The series does not reveal character details but Biković is believed to have been cast in the small recurring role of Russian Valentin, a flirtatious yogi and the hotel’s Life Enhancement Mentor. The part will now be recast as production is about to start in and around Koh Samui, Phuket, and Bangkok.
The decision comes more than a week after Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called out HBO over the casting of Serbian-Russian actor Biković.
Tagging the U.S. network in a video post featuring public comments by Biković, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked: “Is it all right for you to work with a person who supports genocide & violates international law?”
In the soundbites from Biković interviews, juxtaposed in the video with snippets from White Lotus, he appears to back Russia’s occupation of Crimea, which became a precursor to the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The actor has traveled to the peninsula multiple times, including for work, resulting in Ukraine putting him on a no-entry list in 2019. That could’ve put Biković’s name on the Ukraine government’s radar quickly after his casting in The White Lotus was announced Jan. 12.
The 36-year-old Serbian national has worked in Russia for over a decade, becoming one of the most popular actors in the country and working with such prominent directors as Oscar winner Nikita Mikhalkov who was sanctioned by the EU for his support of Russia’s 2022 invasion. In 2021, Bikovic was granted Russian citizenship by a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin who also awarded Bikovic a medal in 2018.
Video of that award ceremony is included in the Ukraine video, in which the MOF accused Biković of supporting the war.
On Twitter (now X) soon after the invasion, Biković shared a poll showing trust in Putin was higher than U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And in an Instagram post at that time, he wished there were no wars, adding, “God save the lives of all those who are now in danger.”
There is no public record of Biković supporting Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. But he did not condemn it in 2022 and he hasn’t done it since the release of last week’s damaging video.
His silence likely contributed to his exit from The White Lotus as it put HBO in a difficult position trying to navigate geo-political and artistic landmines.
Biković, who saw the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs jump to his defense last week, found himself in an even tighter spot. Denouncing Russia’s actions in Ukraine could’ve protected his shot at a Hollywood career — at a great personal risk.
The actor, who became a father for the first time only a couple of days before his White Lotus casting was announced, was put in the spotlight amid a major crackdown on dissent about the Ukraine war in Russia, with private citizens who voice opposition facing long prison terms.