Jeremy Strong Says ‘We’re Living in a World Where Truth Is Under Assault’ in Cannes Statement

Cannes 2024: The actor, currently on Broadway in “An Enemy of the People,” plays Donald Trump’s mentor Roy Cohn

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"The Apprentice" (Credit: Festival de Cannes)

Jeremy Strong, who plays the vicious lawyer Roy Cohn in Ali Abbasi’s “The Apprentice,” was unable to attend the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday night because of commitments on Broadway. But the “Succession” actor sent a written statement excoriating Trump and Cohn, which Abbasi read at Cannes on Tuesday.

“I deeply wish I could be there with you right now but I am on stage in New York doing Henrik Ibsen’s play ‘An Enemy of the People,’” he said. “‘Enemy of the People’ is a phrase that has been used by Stalin, Mao, Goebbels and, most recently, by Donald Trump, when he denounced the free press and called the ‘fake news media’ — CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and The New York Times — an ‘Enemy of the People.’”

Strong then turned his attention to “The Apprentice” — and specifically the man he plays, Cohn.

“We are living in a world where truth is under assault,” he continued. “And in America, that assault on truth in many ways began in the malevolent chrysalis of Donald Trump’s apprenticeship under Roy Cohn. Cohn was called ‘an assault specialist’ by The National Law Journal, and at this perilous moment in history we are experiencing Roy Cohn’s long, dark shadow. His legacy of lies, of outright denialism, of manipulation and flagrant disregard for truth is incarnate in his star pupil.”

Strong concluded by applauding Abbasi’s movie, saying, “Ali Abbasi has made a monster movie, where one begets another. It is an attempt to understand, in the words of the 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam, how ‘yesterday this day’s madness did prepare.’”

The full passage from Khayyám’s poem “The Rubáiyát” reads, “Yesterday this day’s madness did prepare/Tomorrow’s silence, triumph, or despair/Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why/Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.”

Despite his role as the chief prosecutor in the McCarthy trials, Cohn is still best known for his remarkable friendship with Trump. Often blasted as a hypocrite (Cohn was a gay man who prosecuted other gay men and ran them out of their jobs), he died of AIDS in 1986 after publicly denying he was gay and insisting he had liver cancer.

Cohn and Trump crossed paths in the 1970s after the U.S. government sued Trump and his father for discriminating against Black renters of apartments they owned. Cohn encouraged Trump to countersue the Justice Department, and the case was ultimately settled.

A 2016 piece by the Washington Post said Cohn is the man who taught Trump how to “exploit power and instill fear,” two skills it’s difficult to deny that Trump has continued to hone to this day.

Though Strong doesn’t strongly resemble Cohn, he expertly captured the man’s “morally vacant” look, according to TheWrap’s review of “The Apprentice.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Strong said, “We’re living in a world where trust is on assault.” That has been amended throughout.

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