While awards voters traditionally underestimate the merits of comedians, Sacha Baron Cohen is the best possible proof that a comedic actor can possess a wider range than his dramatic counterparts. Like his idol Peter Sellers, Cohen arrests stereotypes and authority figures through his iconic personalities (flamboyant Austrian fashionista Bruno Gehard; the blunt Kazakhstan journalist Borat Sagdiyev and the fierce Middle Eastern totalitarian Admiral General Aladeen as featured in last summer’s comedy The Dictator). However, Cohen has a leg-up on Sellers in that his alter-egos brilliantly cross the line, as he throws them into real-life clashes with celebrities and politicians, often exposing their prejudices and shortcomings. Equally balancing Cohen’s outrageous laugh facets is his ability to escape into serious roles, (read his turns as Signor Adolfo Pirelli the Barber in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, the Station Inspector in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo). This holiday season Cohen continues to generate buzz in his second musical role following Sweeney Todd as the duplicitous, vivacious innkeeper cum Master of the House, Thenardier, in Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables – a part which Cohen takes to another level with his own sense of humor. In 2007, Cohen received a best screenplay Oscar nomination for co-penning Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan. This year, he shares an ensemble award SAG nomination for Les Miserables as well as a National Board of Review ensemble win.
AwardsLine: How did the role of Thenardier come to you? Was this a project you always wanted to be a part of?
Sacha Baron Cohen: Actually, I only have a history with Les Mis in that when I came out of university at age 20 or 21, I went through an open audition for the chorus in Les Mis; not even one of the named roles. And there were about 300 people who were lining up outside the Palace Theater in the West End and I passed the first audition which was singing and then they had a group audition for dancing and they taught a little routine. I had no idea how to learn choreographed steps and so I just decided to freestyle and came to the actual audition. There were seven people doing perfectly choreographed steps and then me just doing some very bad breakdancing in the corner and I did not get the role. So, there is a history. (more…)