Margarita Levieva said she was “scared” to take on the role of Alexander Litvinenko’s wife because of what Russian President Vladimir Putin is “capable of”.
The Russian-American actress said she decided playing Marina Litvinenko, who has campaigned for justice for her husband, was “too important” so decided to star in upcoming ITVX series Litvinenko.
Litvinenko, a former Russian federal security services and KGB officer and outspoken critic of Putin, died in agony in November 2006 after ingesting a rare radioactive substance.
The new drama will explore the story of the Metropolitan Police officers who investigated the case of Litvinenko who was found in declining health at University College Hospital in London.
Litvinenko will be played by Doctor Who star David Tennant as Mark Bonnar and Neil Maskell portray former New Scotland Yard officers Clive Timmons and Brent Hyatt.
Levieva was asked by PA news agency at a launch event for ITVX if she was hesitant about being in the series.
The 42-year-old actress, who has previously starred in The Blacklist and Revenge, said: “I was scared.
“I remember asking my family (and friends) because I’m from Russia…’if I’m making a mistake taking this on’ knowing what the president (Putin) is capable of, knowing what it would mean for me to portray her but I just felt like the story was too important.”
She added: “The honour and the privilege of being able to tell it was really important to me.”
Levieva also met with Litvinenko’s widow before taking on the role who she said made it “that much easier” as she was “really kind”.
She said: “It was wild…I was terrified because it was the first time I’ve ever played a person who is still alive and it’s such an extraordinary person so I was really nervous.
“But Marina was just incredibly generous and just so kind and happy I was cast, she made it that much easier.
“What struck me the most is she is such a force of nature…I expected if I were to meet her she would be in a state of grief, she is and it’s always living with her, but I think she’s more filled with love, than grief and I think that’s really inspiring.”
A UK public inquiry concluded in 2016 that Russians Dmitri Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi, had deliberately poisoned Litvinenko by putting Polonium-210 into his drink at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair.
Headed by the former High Court judge Sir Robert Owen, the inquiry found the tea poisoning had “probably” been carried out with the approval of the Russian president.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) also ruled last year, following a case brought by Litvinenko’s widow, that Russia was responsible for his killing.
Russia has always denied any involvement in the death and had refused to comply with international arrest warrants issued for Kovtun and Lugovoi.
Sir Robert’s inquiry said the use of the radioactive substance – which could only have come from a nuclear reactor – was a “strong indicator” of state involvement and that the two men had probably been acting under the direction of the Russian security service the FSB, for which Litvinenko used to work.
Possible motives included Litvinenko’s work for British intelligence agencies after fleeing Russia, his criticism of the FSB, and his association with other Russian dissidents, while it was said there was also a “personal dimension” to the antagonism between him and Putin.
Kovtun died in June of Covid-19 in Moscow, according to state-owned Russian news agency Tass.
The full series of Litvinenko will be on ITVX from December 15.
The new streaming platform ITVX launches on December 8.