Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
October 13, 1971
Currently Known For:
Actor, Producer, Screenwriter, Comedian
Borat, Bruno, Da Ali G Show
October 13, 1971
Actor, Producer, Screenwriter, Comedian
Borat, Bruno, Da Ali G Show
“I think in the moment. So, when I’m in character, I’m in character, and I’m obviously thinking about what’s going on around me, but it’s easier to do stuff when you’re in character.” One of the funniest men to call London, England home, Sacha Baron Cohen is an actor, comedian, screenwriter, and film producer best known for developing fictional characters like Ali G, Erran Morad, Brüno, Borat Sagiyev, and Admiral General Aladeen. Rarely appearing out of character, Cohen’s character comedy takes on a life of its own in mockumentary films and sketch comedy skits where he often interviews real people who fail to realize they’re being interviewed by a comedic character. As a result, Cohen creates pure comedy as individuals reveal contemptuous things about themselves and the world around him as seen in his award-winning work like Da Ali G Show, Borat, and Brüno.
Apart from his mockumentaries and numerous awards including two BAFTA Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and various Emmy Award and Academy Award nominations, Cohen has also proven his talents as an actor and voice actor. He’s voiced King Julien XIII in the Madagascar film franchise in addition to making appearances in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Hugo (2011), and Les Misérables (2012). He’s made cameos in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and even costarred as Time in Alice Through the Looking Glass. So, what’s the 47-year-old comedian’s then and now Hollywood story? Let’s take a look at the man who’s always in character!
Sacha Noam Baron Cohen came into this world on October 13, 1971 in West London, England where his father owned a clothing store and his mother was a movement instructor. Raised in a Jewish household in Wales, Cohen was fluent in English and Hebrew thanks to his early education at the independent school known as The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Elstree, Hertfordshire. After he completed his studies there, he attended Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge where he participated in the Amateur Dramatic Club.
Discovering his love for the performing arts, Cohen regularly acted in school plays and starred in productions of Cyrano de Bergerac and Fiddler on the Roof. In 1993, he graduated from Cambridge with upper second-class honors. However, he was still undecided on what he wanted to do as a career and settled on working as a fashion model. This only lasted briefly as Cohen was hired in the early 1990s to host a local television broadcast in Windsor. Within a few months, Channel 4 posted an open casting call for presenters on a new series to replace The Word. Cohen submitted his audition tape, which featured him playing Kristo, a fictional Albanian television journalist that he invented specifically for the part. Coincidentally, Kristo would later evolve into one of Cohen’s most famous characters—Kazakh Borat Sagdiyev—but not before Channel 4 hired him to host his own series, Pump TV, in 1995.
Although Pump TV was short-lived and was canceled after one year, Cohen was inspired by his idol, Peter Sellers, to adopt a variety of accents and guises for his other characters. “He was this incredibly realistic actor, who was also hilarious and who managed to bridge the gap between comedy and satire,” Cohen said of his idol. That’s exactly what led Cohen to take on more work as he introduced characters like the fashion reporter named Brüno in comedy sketches on the Paramount Comedy Channel. To further hone his talents, he traveled to Paris, France where he trained under the guidance of master-clown Philippe Gaulier.
After completing his training at the Ecole Philippe Gaulier, Cohen made his feature film debut in the low-budget British comedy, The Jolly Boys’ Last Stand, in the late 1990s. Then, his popularity skyrocketed after he played the ill-mannered junglist, Ali G, on the British television comedy series, The 11 O’clock Show. Within a year, Cohen was named “Comedian of the Year” by GQ magazine and he took home a British Comedy Award as well as a nomination at the British Academy Television Awards. By 2000, Ali G was given his own show—Da Ali G Show, which won Best Comedy at the BAFTA Awards in 2001.
In 2002, Cohen brought Ali G to the silver screen in Ali G Indahouse and, by this point, Cohen was slowly becoming a household name in the United States thanks to his unique style of interviewing celebrities and politicians as Ali G without anyone being aware of the joke. This stuck a huge chord with American audiences and led Cohen to Hollywood where he introduced his newest character, Borat, in his biggest international feature film—Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan—in 2006. On an $18 million budget, the film grossed over $260 million at box offices worldwide and sealed Cohen’s fate as an international icon.
