Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate"
Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in “The Fifth Estate

Why Benedict Cumberbatch thought it was a good idea to contact WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and ask him if he would like to meet in person is a question I would have liked to aske the British actor who also plays Sherlock Holmes on BBC.

I get that Cumberbatch might have been just acting as a dutiful actor; he was after all portraying a real-life, out-sized political figure. But given Assange’s conspiratorial outlook on life, did the actor really think Assange would consent to meeting in person? In Assange’s email response, he said that meeting Cumberbatch might be seen by the general public as his approving the film; it might be viewed as an affirmation of the upcoming film The Fifth Estate, which he has called “irresponsible, counterproductive and harmful.” (“By meeting with you, I would validate this wretched film, and endorse the talented, but debauched, performance that the script will force you to give.”)

Assange’s rejection of Cumberbatch’s request to meet seems to me entirely reasonable. If you had spent your entire career fighting all kinds of government secrecy and putting yourself in extreme and dangerous situations, how exactly would you profit from the making of a film whose contents you do not aprove?

Cumberbatch’s letter was the only attempt from anyone involved in the film to approach Assange before filming began. Last month, Assange’s anti-secrecy organization leaked a copy of the film’s script alongside a memo criticizing Bill Condon’s movie. In a tweet WikiLeaks critically appraises the movie: “As WikiLeaks was never consulted about the upcoming Hollywood film on us, we’ve given our advice for free: It’s bad.” Apparently none of the changes suggested by WikiLeaks made it into the final script.

So here we are, stuck in a world so full of communications technologies that we have actually failed to communicate. Just as Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor swap tweets and open letters in their social-media feud, Julian Assange and Benedict Cumberbatch have taken to social media to respond to one another. After a long silence, on the morning of Friday, October 11, the actor took to reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” forum to finally respond at length to the fugitive activist. Cumbatch defended The Fifth Estate, which will be released in U.S. theaters on October 18.

At the end of this post, you can read Cumberbatch’s full response to Assange regarding the film. The most interesting part of it, though, is that he admits that Assange’s original email message to him did in fact affect his film performance. That’s the nuance I will be looking for when I see the film in theaters.

BUT FIRST LET’S DIGRESS: Let’s start first the all-important issue about Sherlock Holmes’s death in the TV show. A reddit user asked Cumberbatch, “Is it hard to keep the secret of how Sherlock survived? Do you ever have the urge to tell someone? If so, how do you cope?”

On reddit, Cumberbatch replied, “I cry myself to sleep at night. And then wake up laughing.”

The actor had cheeky things to say about whether he and the current Doctor, Matt Smith, engage in “cheek bone polishing parties.”

“We like nothing better than buffing our Zygoma,” Cumberbatch replied. “And imagining a horny time traveling long overcoat purple scarf wearing super sleuth nordic legend f**k fantasy. Get to work on that, internet.”

When asked about his “weirdest encounter with a fan,” Cumberbatch wrote that it involved “Ted Danson at a pre-Oscar party screaming across a floor of people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ray Liotta, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, et al while pushing past them and knocking their drinks. ‘OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! IT’S F**KING SHERLOCK HOLMES!’ ”

Ever since he portrayed Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness, Cumberbatch’s stock has risen in Hollywood. On reddit, he spoke about what it is like to be suddenly so famous around the world, especially in Japan:

You can’t imagine fame. You can only ever see it from an outsider and comment on it with the rueful wisdom of a non participant. When it happens to you, it doesn’t matter what age or how, it is a very steep learning curve. The imprtanot thing to realize in all of it is that life is short, to protect the ones you love, and not expose yourself to too much abuse or narcissistic reflection gazing and move on. If fame affords me the type of ability to do the kind of work I’m being offered, who am I to complain about the downsides. It’s all relative. And this are obviously very high class problems. The way privacy becomes an every shrinking island is inevitable but also manageable and it doesn’t necessary have to get that way…

Now that we got all of that over it, LET’S RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED COMMENTARY:

In a long email, whose subject read “Message from Assange,” Assange told 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.”

This was at first a private letter from Assange who sent it before the making of the film. But then WikiLeaks published it on October 8 — less than a week before The Fifth Estate hits U.S. screens.

As part of the publicity tour for The Fifth Estate, one of the first questions Cumberbatch was asked on reddit: “Julian Assange’s open letter to you criticizing The Fifth Estate is very intense. He even goes so far as to call you a ‘hired gun’ for distorting the truth (or at least what he views as his truth). Did this affect the way you portrayed him or even make you second guess your role at all in this film?”

Assange’s words, Cumberbatch writes, “gave [him] real cause for concern.” However, the letter also inspired Cumberbatch to examine his motivations for making The Fifth Estate: “He accuses me of being a ‘hired gun’ as if I am an easily bought cypher for right wing propaganda,” Cumberbatch says. “Not only do I NOT operate in a moral vacuum but this was not a pay day for me at all. I’ve worked far less hard for more financial reward. This project was important to me because of the integrity I wanted to bring to provocative difficult but ultimately timely and a truly important figure of our modern times.”

Cumberbatch goes on to applaud “the great successes of wikileaks and its extraordinary founder Julians Assange,” which he says are depicted accurately in The Fifth Estate – a “powerful, if dramatized entry point” for a discussion about WikiLeaks, in the actor’s words.

This was Benedict Cumberbatch’s full response on reddit:

To have the man you are about to portray ask you intelligently and politely not to do it gave me real cause for concern, however, it galvanized me into addressing why I was doing this movie. He accuses me of being a “hired gun” as if I am an easily bought cypher for right wing propaganda. Not only do I NOT operate in a moral vacuum but this was not a pay day for me at all. I’ve worked far less hard for more financial reward. This project was important to me because of the integrity I wanted to bring to provocative difficult but ultimately timely and a truly important figure of our modern times. The idea of making a movie about someone who so far removed from my likeness or situation who brought about an ideal through personal sacrifice that has changed the way we view both social media, the power of the individual to have a voice in that space, and be able to question both the hypocrisies and wrongdoings of organizations and bodies of powerful people that rule our lives…

This resonated deeply with my beliefs in civil liberty, a healthy democracy, and the human rights of both communities and individuals to question those in authority. I believe that the film, quite clearly, illuminates the great successes of wikileaks and its extraordinary founder Julians Assange. As well as, examining the personalities involved and what become a dysfunctional relationship within that organization. While the legacy of his actions and the organizations continue to evolve and only history will be the true judge of where this is leading us. The Fifth Estate is a powerful, if dramatized, entry point for a discussion about this extraordinary lurch forward in our society.

I wanted to create a three dimensional portrait of a man far more maligned in the tabloid press than he is in our film to remind people that he is not just the weird, white haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden, hiding in an embassy behind Harrods. But a true force to be reckoned with, achieved the realization of the great ideal. I’m proud to be involved in tackling such a contentious character and script. There is only personal truth in my opinion, and the film should provoke debate and not consensus. It should be enjoyable and ultimately empowering to realize that Julian has spearheaded a movement that is the foundations stone of The Fifth Estate, people journalism and what that is capable of including finding out the “truth” for yourself.

For those of who Cumberbatchies who still can’t get enough of him, here is his sexy shower scene from Star Trek into Darkness which the filmmaker JJ Abrams deleted from the final version of the film after getting complaints on co-star Alice Eve’s underwear scene. Enjoy!

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