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Elijah Wood and Other Actors Were Duped Into Making Russian-Propaganda Videos on Cameo

An app where mid-level celebrities can make beer money by carrying out the instructions of a total stranger via a selfie video… what could possibly go wrong? Elijah Wood (OK, so the “Lord of the Rings” star is above “mid”), Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad,” Kate Flannery from “The Office,” Priscilla Presley (“The Naked Gun”), and “Scrubs” curmudgeon John McGinley found out the answer the hard way this summer.

Beginning in July, “Russia-aligned influence actors have tricked celebrities into providing video messages that were then used in pro-Russian propaganda,” the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center found and shared in a Thursday blog post. The videos were then “manipulated to falsely paint Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a drug addict.”

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OK, so that could go wrong.

American actors and other celebrities, including musician Shavo Odadjian, were apparently asked to provide messages of support on Cameo (almost certainly; the popular website will not confirm the specific activity) to someone named “Vladimir.” The unwitting stars were instructed to plead for “Vladimir” to seek help for a substance-abuse problem.

IndieWire reached out to reps for each of the actors. Only Flannery’s publicist called us back, saying “Kate unequivocally supports Ukraine,” and her client is “very upset” by the misuse of her Cameo.

Wood’s video opened with “Hi, Vladimir, Elijah here,” according to the New York Times, and ended with: “I hope you can get the help you need.” That one cost $340, the “Lord of the Rings” star’s going rate; Wood’s Cameo page is now “temporarily unavailable.” (A Flannery Cameo runs $190, Presley is $200, Norris is $245, and McGinley is $475.)

Hey, you know what sounds a whole lot like Vladimir? Right, it’s Volodymyr.

The videos were then modified to include emojis, links, and sometimes even the logos of media outlets like TMZ. Those cuts were then put on social media “to advance longstanding false Russian claims that the Ukrainian leader struggles with substance abuse,” Microsoft found.

The report adds later: “Russian cyber and influence operators have demonstrated adaptability throughout the war on Ukraine, trying new ways to gain battlefield advantage and sap Kyiv’s sources of domestic and external support.”

We’ll say. But what say you, Cameo?

“As a matter of company policy, Cameo doesn’t publicly comment on the details of its Trust & Safety investigations,” a Cameo spokesperson told IndieWire. “That said, bookings of the sort you describe would violate Cameo’s Community Guidelines, and in cases where such violations are substantiated Cameo will typically take steps to remove the problematic content and suspend the purchaser’s account to help prevent further issues.”

A screenshot of "Breaking Bad" actor Dean Norris' Cameo page
“Breaking Bad” actor Dean Norris’ Cameo pageCameo.com

Cameo boasts it has “thousands” of celebrities-for-hire. Their video messages are perfect for “birthdays, milestones, or even a well-deserved roast,” the website reads.

Instructions for creating the perfect Cameo include: “During checkout, you’ll provide the details the celeb will need to make the perfect personalized video.” The celebrities then have one week to complete the task.

Some celebrities use Cameo as a secondary revenue stream, and the need for an alternative means to make money has never been more in demand. In 2020 and 2021, it was the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering all production. More recently it was the actors strike.

Others, like the SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher (“The Nanny,” $999 for a Cameo), donate proceeds from the side-hustle website to charity.

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