Ben Whishaw to Play Russian Dissident Eduard Limonov in New Film From Kirill Serebrennikov (EXCLUSIVE)

Versatile British actor Ben Whishaw, best known globally for playing Q in five James Bond films, has been cast in what’s bound to be the one of the most complex roles of his career.

The actor will play the titular character in “Limonov, The Ballad of Eddie,” a new English-language film by revered Russian auteur Kirill Serebrennikov (“Petrov’s Flu,” “Leto”), about radical Russian poet and political dissident Eduard Limonov.

The film, which will be presented as a promo reel to buyers in Cannes on May 17, is inspired by the best-selling novel “Limonov” by French writer and director Emmanuelle Carrère, which was translated in 35 countries. See interview with Serebrennikov.

“Limonov” delves into the story of Eduard Limonov, who lived many lives. He was an underground writer in the Soviet Union who escaped to the U.S. where he became a punk-poet and also a butler to a millionaire in Manhattan. “Eddie” then became a literary sensation in Paris before returning to Russia where he morphed into a charismatic dissident party leader with rock star status, and incarcerated by Vladimir Putin.

The tale of “Limonov” is basically a journey through Russia, America and Europe during the second half of the 20th century that’s likely to become more relevant as current history unfolds.

Shooting on “Limonov” was underway in Russia when the war broke out. Serebrennikov, who himself has had legal troubles under Putin’s regime, stopped shooting, and an extensive operation was in place to get Whishaw out of the country.

Serebrennikov, both a film and theater director known for Cannes competition titles “Leto” and “Petrov’s Flu,” will be in Cannes with his latest film, “Tchaikovsky’s Wife.” Ending a three-year travel ban, in March he was able to leave Russia for Europe, where the film will soon resume production in another country.

Written by Pawel Pawlikowski (“Cold War,” “Ida”), Ben Hopkins and Serebrennikov, “Limonov, The Ballad of Eddie” is produced by Wildside and Chapter 2 and co-produced by Pathé, Fremantle España, France 3 Cinema and Vision Distribution. France Télévisions, Canal+ and Ciné+ are the French broadcasters.

The film is produced by Mario Gianani and Lorenzo Gangarossa for Wildside, a Fremantle company; Dimitri Rassam for Chapter 2, a Mediawan company; Ilya Stewart; and co-produced by Ardavan Safaee for Pathé. Pawlikowski is also serving as executive producer.

International sales will be handled by Pathé in collaboration with Vision Distribution.

Whishaw took questions exclusively from Variety about “Limonov”:

What drew you to portraying the complex and crazy character that is Eduard Limonov?

I was knocked out by the script when I was sent it in 2020, during the pandemic, and transfixed by this character — Eduard Limonov. Everything about him was so extreme. I felt all sorts of contradictory things about him. It was as though in every situation he found himself in, he struck a dissonant note. He could only exist in opposition to what was in front of him, it seemed. He was against EVERYTHING. He scared me, he fascinated me, repelled me, thrilled me. Lots of things. 

What’s it been like working with Kirill?

Working with Kirill was one of the great experiences of my working life. I cannot wait to be reunited with him. He’s very intense, a beautiful crazy dreamer, very funny, very wise, kind. A truly great artist.

How was it shooting the film in Russia? 

Like many people I have long been fascinated by Russia, and like many people, I have been in love with Russian literature since I was 18 and a friend told me I should read “Crime and Punishment.” So it was very overwhelming for me to experience the country as it is now, in real life, rather than the country I have in my imagination.

Can you talk to me about your physical transformation to play this character?

Transforming into the various phases of Limonov’s life has been one of the greatest pleasures. He himself was always transforming — almost as if he lead about seven completely different lives. I studied him as much as I could, though I’m not really attempting an impersonation. And I have been greatly helped by Masha the make-up designer and Alexei the prosthetics designer and Tanya the costume designer. We were all working so hard to bring him to life.

How timely do you think Eduard Limonov is today?

I find it impossible to say much about this — as we’ve only shot half the film. But maybe, because the film covers such a large chunk of recent history, it will help us understand how we’ve reached the point that we now find ourselves at … maybe. 

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