Borat sequel is Sacha Baron Cohen's protest against Trump's government
Sacha Baron Cohen weighs in on Giuliani scene, fearing for his life while shooting mockumentary
Borat, the fictional hapless titular Kazakh journalist, is back in the mockumentary comedy sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, which is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
But thankfully, its star-producer-writer Sacha Baron Cohen did not assume that persona in our Zoom interview as he did for the first movie in 2006.
In person, the 49-year-old English actor - who has three children with Australian actress Isla Fisher - is a genial fellow and a surprisingly thoughtful one, aware of the furore raised by one particular scene in the film that has exploded on the Internet but unfazed by it.
In this movie, Borat is assigned by the president of Kazakhstan to go to America and bribe top US officials with a monkey to get in the good graces of US president Donald Trump, hoping Trump's penchant for cosying up to dictators would extend to the Kazakhstan strongman.
But the monkey dies and the climax comes when Borat's 15-year-old daughter (played by 24-year-old Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova) is presented to Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as the gift. This comes after an attempt to give her away to US Vice-President Mike Pence fails when Borat crashes one of his speeches.
In the cringe-worthy and controversial scene, Mr Giuliani, the once-admired mayor of New York City on 9/11, seals his fall from grace when she interviews him in a hotel room and he ends up with his hands in his pants, prone on a bed, till Borat comes in and rescues her.
When asked about the scene, Baron Cohen said: "I would never as a producer have let an actress be in a dangerous situation, so the idea was always to intervene.
"I'd say the only person responsible for what Rudy Giuliani did is Rudy Giuliani. Beyond that, I just say watch the film."
Mr Giuliani has since slammed the scene as a "compete fabrication", while Mr Trump also weighed in, calling Baron Cohen a "creep" and saying he doesn't find him funny.
Here's the comedian's rapid response on Twitter: "Donald - I appreciate the free publicity for Borat! I admit, I don't find you funny either. But yet the whole world laughs at you. I'm always looking for people to play racist buffoons, and you'll need a job after Jan 20. Let's talk!"
Surreptitiously filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was a gruelling project.
Baron Cohen said he survived on four or five hours of sleep each night, getting through the shooting day and then going back to more writing and producing duties, as well as preparing for the next day.
And the preparation for getting into character was much more comprehensive and dedicated than any other he's played.
"(Borat) has to be fully three-dimensional. There can't be any chinks in the armour where somebody realises that they are not talking to a real person. And so that means my preparation is knowing everything about Borat's family and friends, everything about everyone in government in this mythical version of Kazakhstan.
"I made sure my smell is so abhorrent that people are aware that they are in the presence of somebody who is from a different civilisation. So it's very, very hard for people to be around me because the smell is so repulsive," he said with a laugh.
"Everything about me, down to the underwear, is authentic. Everything in my wallet. The idea is to create a fully believable character that it's impossible to see through. And I must say this was my hardest ever acting challenge."
There were scenes that were actually quite risky for Baron Cohen, like one in which he goes disguised as a hillbilly to a right-wing gun rally, takes the stage and sings a song that goes like this - "Obama. What you gonna do. Inject him with the Wuhan flu," - while the crowd sings along.
When the militia group organising the rally finally realised who he was, Baron Cohen and his crew had to make a hurried getaway, with the incident hitting television news that night.
"It was the first time in my career I donned a bulletproof vest," he said.
Baron Cohen admitted he experiences fear like everybody else, something he ignores while he is writing the scenes.
"And then I get to the day where I am actually doing it, I'm terrified and I want to back out. And that's when I have to overcome my fear and remind myself why I am making the movie."
At the end of the day, he wants people to know this: "The first movie was more about exposing this ugly underbelly of America. This time round, I realised that that underbelly is overt, since opinions that we would have put on screen back in 2006 are now being espoused by the President of America.
"The next few weeks will determine whether the US remains a democracy or slips into autocracy. I am a comedian and film-maker, and that is why I am releasing this movie now, because this is my form of protest. This is me raising my voice in the only way I know how to."