In a rare out of character interview Sacha Baron Cohen talks about putting Bruno, Borat and Ali-G together
Forget Terminators, Transformers and Trekkies, it’s a camp Austrian with a passion for fashion that will make this summer a hot one. With Borat back in Kazakhstan, it’s left to a new character from Sacha Baron Cohen’s stable of bizarre alter-egos to carry out another round of mischief-making.
Of course Bruno is no stranger to fans of Brit comic Cohen but with his adventures now on the big screen it’s safe to say everyone will be familiar with his sexually-charged brand of humour very soon.
Bruno was the last major character Sacha came up with for his Ali G show and the third to make his transition to film. Madcap rapper Ali G didn’t quite make the grade but Borat became a global phenomenon making its star one of the most wanted men in showbiz – in more ways than one.
Bruno is not so far removed from his European cousin in that he has a habit of putting normal people in extraordinarily embarrassing situations.
Sacha’s aim is to expose the world of fashion, fame and obsessive beauty with his outrageous character who provokes the kind of homophobia usually swept under the carpet on screen.
Even before its premiere, Bruno was a hit. Headlines have been made in Milan, when Sacha in character invaded a catwalk during Fashion Week. In Los Angeles, he infiltrated an anti-gay-marriage demonstration. In Texas, he appeared on a chat-show bouncing a small African child on his knee.
Early reviews have been stunningly positive with many critics tipping Sacha for another round of awards.
Sacha made his debut as the outrageously camp fashion reporter during a piece on London Fashion Week for the Paramount Comedy Channel almost ten years ago.
In those days Sacha was so broke he often used to wear his characters’ clothes as his own when he went out. But his persistence paid off to the point where the 38-year-old Londoner found himself in the middle of a bidding war to make Bruno the movie.
It could have all been so different had Sacha followed his early dreams. Growing up, the lanky youth thought about being a basketball player and then a break dancer – he even performed with his own group.
At Cambridge University he studied history and spent summers in the U.S. researching a dissertation on the prominent role Jews played in the American civil rights movement titled “The Black-Jewish Allies: A Case of Mistaken Identity.”
It was this sense of irony that was to fuel many of his comedic creations and politically incorrect skits on both TV and film.
These days Sacha’s life away from showbiz is very much a closed book. He is private to the extreme and lives a reclusive existence with fiancée Isla Fisher who has also found fame in Hollywood having started out as an Australian soap actress.
His movie will no doubt be a blockbuster like Borat but we won’t be seeing anything of Sacha as he conveniently has Bruno to do his dirty work at premiers and publicity tours.
Before he disappears behind Bruno’s blonde wig and lurid outfits, Sacha talks about his latest round of troublemaking and how he’s coping with being the bravest man in Hollywood.
Q: Tell us about Bruno. SBC: People who meet him believe he is a kind of Austrian fashion reporter from Austrian MTV or something. He’s very camp but he’s ambiguous sexually.”
Q: How hard is it to stay in character for so long for all those stunts you pull? SBC: “It’s exhausting because there’s a greater pressure to be funny if you turn up somewhere as your comic character.”
Q: Would you be able to put yourself in these awkward situations if you were not in character? SBC: “I think I’d find it hard to. I think you can hide behind the characters and do things that you yourself find difficult.”
Q: Where does that confidence come from? SBC: “My parents were incredibly loving and I think that gives you the strength to go out into a crowd of people who hate you, probably. If you want to analyse it.”
Q: How did characters like Bruno and Borat come about? SBC: “I started developing characters partly as a way to get into places without paying. At Cambridge there was something called the Cambridge Balls, which at that time cost about £120 per head. I would try to get myself and other people in, pretending to be the band or something. And we’d do it. I remember when I came to New York at the age of twenty-three, it was a fun thing. Me and my friends, we would get into the clubs claiming we were bouncers or drug dealers.”
Q: How do you cope with fame? SBC: “I think that essentially I’m a private person, and to reconcile that with being famous is a hard thing. So I’ve been trying to have my cake and eat it, too – to have my characters be famous yet still live a normal life where I’m not trapped by fame and recognisability.”
Q: Is it true you could have had a career as a break dancer? SBC: “As a kid, I was also very into rap. I used to break-dance. Starting at the age of twelve, my mother would take me and my crew in the back of her Volvo. We had the linoleum in the back, and she’d drive us to Covent Garden in the dead middle of winter, and we’d pull the lino out and start breaking.”
Q: What was the name of the group? SBC: “Well, we didn’t really have a name until we started doing bar mitzvahs. I think we were called Black on White. We used mainly robotics. Essentially, we were middle-class Jewish white boys, who were adopting this culture, which we thought was very cool. That was sort of the origins of Ali G.”
Q: Did you always want to go into the entertainment business? SBC: “No. After Cambridge I gave myself five years to start earning money from being an actor, a comedian. If it didn’t work out, I was going to move onto something else, become a barrister or something.”
Q: Have you got other characters up your sleeve now that Borat and Bruno are so well known? SBC: “I do have other characters that I want to start developing but I think it’s going to be harder to do stuff in a reality setting.”
Q: Everyone is talking about Bruno but where is Borat now? SBC: “I’m not sure. He might have gone to live in a very obscure part of Kazakhstan where it’s hard to contact him.”
Q: Will he ever come back? SBC: “I don’t know. I think it’s going to be impossible to have him operate in the way he used to.”