An ordinary person might understandably get jitters about playing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a movie. After all, he’s a guy who has tussled with banks, political groups, and even governments and lived to tell the tale. But as any self-respecting Benedict Cumberbatch fan — or “Cumberbitch,” as some call themselves — knows, the Brit actor is anything but ordinary.
The Sherlock and Star Trek Into Darkness star donned a series of white wigs and fake teeth to play Assange in The Fifth Estate (out Oct. 18), a drama that tracks Wikileaks’ rise to power. And he jokes that, thanks to his fans, he’s fully prepared for Assange to open fire. “I’m sure he’ll go after me. … I’m not a bank with offshore accounts in the Canaries, I don’t fiddle my taxes, I’m not wanted for war crimes. If he goes after me, it’s going to be a waste of his extraordinary talent. But if he does, I kind of respect that because he needs to be able to answer back,” says Cumberbatch. “Anyway, the Cumberbitches have got my back, so I’ll be fine.”
Assange has pre-emptively labeled the movie “a massive propaganda attack,” but Cumberbatch says the film — which explores the friendship between Assange and his former collaborator Daniel Domscheit-Berg (played by Daniel Bruhl) — doesn’t demonize its subject. On the contrary. “I hope if I’ve done well, I’ve probably humanized someone that many people only think of in tabloid headline terms. He’s an extraordinary figure. The movie was just the opportunity to try and unlock a little about who he is and what motivates him,” says the actor, who reached out to Assange for input on his portrayal but was rebuffed. “I don’t want to upset him. So if I do, it will be distressing. But he knows that. I have communicated that to him, let’s put it like that. It’s not like we’ve had a correspondence, but I’ve made it known to him that I’m not some kind of devious character assassination where I play him as a villain.”