As we celebrate the release of Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Death of Stalin’, a hilariously and bleak look at the last days of Stalin’s reign over Russia, we take a look at the actors who got themselves mixed up with global dictators.
Most Hollywood stars are happy to stay in their little LA bubble, but it takes a special kind of famous person to become intimate with a brutal dictator.
Nicolas Cage – Nursultan Nazarbayev
Full-time meme creator Nicolas Cage came up with the goods once more this summer, when a photograph of him at Kazakhstan’s Eurasia Film Festival wearing a full-length fur coat – complete with Cossack-style hat – hit the internet. As funny as his thousand-yard-stare was, Cage was criticised for seemingly endorsing the 26-year regime of Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev, who has been known to arrest critics and whose citizens have been massacred during peaceful protest. “Cage should be mortified that he participated in a whitewashing stunt for a murderous tyrant,” said the Human Rights Foundation. “I enjoyed the architecture of your capital,” Cage said at the event. “What I saw reminded me of an old black-and-white film that depicted the future.”
Seth Rogen & James Franco – Kim Jong-Un
Of all the potential catalysts for the next World War, no one could have predicted a Seth Rogen movie would have come closest to kickstarting the apocalypse. The comedy, starring Rogen and James Franco as journalists who are hired by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-Un, reportedly angered the North Korean dictator. The Korean Central News Agency responded: “Making and releasing a film on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated,” eventually causing Sony to scale down the movie’s release. Sony Pictures were hacked shortly after the kerfuffle and the FBI claimed they had “credible evidence” that Korea were involved.
Dennis Rodman – Kim Jong-Un
Bad actor and occasional basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman has somehow found himself in the position of America’s unofficial ambassador to North Korea. The former LA Lakers forward and star of Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick ‘Double Team’ found himself playing diplomat after he struck up a friendship with North Korea’s pocket despot Kim Jong-Un during a state visit. Calling their relationship a “bromance”, Rodman went on to say: “We laugh, we sing karaoke, we do a lot of cool things together like skiing and riding horses. Every time I see him, he’s always calm, he’s always smiling especially with his family. To me, in person, if you see him he’s just like anybody else.” Just a perfectly normal couple of buddies, shooting hoops. Nothing to see here.
Gerard Depardieu – Vladimir Putin
French actor and land mass Depardieu – star of ’90s classics including ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and ‘Green Card’ – said ‘Au revoir’ to his homeland in 2013, uprooting himself from France to take up full Russian citizenship. The reason? He hated France’s high tax rates on millionaires – although he didn’t seem to have a problem with Russia’s horrendous human rights record. “I love your president Putin and that is reciprocated,” he told Russian reporters upon arrival, and he was later presented by the President himself with a Russian passport. One can only imagine how much wine he must have taken with him via carry-on.
Sacha Baron Cohen – Various despots of the United Nations
Surprise surprise – Sacha Baron Cohen got some heckles up while he was shooting his political comedy ‘The Dictator’, in which his character General Aladeen was a parody of various Eastern tyrants. Cohen requested to shoot scenes in the real United Nations building in New York, but was turned down; when asked, he told reporters that the explanation was “we represent a lot of dictators and they are going to be very angry by this portrayal of them, so you can’t shoot in there.” We’re not entirely sure if he’s having us on, but there’s probably a kernel of truth in there.
Charlie Chaplin – Adolf Hitler
Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Great Dictator’.
Sacha Baron Cohen was merely standing on the shoulders of giants – Charlie Chaplin did the whole ‘mock a dictator’ thing 70 years before he did. ‘The Great Dictator’, Chaplin’s first all-sound movie, saw the star play a humble barber who doubles for tyrant leader Hynkel, a dictator who sported a curiously familiar moustache and hairdo. The comedy was a huge success, but Hitler banned the movie in Germany, even though curiosity eventually got the better of him – it’s said he screened the film privately twice. “I’d give anything to know what he thought of it,” said Chaplin. We reckon it’s safe to assume Adolf, not know for his sense of humour, was not a fan.
Beyoncé Knowles – Muammar Gaddafi
The Destiny’s Child singer and ‘Austin Powers’ actress performed a set at a private concert in St Bart’s in the Caribbean in 2009 and was paid handsomely for it, somewhere in the region of $2 million – not bad for a night’s work. However, it quickly became apparent that the third-party promoter who set up the event did so for the benefit of the family of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who isn’t exactly the kind of chap you want to be seen singing ‘Bootylicious’ at. Beyoncé later donated her entire fee to the ongoing efforts in Haiti, so at least some good came of it.
Hilary Swank – Ramzan Kadyrov
Human rights groups were up in arms when ‘Million Dollar Baby’ actress Hilary Swank appeared at a star-studded event thrown for the birthday of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a dictator who has been accused of brutal killings and abductions. Swank read a speech at a huge concert event, telling Kadyrov she knew it was his birthday because “I read, I do my research”. That turned out to be painfully inaccurate when Swank later found out the numerous atrocities committed in Kadyrov’s name; she later admitted she “deeply regrets” speaking at the event, which was also attended by – as if this story wasn’t weird enough already – Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Jennifer Lopez – Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
She styled herself as plain old “Jenny from the block”, but not many girls from the block get paid big bucks to perform for some of the most brutal world leaders on the planet; the Human Rights Foundation group estimated Lopez earned somewhere in the region of $10m “serenading crooks and dictators”, including singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the President of Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive countries in the world. According to HRF, the ‘Out Of Sight’ actress also performed for Russian oligarchs, Uzbek industrialists and numerous other world tyrants – basically anyone with a chequebook big enough to cover her rider.
Steven Seagal – Pick a dictator, any dictator
Once a lean, mean American killing machine who fought for rough justice and the environment, Steven Seagal is now more duffel coat than man and counts Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as supporters. Just recently, Seagal appeared on Good Morning Britain where he labelled his chum Vlad “one of the great world leaders” and called him “articulate” and “a great tactician” – Putin gave him a Russian passport after they bonded over Judo and their shared ability to ignore horrendous atrocities. Seagal has history with dictators of the East; he was personally invited to Belarus by President Alexander Lukashenko – officially the only dictator in Europe – where he was given a bizarre gift of carrots, which he happily munched in front of reporters. The first person to make a joke about it being the first vegetable Seagal has eaten in years gets thrown in the gulag.
‘The Death of Stalin’, starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, and Jason Isaacs is in UK cinemas from 20 October. Watch a trailer below.