Ian McKellen was catfished by Russian trolls

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: British actor Sir Ian McKellen arrives at Westminster Abbey for a memorial service for theatre great Sir Peter Hall OBE on September 11, 2018 in London, England. Sir Peter Hall was the former director of the National Theatre and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He died on September 11, 2017 aged 86.
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According to a statement made by the Lord of the Rings actor on his Twitter account today, Ian McKellen has been catfished into making a video appearance with what he believed was going to be a discussion with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but was apparently Russian prankster duo known as Vovan and Lexus, who are supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to McKellen’s statement, he received a message that appeared to come from London’s Ukrainian Embassy inviting him to participate in “a private discussion with President Zelensky.” After being encouraged by his own contacts in Ukraine, McKellen agreed to the meeting although he confessed to being surprised at being contacted. Over the course of the voice-only call, McKellen realized the meeting was, in his own words, a “dirty trick” and “declined to cooperate any further.”

Vovan and Lexus, whose real names are Vladimir Kuznetsov (Vovan) and Aleksei Stolyarov (Lexus), have employed this methodology before, in order to fool prominent western media figures into making absurd and outrageous claims regarding the conflict in Ukraine as well as Zelenskyy. In July, author Stephen King fell victim to a similar prank by the duo, as did J.K. Rowling the month before. Both authors had stopped publishing work in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Other celebrities that Vovan and Lexus have catfished include former President George W. Bush, Vice President Kamala Harris, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and singer Elton John. They have also pranked Russian nationals like Soviet dissident Valeriya Novodvorskaya, Russian politician Vladimir Medinsky, and others critical of Putin’s government.  The pair have been banned from YouTube after they impersonated Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal, saying Ukraine was seeking out nuclear deterrents to fight against the Russian invasion.

The pair are not stand-up comedians, nor are they radio or television performers in Russia, and their stock in trade seems to be solely making prank calls against any and all who are critical of Russia or Russian policy. They “call themselves comedians” as McKellen notes, “which is surprising because their jokes aren’t funny.”