HBO has parted ways with Milos Bikovic, a Serbian actor whose casting in the third season of “The White Lotus” had drawn criticism from Ukraine’s foreign ministry for his ties to Russia, according to an HBO spokeswoman.
Bikovic’s role in the dark comedy will be recast, the spokeswoman said.
In a statement provided through a spokesman on Friday, Bikovic said that he was leaving because of external pressure.
“Today, a targeted campaign has been unleashed against me, seemingly as an external maneuver to influence decisions that can create a disturbing precedent shadowing the essence of artistic freedom,” Bikovic said in the statement. “The result of such a narrative is the triumph of absurdity and the defeat of art.”
HBO announced on Jan. 12 that Bikovic, 36, would be joining the “White Lotus” cast. Ukraine’s foreign ministry criticized the decision on social media weeks later, writing on X, “HBO, is it all right for you to work with a person who supports genocide & violates international law?”
On Instagram in 2022, in a post shared the day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Bikovic said that he wished the war had not happened. “War and bloodshed on any side reminds us of how far humanity is from global unity and love,” he wrote in Russian and Serbian. “God save the lives of all those who are now in danger!”
Bikovic has been celebrated by Russia’s leadership. He was awarded the Pushkin Medal, which honors contributions to Russian arts and culture, by President Vladimir V. Putin in 2018. The following year Ukraine barred Bikovic from entering the country for what it called national security reasons, prompting him to tell a Serbian publication that “the situation is absurd.” He received Russian citizenship by presidential decree in 2021.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Before he was cast in “The White Lotus,” Bikovic acted in movies including “South Wind,” which follows a gang member in Belgrade; “Sunstroke,” about military officers remembering the collapse of the Russian Empire; “Ice,” in which he plays a figure skater; and “The Balkan Line,” about a military operation during the Kosovo war.
In his statement, he referred to his childhood growing up in a war-torn country and expressed his opposition to all armed conflict.
“There are more and more active conflicts in the entire world,” he said. “Each one is different. Each one is heartbreaking. I wish all of them to stop and principles of love to prevail.”
Season 3 of “The White Lotus” is set to begin production in Thailand this month and is scheduled to air in 2025. The ensemble will include Walton Goggins, Carrie Coon, Parker Posey and the returning cast member Natasha Rothwell.