Belfast Telegraph

Cumberbatch reveals Assange snub

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch was disappointed that WikiLeaks founder and "revolutionary of journalism" Julian Assange turned down his request to meet him to research his latest role.

Sherlock star Cumberbatch plays Assange in The Fifth Estate and wanted to meet him ahead of filming to study his mannerisms.

Assange, 42, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for more than a year to avoid extradition to the United States, said he did not want to meet the actor as he believes the film would only help destroy his organisation.

"It is based on a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation," he wrote in a letter.

Cumberbatch, 37, said he also received an email from Assange the day before he started filming, urging him to pull out of the role.

Appearing on BBC1's The Graham Norton Show, due to be broadcast tomorrow night, Cumberbatch said: "He is a revolutionary of journalism and what anyone wants to throw at him as a character assassination comes after the fact that he made us question what the status quo is, the rule of law and power structures that are corrupt or needed exposing. He served democracy a great turn I think. WikiLeaks opened a very good can of worms."

Asked if he was nervous about playing the controversial Australian, he added: "I guess he could mess with my life, but he's got bigger fish to fry. I emailed him, which was quite scary, and he emailed back to say 'don't do the film' on the day before we started filming. That was interesting.

"He was respectful, considered, articulate and polite about it and I emailed back equally, and hopefully, considerate and polite, saying why I thought it would be a good idea to tell his story."

Assange has released a letter he wrote to the actor on his website in which he claims the Dreamworks production is based on a "toxic" book and believes the film "will distort events and subtract from public understanding" of his work.

Assange told him: " I think I would enjoy meeting you.

"The bond that develops between an actor and a living subject is significant. If the film reaches distribution we will forever be correlated in the public imagination.

"Our paths will be forever entwined. Each of us will be granted standing to comment on the other for many years to come and others will compare our characters and trajectories.

"But I must speak directly.

"I hope that you will take such directness as a mark of respect, and not as an unkindness.

"I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film.

"I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about.

"I believe that it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about.

"In other circumstances this vendetta may have gone away, but our conflict with the United States government and the establishment press has created a patronage and commissioning market - powerful, if unpopular - for works and comments that are harmful to us.

"There are dozens of positive books about WikiLeaks, but Dreamworks decided to base its script only on the most toxic.

"So toxic is the first book selected by Dreamworks that it is distributed to US military bases as a mechanism to discourage military personnel from communicating with us. Its author is publicly known to be involved in the Dreamworks production in an ongoing capacity."

The father-of-one said "feature films are the most powerful and insidious shapers of public perception".

It "will claim to be fiction" but is " distorted truth about living people doing battle with titanic opponents".

He added: "It is a work of political opportunism, influence, revenge and, above all, cowardice.

"It seeks to ride on the back of our work, our reputation and our struggles.

"It seeks to cut our strength with weakness. To cut affection with exploitation. To cut diligence with paranoia. To cut loyalty with naivety. To cut principle with hypocrisy. And above all, to cut the truth with lies."

And the activist warned Cumberbatch: " You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth.

"Not because you want to, of course you don't, but because, in the end, you are a jobbing actor who gets paid to follow the script, no matter how debauched.

"Your skills play into the hands of people who are out to remove me and WikiLeaks from the world."

Assange signed off "with inexpressible regret", that he had to turn down Cumberbatch's request.

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