No one familiar with Dan Stevens’ past performances in the likes of 2014’s The Guest or FX’s Legion doubted that the actor would give his all playing a larger than life pop sensation in Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, but he still managed to be the focus of much of the online chatter from viewers who streamed the film after it landed this June.
In the movie, headlined by Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, Stevens plays Alexander Lemtov, an outlandish Russian singer who seems to have a Eurovision win in the bag, but there’s a lot more going on under the surface of his story, as ‘Mother Russia’ has only allowed him the level of freedom and success he’s achieved so far at the cost of hiding his true identity. “There are no gay people in Russia,” Lemtov asserts, echoing the disturbing words of real-life Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov back in 2017.
Stevens says he came aboard the project late in the day in a new interview with Vulture.
“I think they’ve been talking about it for years,” he said. “Will, ever since he first saw Eurovision back in the ’90s, he was like, “Wow. Someone should make a movie about this.” But he always assumed that someone else would. Nobody did. And then they decided to revisit it. And so he got together with some old SNL buddies, and they wrote this hilarious script. I think David Dobkin had been a fan [of mine] for a little while, and then Beauty and the Beast came out, and they realized I was into singing.”
The actor explained that he was supposed to have his voice blended with Swedish singer Eric Mjönes’ before the film was released, “but then the world got turned upside down” and it didn’t happen. Still, Lemtov’s ludicrously sexual Eurovision track ‘Lion of Love’ gave Stevens a lot of insight into the character.
“I could immediately see the kind of character that he was, and then we looked more into that style of performer. Lemtov is not particularly alien to the Eurovision style, that sort of pop/operatic style, incredibly bombastic, very sort of sexualized staging. It just looked like so much fun.”
Stevens also notes that the contest itself has long been a fixture not only in Europe, but in the LGBTQ calendar, and while Lemtov’s magnetic personality and performance is at the enviable centre of the annual event, he continues to be in turmoil.
“The other thing to note is how important the song contest is to the LGBTQ community. For a lot of countries, it’s one of the rare opportunities that they get to see that shown on a stage, and they get to celebrate it,” he said. “It’s a kind of safe haven for a lot of people in that sense. They have a huge following in that community in Europe, and around the world. Even in America, I think, it’s known for that. And that’s something that’s really, really celebrated. Obviously, Lemtov is torn because he comes from a culture that doesn’t allow him to acknowledge that. I guess that is his tragedy, and that’s what I thought made him such a well-rounded character, rather than just making him all-out absurd. There’s sort of this sad kind of inner conflict: On the exterior, he’s this wild, bombastic performer, but he’s not actually able to live out his truth. A character like Lemtov in his own country, very few people would have questioned his sexuality. I think if you look back at performers here back in the ‘80s, a lot of people didn’t think George Michael was gay. He was out there performing, and nobody was questioning that, especially in England. How people live their public persona versus their private persona — there are still, to this day, in a lot of cultures, performers who live with that conflict.”
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is streaming now on Netflix.