President Zelensky's Showbiz Origins From 'Paddington' to 'Dancing With the Stars'

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has become an internationally recognizable name for his response to Russia's invasion, but many people are only just discovering his early career work as an actor and comedian.

Zelensky's passionate speeches to Ukrainians and his eagerness to join the fight have inspired many, but others are just as surprised by his pre-political life as an entertainer. Several clips of him appearing in movies, television shows and comedy sketches have gone viral online.

Prior to being elected as the president of Ukraine in 2019, Zelensky was involved with the Ukrainian versions of Dancing with the Stars, Paddington, many other comedy movies, and a TV show that proved to be a precursor to his political career.

Volodymyr Zelensky's Comedy Roots

Long before he took office, Zelensky competed in, and in 1997 ultimately won, a TV comedy competition called KVN. From that point he formed his own comedy team called Kvartal 95, which saw him perform on television, and regularly tour across the former Soviet countries including Russia.

He later started appearing in TV shows and movies, with his first IMDB credit being listed as a musical version of The Three Musketeers (2005) where he played D'Artagnan. Zelensky went on to write and star in a number of other movies and TV shows, most of which were comedies.

In 2008 he landed a lead role as Igor in the Ukrainian romcom Love in the Big City and its sequels Love in the Big City 2 (2010) and Love in Vegas (2014).

A clip of Zelensky performing an intricate dance for a comedy show in Ukraine went viral. The clip, first posted in 2014 has over 3 million views online.

Dancing With the Stars (Ukraine)

Zelensky proved his versatility in 2006 when he competed in and ultimately won the first season of the Ukrainian version of Dancing with the Stars.

With his professional dance partner Olena Shoptenko, he made it through eight weeks of competition to be crowned king of the ballroom. Clips of Zelensky's performance on the show have been widely shared online since the Ukrainian conflict began.

A compilation of his entire journey and many of his dances on the show gained over 4.8 million views on Twitter less than a day after being shared by @abughazalehkat.

Voicing Paddington Bear

Another of Zelensky's major roles has come to prominence again after the British actor Hugh Bonneville tweeted about a shared project.

Zelensky provided that voice for Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian dubbing of the movies Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017). Bonneville who starred in the movie and its sequel, wrote on Twitter, "Until today I had no idea who provided the voice of [Paddington Bear] in Ukraine. Speaking for myself, thank you, President Zelenskiy." Alongside the tweet, he shared a link to a YouTube video that featured Zelensky recording his lines for the movie.

Life Imitating Art

Perhaps Zelensky's most important project was the one that directly led him to the position of Ukrainian president, four years before he was elected by the people of Ukraine.

He starred in the comedy series Servant of the People as Vasiliy Petrovich Goloborodko. The character was a school teacher whose rant about the government goes viral, leading to him being elected as president of Ukraine.

Off the back of the show, across 2019 Zelensky ran an ultimately successful campaign for president, referencing his character and the TV show throughout. He was elected with nearly 73 percent of the public vote and was inaugurated on May 20, 2019.

Volodymyr Zelensky Paddington and Dancing
President Zelensky (pictured in Arlington, Virgina in September 2021) had a successful career as an actor and comedian, voicing Paddington Bear and winning the Ukrainian version of "Dancing with the Stars." Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images / StudioCanal / 1+1