LONDON (AP) — David Tennant remembers seeing in the news the image of Alexander Litvinenko lying in a hospital bed.
It’s a photograph the actor has re-created — with support from makeup artists, prosthetic professionals and the art department— for his title role in “Litvinenko.”
The four-episode miniseries written by George Kay follows the investigation into what happened after Litvinenko — a former KGB agent who defected and became a critic of Russia — was killed by poisoning in 2006.
Tennant says they were motivated to get it right and felt the “weight of responsibility” of recent history.
“The ripples of this moment are still being felt in the pond we’re all still swimming in. Everyone wanted to approach this with a respect for the material, that perhaps goes above and beyond what one might more readily expect," says the "Doctor Who'' actor.
Litvinenko died in London after drinking tea laced with radioactive material in a hotel with two Russian men. He spent three weeks in the hospital but spoke to police from his bed, starting the investigation into what would be his killing.
Tennant marvels at “the very fact that Sasha (Litvinenko) had to survive against the odds, the overwhelming odds, for as long as he did ... for them to be able to identify what his poison was, where it had come from, how this had happened ...”
At the heart of the series is Marina Litvinenko, who is portrayed by Margarita Levieva. Marina Litvinenko's fight to ensure her husband is not forgotten and her persistence in the investigation and court cases is central to the series.
In September 2021, the European Court of Human Rights backed the findings of a 2016 British inquiry that said two Russian agents were responsible for the killing of Litvinenko.
Marina Litvinenko also inspired the dedication of those working on the series.
“Suddenly it moves from a story that’s about politics and the dynamics of world diplomacy into a story that’s very raw and that’s very personal and that’s about family,” says Tennant.
“And if we can allow him (Litvinenko) some victory in death, then should be that."
“Litvinenko” also stars Neil Maskell, Mark Bonnar and Stephen Campbell Moore. The series debuts on Sundance Now and AMC+ on Dec. 16.
Tennant practiced a Russian accent and phrases virtually with a dialect coach ahead of filming. He is proud of the production and interested in viewers’ response to its depiction of events 16 years ago.
“It feels more relevant,” he says, considering the current Russia-Ukraine war.
When it comes to choosing projects, Tennant opts for those that feel relevant, exciting and different, like “Litvinenko.” He has had leading roles in “Around the World in 80 Days" and ”Good Omens," which will launch its second season next year on Amazon Prime Video. He’s also returning to “Doctor Who.”
“There’s a slight precedent for that, old doctors showing up for five minutes here and there. But to get a proper old run around in the Converse again was more than I ever dared imagine. So, it was a treat from start to finish.”