Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has become an international icon amid the Russian invasion of his country. The former comedy star is now the heroic lead in his nation’s fight for survival.
But behind the scenes, a close friend and longtime film editor Zelensky told Insider that the real “Volodya” was unassuming, peaceful, and lacked any kind of “celebrity removal.”
American Film Editor David Dodson first met Volodymyr Zelensky in New York in 2008. They were working on the Russian romantic comedy Love in the Big City.
For Zelensky, best known for his work with the comedy troupe Kvartal 95, this was his first major role in a feature film.
And for Dodson, it was the beginning of a ten-year working relationship with the future Ukrainian president.
Speaking to Insider on the phone from his Los Angeles home, Dodson recalled how Zelensky, who was 30 at the time, immediately made an impression on him. “It was just a wonderful presence,” he said.
At first, Dodson added, the guys didn’t have much time to hang out. But after Dodson was asked to edit the sequel to the movie, “Love in the Big City 2”, they became increasingly close.
According to Dodson, their friendship blossomed after he came up with an endearing nickname for the young comedian.
“I only ended up calling him Chaplin because he has Charlie Chaplin characteristics,” he said. “His physicality is in comedy and what he can do to his face and the semi-sad emotion within his eyes.”
Makes me feel like Steven Spielberg
The pair continued to act together until 2019, collaborating on 10 films. Dodson also directed three of his films.
Dodson described how Zelensky was a skilled professional on the film sets they worked on together. He added that he was “effortlessly funny” and full of energy and respect.
“He would have made me feel like Steven Spielberg,” Dodson continued. “It’s just the empowerment and the goodwill he brought with him every time he was there.”
He added that Zelensky was easy to get along with and tried to maintain a “positive atmosphere” in the work environment. But he sometimes got impatient with people who were “warring” or “unnecessarily cruel”.
The film’s editor said that Zelensky sometimes lost his temper.
“I’ve seen him raise his voice, of course,” he said, “and get angry, but he wasn’t directed in a cruel way.” “It was like a teacher wanting to see their students do better.”
Tom Hanks was from Ukraine
Over the years, Zelensky has become a household name, but according to Dodson, this hasn’t changed him. The film’s editor said he remained humble.
“He never tried to confuse you,” he added. “It was all about the group and how we’re going to do the best job possible. When you’re around him, you never feel like it’s all about him.”
Dodson said that whenever Zelensky was filming in Kyiv or Lviv, he would be assaulted by his beloved fans. “It was Tom Hanks of Ukraine,” Dodson noted.
Dodson said he would never, or reject, anyone requesting a photo or autograph. He added that sometimes he would sign “hundreds” of signatures and “do it all with a smile on his face”.
Zelensky was not only famous in Ukraine. Most of his films were in Russian and were marketed to a Russian audience.
“He was a beloved comedian, actor, and artist in Russia, but after Maidan, everything changed,” Dodson said.
The Maidan Uprising was a months-long wave of demonstrations in Ukraine that began in 2013 in Kyiv in response to Russia’s backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a people’s trade agreement with the European Union.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine worsened in 2014 after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
Russia Stop streaming some Zelensky’s movies After reports emerged that the media company Kvartal 95, which Zelensky founded, transferred funds to the Ukrainian army during the conflict.
In turn, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture banned Russian artists and cultural works from entering the country. The film “Love in the Big City 2”, starring Zelensky, was included in ban Because it is made in Russia.
Zelensky Publicly criticized the ministry for banning Russian actors From the performance in Ukraine, demanding the head of the department to resign.
Although the comments are controversial, they distinguished Zelensky as a voice in the Ukrainian political arena. But according to Dodson, it wasn’t clear that Zelensky had political ambitions until they started working on the 2018 film I. You. She. She.
During pre-production for the film, which was Zelensky’s first Ukrainian-language film, Dodson said it had become an “open secret” that his friend was planning to run for president. However, he said that Zelensky was very secretive about it.
“The only way you would know he was working on his campaign, for example, would be if you went to his office for a meeting and saw a pile of 30 cell phones on his assistant’s desk,” Dodson said.
Zelensky announced his candidacy for the Ukrainian presidential elections on New Year’s Eve 2018. He was elected President of Ukraine on April 21, 2019, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko.
Dodson continued to speak to Zelensky throughout the campaign and for a short period after his election. But the pair lost contact due to Zelensky’s demanding schedule.
He can’t be completely blamed when it comes to his loyalty to Ukraine
The film’s editor said watching the news and seeing Zelensky standing by Ukraine during the Russian invasion made him “extremely proud” to call him a friend.
“It is not as if I have agreed with all his political policy in his presidency up to this point, but he is completely uncritical when it comes to his devotion to Ukraine, his devotion to the Ukrainian people and what he is willing to sacrifice in order to preserve their freedom.”
Dodson is well aware that Zelensky and his family are now Russian targets. The Times of London reported that the Ukrainian president survived at least three assassination attempts by Russian-backed agents last week.
This pains Dodson. “All I can do is pray for the safety of the Ukrainian people, and of course for the safety of my friend,” he said.