Benedict Cumberbatch says he was “blown away” by the heroism of the businessman-turned-spy he plays in his latest movie, which is in New Zealand cinemas this week.
The English actor stars in The Courier, which tells the story of Greville Wynne, a Welsh businessman who ends up couriering information from Russia to England that played a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962.
Wynne, who was “was near illiterate, highly dyslexic but he had the gift of the gab”, went from selling western machine parts in Russia to being a Cold War spy with MI6, Cumberbatch said.
“He ended up from being this Welsh-born businessman in the middle of his life, quite rotund on his many liquid lunches … to ending up couriering information that basically helped Kennedy win the game of chess against Kruschev as everyone else held their breathe under that cloud of destruction that was the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Cumberbatch said.
The Cuban Missile Crisis saw a confrontation between the United States and Russia over the deployment of missiles. It's the closest the two countries came to nuclear war during the Cold War, many consider.
MI6 and the CIA saw Wynne as a possible spy at a time when the usual development channels for spies were exposed.
“We were really struggling to find a new way of couriering information back from beyond the Iron Curtain and they saw this guy, they tapped in with CIA and asked him to take his business into Russia and he did,” Cumberbatch, a best actor Oscar nominee for The Imitation Game, said.
“He made contact and that was supposed to be it, just make contact with this guy, turned out to be Colonel Penkovsky, the highest-ranking Soviet official turned informant during the Cold War entering the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
“It’s amazing, a backroom player, I didn’t know about this story, I didn’t know about these two players, I knew about the Cuban Missile Crisis but I was blown away by the extraordinary nature of this ordinary man’s heroism.”
The Courier opens in NZ cinemas on Thursday, April 1.