HBO terminated its contract with Serbian-Russian actor Milos Bikovic for a role in an upcoming season of the White Lotus series a week after Ukraine called out the television network over his casting, sources told the Deadline media outlet on Feb. 2.
Bikovic has worked in Russia for over a decade and was granted Russian citizenship by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. The actor has repeatedly justified Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and has not condemned the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
HBO announced on Jan. 12 that Bikovic had been cast for the upcoming third season of the popular show The White Lotus. He was supposed to play a small role of Russian Valentin, a flirtatious yoga instructor at a Thailand hotel, according to Deadline.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry posted a video on Jan. 24 featuring Bikovic's pro-Russian statements and a video of an award ceremony where Putin gave Bikovic an award for "contribution to Russian culture," among other things.
"Is it all right for you to work with a person who supports genocide & violates international law?" the ministry wrote on X (formerly Twitter), tagging the TV network.
Bikovic has traveled to Russian-occupied Crimea multiple times, including for work, resulting in Kyiv putting him on a no-entry list. He starred in popular Russian movies and TV shows, including those directed by known war supporter Nikita Mikhalkov.
The actor confirmed on Feb. 3 that he would not star in The White Lotus, calling the events "a targeted campaign… that can create a disturbing precedent shadowing the essence of artistic freedom."
"I was honored to be chosen to be a part of White Lotus, a TV series that I hold in high regard and with colleagues whom I deeply respect," Bikovic said in a statement published on X.
"However, my participation is not possible due to reasons beyond the realm of art, and I will not bow to any narrative that seeks to compromise my integrity."
HBO will now recast Bikovic's part as production is about to start in Thailand.