CANNES, France — A lawyer for former president Donald Trump has accused the filmmakers of “The Apprentice” of defamation and illegal election interference in a cease and desist letter obtained by The Washington Post.

The docudrama, which premiered to a huge standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, stars Sebastian Stan as the future president and tracks Trump’s rise to power and malevolence as a New York real estate mogul in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It depicts Trump as a rapist, and has been broadly attacked by the former president’s lawyers as a politically-motivated fabrication.

“The Movie presents itself as a factual biography of Mr. Trump, yet nothing could be further from the truth,” Trump attorney David A. Warrington wrote in the letter, sent Wednesday to the film’s director and writer. “It is a concoction of lies that repeatedly defames President Trump and constitutes direct foreign interference in America’s elections.”

A film still of The Apprentice, which premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. Mongrel Media/Cannes Film Festival

Much of the three-page letter is spent attacking people involved with the movie for previous statements about Trump. It notes that Jeremy Strong, who plays Trump’s old political fixer Roy Cohn, compared the former president’s rhetoric to that of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Joseph Goebbels in a statement from the actor that director Ali Abbasi read aloud at a Cannes news conference. It accuses screenwriter Gabriel Sherman – a political journalist at Vanity Fair – of having “Trump Derangement Syndrome” for his own attacks on the president.

The letter also cites Abbasi’s Iranian-Danish heritage and the film’s funding from countries such as Denmark, Ireland and Canada.

“It is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute or donate money in connection with a federal election,” Warrington wrote, citing Bluman v. Federal Election Commission, an early 2010s election-finance case whose relevance to “The Apprentice” is unclear.


The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that movies are protected under the free speech clause of the First Amendment. In 1952’s Burstyn v. Wilson, the Justices ruled that the Constitution prohibited the censoring of the movie “Miracle” as sacrilegious. Further decisions in 1973, though, did determine that in certain cases distributors of films may be subject to laws regulating obscenity and pornography.

Trump’s threats of legal action against the film date back to the night of the premiere. “We will be filing a lawsuit to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers,” Trump’s campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement before seeing the film. “This garbage is pure fiction which sensationalizes lies that have long been debunked.” (Cheung also said the film “doesn’t even deserve a place in the straight-to-DVD section of a bargain bin at a soon-to-be-closed discount movie store.”)

The filmmakers have taken such threats in stride. “Everybody talks about him [Trump] suing a lot of people. They don’t talk about his success rate, though.” Abbasi said at a Tuesday news conference.

On Friday, producers released a statement in response to the letter: “The film is a fair and balanced portrait of the former president. We want everyone to see it and then decide.”

The film, which Abbasi has said he hopes to release in mid-September during the presidential debates, still has no U.S. distribution. According to a source with the film who spoke on the condition of anonymity for legal reasons, there has been “intense” interest from buyers at Cannes, all of whom have had to bring lawyers with them to parse out the issues of releasing the film under the threat of being sued.

The letter gives the filmmakers a deadline of May 27 to respond to their “gross violation of President Trump and the American people’s rights.”


Ahead of its premiere, “The Apprentice” was the center of massive intrigue and questions about its tone. It portrays Trump’s origin story in a dark and chilling light, containing graphic scenes of him undergoing plastic surgery and sexually assaulting his first wife Ivana Trump – allegations that appear to be based on her 1990 divorce deposition. Maria Bakalova, the Oscar-nominated Bulgarian actress from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” plays the late former model and business executive.

Ivana said in her deposition that Trump raped her a year earlier in a fit of rage caused by a painful scalp reduction surgery with Ivana’s plastic surgeon. She described the incident as a “violent assault,” in which Trump also ripped out chunks of her hair, sparking a nationwide debate around the then-little-discussed concept of marital rape.

In 1993, however, Ivana recanted her description of the alleged incident, saying she felt “violated,” but that nothing criminal had happened.

Trump also previously denied the allegation – along with Ivana’s claim that he had scalp reduction surgery.

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