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by Nigel M Smith
October 11, 2013 11:08 PM
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Benedict Cumberbatch Responds to Julian Assange's Letter, Explains Why 'The Fifth Estate' Is Important to Him

With Bill Condon's Wikileaks thriller "The Fifth Estate" opening wide later this month, the film's subject Julian Assange took to his site earlier this week to post a letter sent to the actor that portrays him in the film, Benedict Cumberbatch, urging him not to take part in the project. Cumberbatch did, and today he addressed the letter in a reddit chat with his fans.

Below, view the exchange:

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?

Yes, of course it did. 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.

What do you think of his response? And will you be catching the film when DreamWorks opens it October 18th?


  • bob hawk | October 13, 2013 2:40 AMReply

    If Cumberbatch's response was generated by the film's PR people then they sure do need a copy editor -- unless they wanted it to sound like this fine actor has forgotten half of what he learned in English class. In any case, this thread of comments (with the exception of the one poster who has seen it) is just a bunch of suppositions, at least as far as the film itself is concerned. Wait until you see the damn thing!

  • bigelow | October 12, 2013 6:12 PMReply

    This movie seems like B level propaganda. It's B-propaganda because the subject is so politicized that no truthful depiction would be possible or expected by any but the most naively trusting of individuals. And the subject itself is, can we say? unappetizing- a "weird, whitehaired australian dude", is putting it nicely. Might as well do a biopic about Donald Trump. The fact that the actor claims that he did it for "art" is rather laughable.

  • pol | October 12, 2013 3:00 PMReply

    Cumberbatch ignores the criticisms of the script laid out by Assange. Specifically, he avoids addressing whether the script was changed at all from the version Assange had, and what his contribution, if any, was to making script changes. This is dancing around the substance and pushing a lot of PR styled flak in support of the film (hired gun style).

  • - | October 12, 2013 2:30 PMReply

    If sounds like Cumberbatch is being too kind more than anything else. (not a comment on his performance because I haven't seen it, but the idea that he's out to get Assange or anything seems sort of silly)

  • - | October 12, 2013 2:31 PM


  • joe | October 12, 2013 4:05 AMReply

    I saw the movie last night in a media preview and after a day of consideration would agree with Assange's take on the movie. The film has many flaws; it focuses too much on the person rather than "the fifth estate" or the reason why wikileaks is a buffer against propaganda AKA government sanctioned bullshit. The film script is based on books written by people who are pissed off at Assange and unfortunately they distort his intentions and discredit his personality. The USA film history has a long history of being "imbedded" with the military industrial complex, as does current mass media, and this movie, even with the high intensions of the actor, The Fifth Estate continues that tradition although in a much more subtle manner. The film rewrites recent history in a way that will not afflict the corporate comfortable, but in a manner that lends itself to character assasination of Assange. Maybe Hollywood was just being opportunist, or maybe they had some good intention, but the road to hell is paved with scripts reviewed by the military or inteligence industry. This film missed a huge opportuntiy. One redeeming quality maybe some more Americans will go to the source and actual visit Wikileaks where they can find "unedited" source information that is far more inspiring than the film's second hand take. Go direct, rather than this film's stylish reflection.

  • Alan B | October 12, 2013 6:18 AM

    Condon is the most whitebread filmmaker on the planet who bends over backwards to accommodate other views in his films, so If THIS is what angers Assange, then he seriously needs to develop a thicker skin.

  • Alan B | October 12, 2013 6:13 AM

    IT'S A CONSPIRACY! Maybe Condon was responsible for Assange's arrest. IT'S A CONSPIRACY! Maybe this was all just a ploy to create this film. IT'S A CONSPIRACY! After all, Hollywood is FAMOUSLY CONSERVATIVE and this was just the master plan of Condon and his henchmen in Washington to target Assange. IT'S A CONSPIRACY! Good Lord!

  • Jermone | October 12, 2013 1:03 AMReply

    I don't know about "People Journalism". He is as legitimate as journalists come.

  • Bill Smith | October 11, 2013 11:48 PMReply

    Both the question asked and the answer by Cumberbatch were pre-written before this AMA was started on Reddit. The film's PR team knew that websites like indiewire and many others would then repost this.

    The question was deliberately posted by a PR shill with the persons account being set up minutes before the question was posted along with no previous posts made by that user.

    Cumberbatch's pre-written answer along with the question were designed to allowed them to carefully control any of the 'objections' that have been placed on the film. It's a great shame so many people will have no idea they have been manipulated in this way.

  • Jovonne | October 13, 2013 12:11 AM


    Assange is a sociopathic anarchist plain and simple. Don't gimme that "freedom for all, government accountability" crap because that is NOT what his actual goal is. It really isn't.

  • Tash | October 12, 2013 1:37 AM

    A number of (probably tons) people signed up just before the AMA on reddit to ask Cumberbatch questions. Doesn't mean they all were posted by PR. Not saying that this wasn't, simply that signing up just before or during does not a PR plant make.

  • Anantha | October 12, 2013 1:11 AM

    @jovonne It is not Assange's actions that got people nearly killed. It is the Govts, Corporations and conglomerates that are unable to come to terms with losing power and unleashing their insecurities on the less powerful. They want Assange to stop and they're trying to do it by sending people to Jail. Assange is fighting for accountability, freedom of speech and right to a life without being manipulated by those in power.

    Notwithstanding that Cumberbatch's response was a total PR mash, they have a point. He cannot not take up the role of one of the most influential figures of modern times because the man disagrees. And rightly he points it out that this should not be used to form consensus but rather to open a debate. And you need two opinions and sides for that to happen.

    Let's see how Assange responds.

  • Jovonne | October 12, 2013 12:32 AM

    Yet Cumberbatch's response is no less valid. He is still being very kind to a sociopathic anarchist hacker masquerading as a journalist who does not care that his very actions got people (not just spy people) more than likely killed. Cumberbatch wants this film to be a success, it is not his fault that the man he is portraying cannot come to terms with how he actually is as a person.

  • Joe H | October 11, 2013 11:31 PMReply

    Wow, Asange needs to take a chill pill. Cumberbatch is basically on the guy's side and he still won't let up. Oh well, Cumberbatch has become my new favorite actor anyways.