It happened a few days ago — or maybe it happened months ago and we just hadn’t noticed. But Sacha Baron Cohen decided to drop the in-character interviews about Borat and just … be himself.
When Baron Cohen won the Golden Globe (Wow. We’re not used to saying that.) for best comedic actor, he made made an anus joke that would make his fans proud. But he did it in his own voice, not that of his Kazakhi avatar.
“I saw some amazing, invigorating parts of America. I saw some dark parts of America and some ugly parts of America. Some parts of America that have rarely seen the light of day. I refer of course to the anus and testicles of my co-star, Kenneth Davitian,” the LAT quotes him as saying. “Ken, when I was in that scene — I thought to myself, ‘I better win a bloody award for this.’”
So what gives? Why is the man who has so jealously guarded his true persona suddenly taking the spotlight? Baron Cohen explained his self “outing” to NPR News’ Day to Day on Friday:
LUKE BURBANK: Yes, it’s Sacha Baron Cohen, the man behind the wildly popular movie Borat. In the film, Cohen interviews unsuspecting people while playing the part of a lovable yet anti-Semitic, anti-woman, anti-hygiene TV reporter from Kazakhstan. For a while, Cohen would only make public appearances in character. But that’s changing, as I found out when I talked to him recently.
BARON COHEN: I mean, I think at some point I’ve got to stop doing interviews as Borat. I’ve got to take off the mustache and reveal the real me. Reveal the real mustache.
BURBANK: Yeah, which you look like you could probably grow in a matter of hours.
BARON COHEN: I know. I’m actually very hirsute. In fact, if I wasn’t this hairy, I would have probably have been unemployed because I don’t really use fake mustaches. So the shooting schedule when we do Da Ali G Show is always derived by my ability to, you know, grow a mustache in a couple of weeks.
BURBANK: So if you have to do Ali G and then do Borat, you have to be able to grow a thunderous ‘stache — in a matter of days.
BARON COHEN: Yeah. I have to get, yeah, a huge ‘stache within, you know, within a couple of weeks.
BURBANK: Did you in any way expect that Borat would — I mean there are popular movies and then there are things that are like the cultural event of that year.
BARON COHEN: Yeah. It is bizarre because essentially, you know, when we were making the film we thought it was at best going to be a cult film because it was so experimental. You know, essentially, this was the first time that a movie had been made in a real situation so that there were real people who were pushing the plot forward. The amazing thing was it actually worked. And the bizarre thing is that people actually came to see it. And it was, you know, that first weekend when I found out that we were actually the most popular film in America that weekend, it was the most bizarre and overwhelming experience.
BURBANK: Is it going to be impossible for you to do another movie where you are in a character?
BARON COHEN: I think it would be probably be impossible. There’s a number of things that are in development and, you know, it would probably be a scripted comedy. So I think the days of me going undercover are probably over.
BURBANK: You’re nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Motion Picture, and also Best Actor. I think some people are like, when they heard that the movie was nominated, they were surprised maybe in the acting category only because it was such a different movie than everyone has seen. But as you think about it, this is more acting than anyone has ever done in the history of a motion picture.
BARON COHEN: Well, the thing is about, you know, the acting in this is that essentially there are a number of challenges. One is that I have to stay in character usually for about eight hours at a time. Because if somebody gets suspicious and goes wait a minute, he’s standing there in the corner like a kind of guy from England or he’s suddenly sounds like he’s not really Kazakhi, then everything is over. Everything has to be in character. You know, there’s a lot of tension, you know, during the day as a result of that. You know, and there’s a lot of physical preparation for that as well. So I never wash the suit. So when I come into the room there’s immediately this terrible smell. Borat doesn’t wear deodorant. So there is this kind of dreadful Soviet-bloc smell the moment I walk in. And obviously, you know, the cameras are only rolling for a certain amount of time. When you’re off camera, you’ve also got to stay in character. You’ve got to talk about your kids, your family. You know, at the dinner party scene, there was about an hour and a half where everyone around the table was asking me about my family, about Kazakhstan, about, you know, the history of Kazakhstan, about Kazakhstan’s relationship with America. So itâ€™s got to be, by necessity, a total character.
BURBANK: In that dinner scene, there’s an amazing moment where you as Borat bring back — you’re like — you went to the bathroom in a plastic bag or you scooped it out the toilet or something. You brought a bag — is there — when you’re in the bathroom and you know you’re about to do this on some unsuspecting people, is there a part of you that almost can’t go through with it? How do you psych yourself up to do that?
BARON COHEN: There is that moment where you feel almost like a hitman where, you know, I knew as Borat I’m going to bring down something now to the dinner party that’s going to change everything. And, you know, there’s that moment when you look in the mirror and it is as if you pulled the gun out and you’re about to assassinate someone and you’re doing a hit, where you know everything is about to change. And everyone is having a lovely time downstairs but I’m about to bring a bag of fresh feces to the table.
BURBANK: This has been a tremendous success by any measure, and people are even talking about this being nominated for an Oscar. Could your mind even process that, if you ended up with an Academy Award for Borat?
BARON COHEN: It would be so bizarre. I mean, you know, when I made this film, I never, you know, intended to make it to get any kind of critical acclaim. You kind of make it because you want to make the funniest film possible, and you want to make something that’s satirical as well. And you want to make your friends laugh and you want to make your fans laugh. I’m just happy to get a couple of nominations, and I’ll take that and, you know, return to England.
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