Trump campaign vows lawsuit over biopic ‘The Apprentice.’ The controversy, explained

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The early days of Donald Trump's rise to prominence as a real estate mogul in New York City are the subject of a new film that has prompted promises of a lawsuit from the former president's campaign.

"The Apprentice" premiered on May 20 at the Cannes Film Festival in France, earning an ovation from the crowd — and an angry response from Trump.

The film stars Sebastian Stan as a young Trump, and "Succession" star Jeremy Strong as his mentor, notorious New York City attorney and fixer Roy Cohn, who is shown guiding Trump early in his career and instilling much of the mentality that defines Trump today.

Here's what to know about the controversy.

What is 'The Apprentice' about?

Director Ali Abbasi depicts Trump as a young playboy in the mid-1980s in New York City, when he worked for his father's real estate firm and sought to make connections to the city's powerful figures.

The central relationship in the movie is between Trump and the late Roy Cohn, a former attorney and prosecutor who first rose to prominence as the chief counsel in Sen. Joseph McCarthy's notorious investigations of suspected communists in the 1950s.

Cohn mentors an impressionable young Trump about how to navigate the cutthroat world of New York City real estate, politics and business, according to a review of the film in Variety.

He comes into Trump's orbit after being hired as attorney by the Trump family when the U.S. Justice Department files a lawsuit against the Trump Organization. The company was accused of discrimination practices against prospective Black renters in its apartment buildings.

The film then shows Trump becoming acquainted with other powerful figures in the city and eventually meeting his first wife, Ivana, according to the Variety review. The crumbling of their marriage and accusations of philandering by Trump are depicted, along with Trump distancing himself from his mentor Cohn, a gay man who died in 1986 from complications from AIDS.

The movie was written by journalist Gabriel Sherman, who profiled Trump in various magazines and publications over the years. It received an eight-minute standing ovation at Cannes, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Variety called the film "sharp and scathing," while The Hollywood Reporter described it as "a chilling account" and said Strong and Stan are "superb."

There is no date for when it will be released in the U.S. It's for sale in Cannes and has not secured a deal with a distributor yet.

Which scene is causing controversy?

The movie reportedly includes a striking scene that depicts Trump raping his then-wife, Ivana, who is played by "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" actor Maria Bakalova.

The scene drew "audible gasps" from the crowd at Cannes, according to The Hollywood Reporter. has not seen the film and does not have first-hand details about the scene. The movie opens with a disclaimer that some events are fictionalized and names have been changed, according to Variety, The Guardian and others.

Ivana Trump said in a divorce deposition in 1990 that Donald raped her in 1989. She claimed her husband had lashed out at her after going to her plastic surgeon for painful scalp surgery.

“He raped me,” she allegedly told her close friends, according to the 1993 book that first reported the deposition, “Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump," by Harry Hurt III, according to NBC News.

Donald Trump denied the allegation. Ivana Trump later disavowed that she was raped.

“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me. [O]n one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage," she said in a statement published in Hurt’s book.

"As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”

Ivana died at 73 in 2022.

What is Trump’s response to 'The Apprentice' movie?

The former president has promised legal action against the filmmakers.

"We will be filing a lawsuit to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers," Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement to NBC News on May 21.

"This garbage is pure fiction which sensationalizes lies that have been long debunked. As with the illegal Biden Trials, this is election interference by Hollywood elites, who know that President Trump will retake the White House and beat their candidate of choice because nothing they have done has worked.

"This 'film' is pure malicious defamation, should not see the light of day, and doesn’t even deserve a place in the straight-to-DVD section of a bargain bin at a soon-to-be-closed discount movie store, it belongs in a dumpster fire.”

Abbasi, the director, appeared unfazed after being informed of the Trump campaign's comments while in Cannes.

"Everybody talks about him suing a lot of people — they don’t talk about his success rate though, you know?” he told reporters, according to The Associated Press.

The director then offered to screen the movie privately for Trump.

“I don’t necessarily think that this is a movie he would dislike,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think he would like it. I think he would be surprised, you know?

"And like I’ve said before, I would offer to go and meet him wherever he wants and talk about the context of the movie, have a screening and have a chat afterwards, if that’s interesting to anyone at the Trump campaign.”

This article was originally published on