Sacha Baron Cohen talks about “Borat” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” during a virtual visit to the Ivy Film Festival
Actor, comedian and producer Sacha Baron Cohen attended the festival week for the 20th anniversary of the Ivy Film Festival on Tuesday evening.
Baron Cohen was introduced by IFF Directors Grace Attanasio ‘21.5, Jessica Dibble ’21, Sasha Pinto ’21 and Claire Zhang ’22, followed by Emma Weiss ’21, script team coordinator, and Georgia Salke ’23, Industrial team coordinator, interviewed. The English actor is best known for his notable comedic roles, including Ali G, Bruno Gehard from “Bruno”, Admiral General Aladeen from “The Dictator” and the raunchy Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev from “Borat”, which became “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” published in October 2020.
As a young boy growing up in north-west London, Baron Cohen didn’t know anyone in the entertainment business and “felt a little embarrassed” telling his friends that he wanted to be a comedian. But he went to Cambridge University with the main purpose of joining the Cambridge University Dramatic Club Footlights, a theater club founded in 1883 with notable alumni, including members of the comedy group Monty Python, which Baron Cohen called his heroes. He tried for the footlights nine times but was turned down, so he auditioned for some of the straight dramas.
“I had never played before and someone gave me a role, but pretty soon after realizing I couldn’t act, they let me out of this play,” said Baron Cohen. “At that point, the rest of the cast really liked me and said, ‘If you fire Sacha, we’ll all go,’ so I performed this Chekov piece and I got away with it.” From there, Baron Cohen’s acting career began.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” was born out of Baron Cohen’s concern that former President Donald Trump could win a second term and “undermine America’s democratic institutions”. He thought if he brought back his most beloved character, Borat, and made and released a movie about a new character before the November election, whose 15-year-old daughter Tutar Sagdiyev infiltrated Trump’s inner circle, he could share that message.
“I knew if I made them look like this … that we could possibly get them to infiltrate Trump’s inner circle,” said Baron Cohen. “I wanted to highlight the misogyny that was the foundation and core of this regime because I knew if I could do that and make a mass film before the elections and remind women that this is an inherently misogynist regime by force some young Women to go out and vote. “
Sagdiyev was played by Maria Bakalova, a Bulgarian actress who recently graduated from the Krastyo Sarafov National Academy of Theater and Cinematography before joining the film. Baron Cohen said he completed over 600 auditions in Eastern Europe and the United States before finding Bakalova.
“We needed someone who was a brilliant actor, someone who was emotional because we basically knew that if the movie was to really work, you had to take care of the relationship between Borat and your daughter,” he said.
Baron Cohen also said he needed someone who was brave and funny. He told Bakalova that if she could “pull off” the role, she would be nominated for an Oscar. what she was, along with nominations for a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe Award.
Baron Cohen noted the complexities of playing a “lovable villain” like Borat since the satirical character is misogynist, anti-Semitic, racist and anti-democratic but people still love him. To do this, Baron Cohen tried to play Borat with a certain naivety, playing with the concept that Borat does not realize he loves his daughter.
“The pleasure of suspense for the audience is ‘when is he going to realize he fucking loves his daughter?’ And ‘when is he going to give up that crazy, misogynist attitude … and become a feminist?’ “Said Baron Cohen. “The emotionality, empathy and humanity run through the entire film and keep it from being just a series of sketches.”
After discussing Borat, the conversation switched to another of Baron Cohen’s latest films, The Trial of the Chicago 7, in which Baron Cohen played Abbie Hoffman, one of his college heroes. Baron Cohen stated that as a young Jewish man in England he did not know many people like him. When he was in university, he wrote his thesis on Jewish left-wing students who went to the American South in the early 1960s to fight racism – one of those students was Abbie Hoffman. Baron Cohen took pride in the fact that Jewish students were active in the fight against racism and even traveled to the United States as a student to attend civil rights institutions.
He found out that Steven Spielberg was creating the Trial of the Chicago 7 thirteen years ago and asked to audition for the role of Abbie Hoffman. Spielberg told him that if he could master Hoffman’s Boston accent, he would play the part. After two weeks, with the help of Spielberg’s dialect coach, he had mastered the accent and received the role. But after that 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strikeNo progress was made after the deaths of two of the supposed to be in the film, Heath Ledger and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and other obstacles.
Eventually, Baron Cohen heard that Aaron Sorkin was directing, and although 13 years had passed, he got the job. However, due to his conflicting schedule, he had to stop filming Borat for some time.
“I tell the team, ‘I have to shut down Borat. I have to play that role and they say, “You’re crazy, we’re doing borate so it can be cleared for the polls. It’s such a tight schedule.” I have to play that role, I’ve been in love with this guy since I was 21, “said Baron Cohen. “And we closed Borat.”
Baron Cohen also discussed the role his identity and “otherness” as a Jewish man played in his roles as Ali G, which he believed led various communities to adopt such characters.
“I think my otherness has allowed me to inhabit these characters who are very in-English. It was these ethnicities that felt a little different. They were the ones who hugged him because he was one of the first characters not to be completely white. But we left it dark what the ethnicity of Ali G was, ”he said.
At the end of his talk, Baron Cohen discussed his organization: Stop hating for profitwho have favourited “Hold social media companies accountable for hatred on their platforms”.
“We have to stop these billionaires from making money and spreading lies that kill,” said Baron Cohen. “We have to get governments, the people we choose, to put some laws in place to curb their greed and make sure the internet protects the things we love while guaranteeing free speech.”