Two m.o.’s for Sacha Baron Cohen when he is shooting his satirical-political man-on-the-street movies: Don’t get arrested, and don’t have your cover blown.
His sublime brilliance: He’s always prepared, even if it means bringing a lawyer to set.
In a very special Crew Call podcast, the Oscar nominated Borat scribe-actor-producer tells us about his brushes with the law on Bruno, as well as with the Secret Service at the right-wing CPAC conference during the shooting of Borat Subsequent Film. That’s the moment when Baron Cohen busts into the arena dressed as Donald Trump.
“I knew I was going to be surrounded by the Secret Service. I knew that it could be perceived as a threat against the Vice President. I got escorted by close to 15 Secret Service, Capitol Police and event security. My aim was to not give my ID because if word got out that I was shooting a movie, the movie would be a hundred times harder to shoot,” says Baron Cohen.
To further appreciate what went on during production of the Universal-turned-Amazon acquisition feature, which was dead set on being released before Election Day, Baron Cohen and his longtime Borat editors Craig Alpert and James Thomas, who join us today, as well as Michael Giambra, sifted through 850 hours of footage to not only whittle the movie down to 90 minutes, but to find those diamonds in the rough.
And you could say that the team discovered the Hope Diamond; a piece of footage that would redefine the comedy sequel entirely. This occurred while the production was paused during the pandemic, and the editing team continued to work.
Explains Baron Cohen, “To emphasis the role of the editors, they find a moment and that moment transforms the entire movie. CPAC was the culmination of act 3: I rescue Tutar from Giuliani. She trips while I’m being chased and Mike Pence is speaking and that’s the end of the movie. We’ve been shut down due to Covid. Myself and my producer Monica Levinson, we decide to keep the edit going.”
“James (Thomas) says ‘You gotta see this!'” continues Baron Cohen about a soundbite where Pence first refers to the onset of the pandemic, and a promise that it will quickly be solved, “That moment that these editors found transformed the movie, it transformed the plot of the movie.”
The Ali G performer explains “Cast your mind back to March and people were treating Covid like it was a tropical storm…[We] had this epiphany. This is a movie we’re releasing before the Election and making to show our protest against Trump and Trumpism and the conspiracies that the government was propagating. We see the Vice President spreading this calamitous lie that we’re ready for Covid. We knew the numbers would get to the hundreds of thousands in America. It was a way to show the incompetence of the Trump government. This was an emotional father-daughter movie, this had questions about the patriarchy, but fundamentally it was a catalog of wrongdoings of Trump and Trumpism in 90 minutes. There was a realization that his greatest, most catastrophic wrongdoing was the willful incompetence on Covid that led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and here he is, the Vice President, on the day he’s been put in charge of the Covid task force saying ‘It’s alright guys! We’ve got it under control!’ That moment that these editors found transforms the whole movie, and transforms the whole production.”
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is nominated for three Golden Globes including Best Comedy/Musical feature, Baron Cohen for Best Actor Comedy/Musical and Maria Bakalova in the Best Actress Comedy/Musical category. Bakalova is also up for a SAG in the Supporting Actress category. The pic’s song “Wuhan Flu” is also on the Oscar shortlist of potential Best Songs.