Benedict Cumberbatch: “I imagine Julian Assange won’t particularly want to support The Fifth Estate”

“My role is not to impersonate but to interpret,” says Cumberbatch, who admits Assange kept away from the big-screen WikiLeaks project


Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken firmly about Julian Assange’s distance from The Fifth Estate film, the big-screen story centred around the WikiLeaks founder.


Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival press conference, Cumberbatch said, “I didn’t have any direct access to Julian. We didn’t meet in person. He stated very clearly at the beginning of the project that he didn’t want to condone the film because of the perspective it was showing.”

But the Sherlock star said his take on Assange was an attempt to get behind his public persona as well as to present that face of the man who has made his name disseminating secrets.

“I wanted not to impersonate but to interpret,” said Cumberbatch. “There’s an acreage of footage online. A lot of it is formal, him in presentational mode – arguing or being interviewed or talking about any particular issue to do with WikiLeaks. That’s one mode. The film investigates the man in a more private mode of friendship and working relationship with Daniel Domscheit-Berg [played by Daniel Bruhl]. Very much off camera and out of the public eye and his reaction to certain events. So that was the harder part, I guess.”

Asked how Assange would react if he did see the film, Cumberbatch said, “I’m not him, surprisingly enough, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I really don’t want to venture what his reaction’s going to be. I’m not a betting man, but I imagine he won’t particularly want to support the film. But we’ll have to wait and see.

“I’m not a mind reader, even though I’ve tried to get into his mind to a certain degree. I think personally that we show a man and his idea and integrity and self sacrifice that he had to pursue to see that through.

“There’s a lot to celebrate about his achievements and the perspective it shows on what he managed to do and how he managed to do it.” 

A bullish Cumberbatch was keen to suggest that his portrayal was not simply an attempt to proscribe motives to Assange’s actions, but to create a well-rounded empathetic character that could let audiences make up their own minds.

“As an actor, approaching a role you have to find a level of empathy with your character. Certainly as an actor I want to find out the three dimensionality behind the character. Not to soften the edges at all. It’s nearer to a human experience for audiences, so we can relate to it and aren’t ostracised. It’s not telling us how to think. I get bored of doing that kind of work or watching that kind of work.”