Now, as Ukraine’s real-life president, he has found himself embroiled in an international scandal, with a phone call he had with President Trump in July at the center of an impeachment inquiry in Washington.
With his unusual background, Zelensky has more experience talking to actors than world leaders. And on Monday evening, after days of high-level meetings at the United Nations in New York, he seemed at ease as he welcomed American movie star Tom Cruise to Kiev.
In a statement, the presidential office said Cruise visited Ukraine at Zelensky’s invitation.
“You’re good-looking ... like in a movie,” Zelensky, a professional comedian, told Cruise, as the room burst into laughter.
“It pays the rent,” Cruise joked back.
Zelensky’s office released clips of their exchange, in which Cruise can be heard saying, “We’re looking, we’re seeing, we’re very excited about it … very excited,” and later mentioning that he took note of Ukraine’s cobblestone streets.
Little context for their comments is available in the released clips, but Zelensky can also be heard referencing the Minsk process, an agreement that was intended to bring about a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting with Ukrainian troops since 2014.
The clips don’t include any mention of Zelensky’s role in the ongoing political crisis in Washington. Last week, the White House released a rough transcript of the July call between Trump and Zelensky, in which Trump asks the Ukrainian leader for a “favor”: to help with an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, one of Trump’s top political rivals.
But at one point in his meeting with Cruise, Zelensky seems to mention how exhausted he is.
“I get up and I’m tired,” Zelensky tells Cruise with a laugh.