Is Matthias Schoenaerts’ Herbert Zubak Based on a Real Army Officer?

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/HBO

Power and love, both in twisted forms, become central in the plot of HBO’s ‘The Regime.’ Set in an unnamed country in Central Europe, it follows the Chancellor of the state, Elena Vernham, who is changed after the arrival of Herbert Zubak. He is first invited into her palace to measure moisture in every room before the Chancellor enters it. He soon gains her trust and becomes the most influential person in her life, basically deciding the course of the country’s future. Considering the realistic arc of his character, the viewers are expected to be curious about his origins. Is he based on a real-life person?

Corporal Herbert Zubak is Entirely Fictional

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/HBO

‘The Regime’ is created and co-written by Will Tracy and in its entirety, is a fictional series. All the characters, though they may have a passing resemblance with some real-life political figures, are made up, with each one serving a part in the story. Zubak is not based on any specific person. Still, there may be some parallels with Rasputin, especially with Zubak completely taking over the leader of the country under his spell, so much so that even though Vernham used to be a physician, she believes his homemade remedies will help her where nothing else could. Zubak, while seemingly a nobody at the beginning of the show, eventually wields a lot of power through Elena, and that’s what makes him so dangerous.

Early on, the show makes it clear that Zubak is not the kind of person you want to put in charge of people. He doesn’t shy away from killing protestors, earning the title of “Butcher,” and never feeling any shame or remorse for his actions. In fact, a lot of the plot is influenced by his actions, which may make one think he was conceived as a co-protagonist to Kate Winslet’s Elena. However, Will Tracy revealed that, in the beginning, Zubak’s character was much different.

In the early drafts of the show, Zubak was a minor character whose job was to bring in the perspective of the common people inside the palace, where he felt completely out of place, barely being able to understand anything. He was supposed to be the wallflower, always in the background and going unnoticed for the most part. But then, Tracy wondered if there was more to Zubak. He wondered if he could bring this person, who is “standing against the wall listening and observing, has been hearing everything, and has been forming opinions about everything he’s been hearing,” forward and let him speak his mind.

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/HBO

Once the idea germinated in his head, the writer realized that through Zubak, he could also tap into other layers of Elena, especially her emotional state. Expanding Zubak’s character would also allow room for the story to breathe, to make it more human, rather than filling it up with bureaucratic and political stuff. This led him to explore what Elena would feel if someone like Zubak spoke his mind. More importantly, what would it mean for Zubak if he made Elena feel more powerful?

With a more significant role for Zubak, the story also took several turns, with his and Elena’s twisted love affair becoming an important part of the story. For actor Matthias Schoenaerts, these are the “two people that should have never met” but “find something in each other that keeps them alive for a little longer.” This lays the ground for their toxic romance, which spells doom for the country as Elena removes herself more and more from her cabinet and other people who could steer her in the right direction and isolates herself with Zubak.

Read More: HBO’s The Regime: Where is the Political Satire Filmed?