Last week, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was christened a war hero when he vowed to stay in his country’s capital of Kyiv and help fend off Vladimir Putin’s troops. “I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend our state, because our weapons are our truth,” said Zelenskyy, in a video the politician filmed himself on the streets of Kyiv. This weekend, the Twitterverse went deep on Zelenskyy’s backstory—revealing a venerable entertainment career known well by his countrymen, but one that is less familiar to citizens of other nations.
Before becoming president of Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s political experience was limited to playing Ukraine’s president on the popular satirical TV series he created and produced, Servant of the People. (In the series, Zelenskyy starred as a teacher who inadvertently became president. The series ended the same year Zelenskyy became the actual president.) The comedian and actor—who trained as a lawyer before veering into show business and eventually politics—was kind of a Jon Stewart–type figure in Ukraine.
It’s an unlikely backstory for a politician, even in a post-Trump world—but the internet’s collective mind was blown when Hugh Bonneville pointed out on Twitter that Zelenskyy also voiced Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian version of the animated children’s film. Perhaps even more incredibly, Zelenskyy not only competed in Ukraine’s version of Dancing With the Stars back in 2006, but won the competition after competing in hot pink, fringed bell-bottoms, and at another point, in a blindfold.
But dear readers, Zelenskyy’s entertainment résumé extends even beyond his competition-winning cha-cha. Because, for about a decade before becoming president, Zelenskyy was busy acting as a romantic-comedy lead. Ahead, a look back at his work in the rom-com realm.
No Love in the City (2009), No Love in the City 2 (2010), and Love in Vegas (2012)
Cowritten by Zelenskyy himself, 2009’s No Love in the City is set in New York and stars the future Ukrainian politician as a promiscuous dentist who, with two fellow expats, enjoys a hedonistic lifestyle in America until a man (specifically, according to bluray.com, “a drunken Russian nightclub owner”) puts a curse on all three, sapping them of their virility. After many comedic attempts to reclaim their machismo, they discover that the nightclub owner was St. Valentine himself(!) and that they can have sex, but only with a person whom they truly love. (Also worth mentioning: There is a scene in which Zelenskyy goes to a Times Square strip club wearing a white bucket hat.)
The film was enough of a commercial success to warrant a 2010 sequel despite only earning a 50% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. On the Russian movie board Kinopoisk, some viewers deemed it “a pleasant surprise.” Others, however, criticized the film for a plot they considered a Sex and the City rip-off, repackaged for men. Wrote one viewer (in a message translated by Google), “In Hollywood, too many do not shine with acting skills. But at least there the stars are charismatic and can revive the film!”
Office Romance. Our Time (2011)