TIFF 2013: 'Fifth Estate' star expresses admiration for Julian Assange
Published Friday, September 6, 2013 12:57PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 6, 2013 4:34PM EDT
TORONTO -- Benedict Cumberbatch says he admires much of what embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has accomplished, but he doubts the free-speech crusader will approve of his latest film.
The "Sherlock" and "Star Trek" actor says "there's a lot to celebrate" about the achievements of the famed information leaker.
Cumberbatch plays the controversial Australian in the film "The Fifth Estate," which provided a timely kickoff to the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday.
The film traces the early days of the WikiLeaks website, which provided whistleblowers with a way to anonymously reveal government secrets and corporate crimes.
At a news conference Friday, Cumberbatch and his co-stars refused to speculate on Assange's fate as he remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
But they offered some admiration for Assange's dedication to his cause, with Cumberbatch noting the film shows the man's "integrity and self-sacrifice" to pursue a slew of daunting missions.
"Electoral reform in Nigeria, the exposure of corruption in the banking systems of Iceland and a lot Western Europe, Tibetan suppression by the Chinese -- huge, huge, huge achievements that that organization made," said Cumberbatch, who donned a blond wig, dark blue contact lenses and a prosthetic mouthpiece for his transformation.
"I think there's a lot to celebrate about his achievements and the perspective (the film) shows on what he managed to do and how he managed to do it."
The free-speech crusader has famously disavowed the film, declaring it "anti-WikiLeaks" and a massive "propaganda attack" on himself.
Much of "The Fifth Estate" concerns Assange's relationship with early supporter Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Their collaboration ended bitterly, with Domscheit-Berg claiming to have destroyed thousands of the site's unpublished submissions in the wake of their split.
Domscheit-Berg is played by Daniel Bruhl, who also appears at the fest as the co-star on the Ron Howard racing movie "Rush."
In an interview, he said his first meeting with Cumberbatch was like meeting the brilliant Sherlock Holmes himself.
"The first thing he said to me was, he told me what I'd had for breakfast, that I was left-handed and (offered) a recommendation of how to iron my shirt better," says Bruhl, whose past titles include "Inglourious Basterds."
"I said, 'Well, hi Sherlock. I'm going to be your Watson for two or three months.""
Asked later about the encounter, Cumberbatch recalled he did notice Bruhl was left-handed, but dismissed any similarities to his small screen character.
"I can't claim to have anything like his abilities, Sherlock," Cumberbatch said smiling, nevertheless admitting he does feel like a detective, of sorts.
"There's a part of what we do which is a form of investigation, isn't it? We try and sort of get to a truth or perspective that's personal and revealing and characterizations. So I think (Bruhl's) probably got just as keen an eye as I have."
The British actor appears poised for a career breakthrough thanks to a slew of hot projects at the festival including the period drama "12 Years a Slave" and the family saga "August: Osage County."
Cumberbatch said he was just "a very small cog in the wheels of the other extraordinary films," adding awkwardly that he was nevertheless "a very proud cog."
"I'm very, very happy because they're very different pieces of work and very different flavours, cultural flavours," said Cumberbatch, looking polished in a dark teal suit, skinny grey tie and white pocket square.
"And I think they all carry importance on their own terms. I'm thrilled. And it's the first time I've been here, so it's an embarrassment of riches, it really is."
For "The Fifth Estate," Cumberbatch said he strove to portray a three-dimensional man that audiences could relate to. But while there is an "acreage" of footage online, he noted they only reveal Assange at speaking events or being interviewed, not in private moments.
In approaching the role of Assange, he says he sought not to impersonate the man, but rather to interpret who he is.
Assange is trying to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex assault allegations and possible extradition to the United States over a massive disclosure of classified military and diplomatic data in 2010.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sept. 15. "The Fifth Estate" hits theatres Oct. 18.