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Croatian Filmmaker Seeks to Polish Image of Late Leader by Casting... Kevin Spacey?

A hagiographic movie about the stiff former leader of a small Balkan country was never going to be a global box-office hit. But its director, a former water polo champion turned darling of right-wing Croatian cinema, found a novel way to generate some buzz: He cast Kevin Spacey as its star.

While Hollywood has generally turned its back on Mr. Spacey because of sexual assault accusations against him, purging the 63-year-old from its roster of bankable talent and deleting him from productions already in the works, a new cinematic tribute to a nationalist leader some view as a dangerous bigot puts the “House of Cards” star front and center.

The 90-minute film celebrates Croatia’s first president, the late Franjo Tudjman, a leader revered by fans as a Balkan George Washington but reviled by foes as an ethnonationalist zealot. The movie, “Once Upon a Time in Croatia,” goes into general release in Croatia in February and will be screened in other countries, including the United States.

The director, Jakov Sedlar, 70, conceded in an interview that in Croatia, many people, particularly the young, do not care much about Mr. Tudjman, a highly divisive authoritarian figure whom the historian Tony Judt described as “one of the more egregiously unattractive” leaders to emerge in the early 1990s from the rubble of Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was formerly a part.

Warren Zimmerman, who was the American ambassador to Yugoslavia as the multiethnic country unraveled, warned in a 1992 cable to Washington that Mr. Tudjman’s election as Croatia’s president in May 1990 had brought to power “a narrow-minded, crypto-racist regime” that, in tandem with Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, was unleashing “nationalism, the Balkan killer.”

But having Mr. Spacey play Mr. Tudjman, the director said last week in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, “will definitely help” break through a wall of what is at best public indifference and at worst fierce hostility toward the man who led Croatia’s battle for independence.

“Ask people whether they have heard of Spacey or Tudjman, they will, of course, say Spacey,” he said. The American actor’s fame, no matter the risk of it curdling into infamy, and undisputed acting talent, Mr. Sedlar added, “will certainly attract people to see my film about Tudjman.”

Read entire article at New York Times