Volodymyr Zelensky: Director who made 10 movies with Ukraine’s leader describes working with him

American film director David Dodson, who worked on 10 movies with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, has hailed the leader as “effortlessly personable”.

Before his election to the presidency in 2019, Zelensky was better known in the entertainment world as a TV satirist and comedian.

His best-known role was in Servant of the People, a comedy series in which he played a high-school teacher propelled to the presidency after a student’s video of him denouncing official corruption in Ukraine goes viral.

The programme began airing in 2015 on Ukrainian channel 1+1 and became hugely popular, racking up three series and a feature film. Read The Independent’s review of the series, which aired on Channel 4 over the weekend, here.

After the show was a hit with the Ukrainian public, Zelensky ran for and won a large majority in the 2019 presidential election.

American film director David Dodson, who directed a string of films with him, told BBC Breakfast: “He is effortlessly personable. He is somebody who always makes you feel like you’re trusted, like you are about to do your best work, and that he believes in you to be able to bring that.

“I started out editing his movies and I ended up directing him in three films and he always made me feel like I was Spielberg, he would come on to the set and look at you and and you just felt completely capable.

“So it’s not surprising that he’s risen to this moment, at least not to me.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in his sitcom ‘Servant of the People' (Channel 4)
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in his sitcom ‘Servant of the People' (Channel 4)

He added: “Whatever we see in the way of courage, whatever we see in the way of stalwartness and resoluteness is really just a mirror of the Ukrainian people.

“My experience in Ukraine, and I’m married to a Ukrainian woman for 12 years now that I met on a Zelensky movie in Kyiv, is that this is who they are.

“So it’s not surprising to see, to see Volodymyr behaving this way, because in my experience, it’s the heart of who Ukrainians are.”

Asked if he knew about Zelensky’s political aspirations, Dodson said: “It was never discussed. On the last film that we did together during 2018 he was actively planning his campaign, it was an open secret, but he never talked about it and he really discouraged anybody from talking about it.

“It wasn’t something that he wanted anybody to know anything about, so it was very separate – his work life and home life and then whatever that was going to be.

“We all knew that he was going to declare his candidacy but it was a completely taboo subject on set and in the offices.”

Zelensky also provided the voice of Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian dubbing of the 2014 and 2017 films, and won the country’s version of Dancing with the Stars in 2006. Read our rundown of his entertainment career here.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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