t have that luxury as he was preparing to play Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate, which hits theaters Friday.
Assange, who has made no secret of his disapproval of the film, would not agree to meet with Cumberbatch, something that the Sherlock star admitted made his research for the part particularly challenging, even though they were able to correspond via e-mail through a friend.
But Cumberbatch said that even if he had been able to meet WikiLeaks’ enigmatic founder, he doesn’t think he would have gotten any real insight into who he is.
“Even if I had had access to him and had a personal meeting, I don’t think I would’ve been able to sit in his presence and get some kind of idea of truth behind it. I just would’ve gotten more of an idea of how he carried himself in those interactions,” the actor told The Hollywood Reporter at a Cinema Society- and Richard Mille-hosted screening of The Fifth Estate on Friday night in Manhattan.
But Cumberbatch already knew how Assange operated when he reached out to him.
“I knew when I was writing to him, I was writing to a publisher, a man who leaks top-secret information, so I knew the minute I opened the correspondence by asking him if we could meet, I was opening myself up to being published myself,” Cumberbatch said.
Indeed, Assange has published a letter that he wrote to Cumberbatch, urging him to drop the project and bashing the film.
Cumberbatch said he didn’t approve of Assange making that letter public but understood why he did.
“He actually wrote to me to ask if I felt it was OK, and I said, ‘Listen, we had a gentlemen’s agreement not to do that,'” the actor said. “‘But I’m absolutely happy for you to do it. I understand why you want to and why you should do it. Please go ahead and do what you want to do.'”
DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider reiterated to THR that Cumberbatch’s similarities to Assange made him the perfect person for the part.
“Julian, while I don’t know him personally, appears to be and seems to be a man of many contradictions — selfless and selfish, brave and retiring — just somebody who is quixotic and full of interesting and provocative contradictions, and I think that Benedict Cumberbatch as an actor embodies those same qualities,” Snider said. “He’s fascinating because he has so many different and sometimes opposing qualities, so he just seemed the perfect actor to play him, and the physical resemblances, which of course were enhanced by wardrobe and makeup, also help create the illusion.”
Although the film was initially perceived as an awards contender, Snider said DreamWorks is not thinking about those honors but is instead hoping to generate a conversation through the film, which is being distributed by Disney through DreamWorks’ deal with the studio.
Snider also praised Disney film head Alan Horn, who took the helm of the Mouse House’s movie division last year.
“He’s the greatest. He’s only kind of a godfather to our movies; he’s not a proper father because our films have a distribution deal with Disney, they’re not financed by Disney. But he’s the best godfather you could have: wise, movie-loving and supportive,” she said.