The Unofficial Borat Homepage
In December 2007, in an interview with John Hiscock from The Telegraph, Sacha Baron Cohen confirmed that he will never play Borat again.
The full interview is reproduced below:
He became a comedy sensation as the wannabe-gangsta-rapper Ali G by humiliating the people he interviewed. As Borat, the outrageously anti-Semitic, homophobic reporter from Kazakhstan he became a cultural icon while lampooning and offending virtually everyone he came across.
But as himself Sacha Baron Cohen is something of an enigma.
The intensely private comic actor readily admits he is more comfortable talking in the guise of the characters he has created, but unfortunately for him, both Ali G and Borat have had their day. Too many people know them and he reluctantly acknowledges that he can no longer retreat behind their personas.
"When I was being Ali G and Borat I was in character sometimes 14 hours a day and I came to love them, so admitting I am never going to play them again is quite a sad thing," he said. "It is like saying goodbye to a loved one. It is hard, and the problem with success, although it's fantastic, is that every new person who sees the Borat movie is one less person I 'get' with Borat again, so it's a kind of self-defeating form, really.
"It's upsetting, but the success has been great and better than anything I could have dreamed of."
He was talking in a Beverly Hills hotel in a rare interview he has given as himself and not in character, and he allows it is an unusual and not particularly pleasant experience for him.
"It's much easier for me to be in character and it's a lot more fun," he said. "If I'd done the entire promotional campaign for Borat as myself it wouldn't have developed in the same way. I think it can get a little be tiresome if you're having to be the real person and talking about how important and interesting the role was. To me, it should be entertaining and the entertainment should carry on."
He had attracted a few curious glances as he ambled through the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel, not because anybody recognised him but because he looked oddly out of place. He was bearded, wore thick-rimmed glasses, was dressed in jeans, a scruffy, hooded sweater and a baseball cap jammed down over an unruly mop of hair and had a wide grin which rarely left his face.
Sacha Baron Cohen is reluctant to divulge any information that may give an insight into the man behind the characters he plays. If a question appeals to him he veers into a funny anecdote almost as if he is doing a stand-up comedy act for an audience: he switches characters and assumes their voices, becoming a Yorkshireman, a female singing teacher and an Italian in quick succession.
But if for some reason he finds the question unsuitable or he simply does not want to answer, he lowers his head and mutters almost inaudibly.
He is submitting to interviews at the behest of Warner Bros. to promote Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton's slasher-horror movie musical in which he plays Pirelli, a flamboyant rival singing barber who meets an exceedingly bloody end at the hands of Johnny Depp's Todd.
Wearing exceedingly tight-fitting tights with appropriate bulges, Pirelli is a wonderful creation and provides a riotous interlude in the movie. Burton said of him: "He brought a burst of colour into the darkness and his suit was tight - that's how he was able to hit the high notes."
Baron Cohen had just finished Borat when he decided he would audition for the role of Pirelli, although he did not know any of Stephen Sondheim's songs from the show. "When I was at Cambridge University I played Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof and that was the only thing I remembered so I went in and sang If I were A Rich Man for Sondheim," he said.
"That wasn't enough so I had to sing about five other songs and luckily Sondheim thought they were okay, but there is one incredibly high note at the end of my piece and Tim Burton doesn't know this but when I went in to record the sound I couldn't reach it, even wearing spandex, so I brought in a very fat female opera singer to sing the final note."
Then, as if slipping into a well-rehearsed act, Baron Cohen went on: "I arrived in London the day before I started shooting and I realised I needed a singing lesson. So I foolishly called my mother and asked her to find me a good singing teacher so she looked in the Yellow Pages and gave me the address of a woman. I turned up at the woman's door and told her who I was and she said, 'I was expecting you to be a girl.' She said, 'Have a cup of tea,' so I had a cup of tea. I told her I was going to be in Sweeney Todd and she said, 'Never heard of it.' I told her it starred Johnny Depp and she said, 'Never heard of him.' I said Tim Burton was directing it and she said, 'Never heard of him. New man is he? Could I have his telephone number because I often have these local concerts here and we're looking for someone to direct them.'
"So I started singing Pirelli and she had never heard the music before but she goes 'Oh, no, no, no you don't do it like that.'" Then the punchline: "So I ignored everything she said and went to the set the next day."
Born in North London to a Welsh clothing store owner and an Israeli aerobics teacher mother, Sacha Baron Cohen grew up watching Peter Sellers, whom he says was his inspiration. "I think I was seven when I saw the first Inspector Clouseau film and I really believed the character. Then I started to see more and more of his films. He was this incredibly realistic actor who was also hilarious and who managed to bridge the gap between comedy and satire.
"Admittedly he wasn't much of an inspiration in his personal life because he wasn't the greatest father or husband, but as an actor and a comedian he is the guy that I've tried to emulate."
advertisementCohen attended private school and went on to read history at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he wrote a dissertation on the role of Jews in the U.S. civil rights movement.
"I'd gone to Cambridge partly because they had such a prolific acting department and a lot of really good actors came from there," he said. He appeared in a variety of theatrical productions, including My Fair Lady and Cyrano de Bergerac. "I loved it but I was a bit embarrassed about telling people I wanted to be an actor and comedian because it's a bit like saying, 'I'm so good looking and I want to be a model.'
"I had the choice of either pursuing my studies and doing a Ph.D or doing something that was a bit more fun, so I decided that rather than sit alone in a library, I'd try and make people laugh."
He moved into television and was hired on Channel 4's 11 O'Clock Show after he sent the producers a tape of him posing as an Albanian reporter interviewing fox hunters. Ali G was born shortly afterwards.
Da Ali G Show crossed the Atlantic and became a cult favourite on U.S. cable television thanks to hilariously idiotic and offensive questions to former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, Donald Trump and the former Surgeon-General C. Everett Koop, among others.
Ali G's popularity led to Cohen's first film, Ali G Indahouse after which he provided one of the voices in the animated film Madagascar and then played an obnoxious French racing river in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Then Borat, the film featuring the character who had first appeared on the Ali G Show. Helped by objections from the official government of Kazakhstan and Baron Cohen's wildly funny promotional appearances on any talk show that would have him, Borat became a phenomenon, although not everybody was happy.
"Since last year I've been sued by about 3,000 people," said Baron Cohen. "Some of the letters I get are quite unusual, like the one where the lawyer informed me I'm about to be sued for $100,000 and at the end says, "P.S. Loved the movie.Can you sign a poster for my son Jeremy?'"
His performance as Borat earned him a Golden Globe Award as best actor in a comedy or musical, which he credits with transforming his career. "It broke me out from being just a pure comedian into something larger, because in the entertainment business people are categorised either as comedians or actors," he said. "The award let people know there was a performance behind Borat, because the problem was that when I used to do Ali G and Borat people assumed that I was them and there was no acting involved."
He is finishing work on his next project, which features Bruno, the gay, Austrian fashion reporter who also made his first appearance with Ali G, although Baron Cohen is unwilling to discuss it.
"It would probably hurt the film if I started talking about it, so I prefer to comment once I've got a finished film," he said.
He is also unwilling to talk about his home life in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, the Australian actress Isla Fisher, who recently gave birth to their daughter, Olive.
"I try and keep that part of my life separate from the professional part because I don't think it helps people appreciate the work or the comedy or make me any funnier if they know what's going on at home," he said.
Seeing him a few minutes later waiting, unobtrusive and incognito, behind a pillar outside the Four Seasons for the parking valet to bring his car, it is easy to wonder whether, like Ali G and Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen himself is a fake and the real person is even further back in the shadows.
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