Ironically, the film made Cohen a star, but it also made him a target as the government of Kazakhstan threated him with legal action prior to the film’s release. “I was surprised, because I always had faith in the audience that they would realize that this was a fictitious country and the mere purpose of it was to allow people to bring out their own prejudices,” Cohen said of the lawsuit and the Kazakh government’s plan to take out a full-page ad in The New York Times to promote the country. “And the reason we chose Kazakhstan was because it was a country that no one had heard anything about, so we could essentially play on stereotypes they might have about this ex-Soviet backwater. The joke is not on Kazakhstan. I think the joke is on the people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe can exist—who believe that there’s a country where homosexuals where blue hats and the women live in cages and they drink fermented horse urine, and the age of consent has been raised to nine years old…”
With the success of Borat, the Kazakh government altered its stance since the film brought the country extensive publicity. As a result, Cohen further embraced his iconic character for shedding light on different opinions and perspectives. “Borat essentially works as a tool,” Cohen revealed. “By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether its anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well,’ a song performed at a country and western bar during Da Ali G Show, was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought that it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism. But to me, it revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism.”
Apart from the controversy surrounding Borat, Cohen won the 2007 Golden Globe for Best Actor and later published the travel guide titled Borat: Touristic Guidings to Minor Nation of U.S. and A. before retiring the character in December 2007. He then focused on his alter ego, Brüno Gehard, a flamboyant gay Austrian fashion show presenter known for his embarrassing behavior and provocative statements. Cohen appeared as Brüno at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards wearing a white angel costume with white go-go boots, wings, and a jockstrap. The aerial stunt that dropped him directly onto Eminem’s crotch raised eyebrows and launched an intense bidding war over Cohen’s next film with Cohen earning $42.5 million for the film rights to Brüno, which was released in July 2009.
Following the success of Brüno, Cohen introduced fans to Admiral General Aladeen from the fictitious Republic of Wadiya in his 2012 film, The Dictator. The film was written as a satire of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi but Cohen and fellow film producers feared Gaddafi would react negatively and, perhaps, even launch a terrorist attack. Since pulling the film was out of the question, Cohen and producers deliberately released misinformation stating that the film was loosely based on a romance novel written by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The rumors seemed to work until the 84th Academy Awards when the Academy released a statement saying, “Cohen is not welcome to use the red carpet as a platform for a promotional stunt.” In true Cohen fashion, he found a loophole and arrived on the red carpet holding an urn that he said was filled with the ashes of Kim Jong-il. Those “ashes” were actually flour, which Cohen “accidentally” spilled on Ryan Seacrest later in the evening.
Most recently, Cohen has turned heads for his controversial character, Erran Morad, an Israeli anti-terrorism expert that he introduced on his Showtime series, Who Is America? Like most of Cohen’s mockumentaries, he interviews politicians but remains in character without them knowing. This, in turn, has caused great controversy since Morad has discussed topics like arming the American youth and detecting and repelling terrorists with well-known conservatives like Philip Van Cleave, Dana Rohrabacher, Joe Wilson, Joe Walsh, and Jason Spencer. In fact, Spencer argued that he was exploited by producers and later lost his primary election.Life and Work Beyond Ali G, Borat, Brüno, Admiral General Aladeen, and Erran
Beyond his widely comedic and often controversial characters, Borat has proven his talents as an actor and voice actor in a variety of roles. He’s guest starred on Curb Your Enthusiasm and has lent his voice to King Julien in the animated film series, Madagascar. In 2006, he joined Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and then joined Johnny Depp in the 2007 film, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In 2011, he co-starred in Martin Scorsese’s adventure flick, Hugo, and appeared as a BBC anchor in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Most recently, he’s focused on building his reputation on television as the creator, writer, director and executive producer of Who Is America? He also starred as himself in The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling and is set to star as Eli Cohen in the 2019 miniseries, The Spy.
When he’s not busy working on staying in character, Cohen is incredibly focused on his life at home with Australian actress Isla Fisher, whom he met at a party in 2002. They dated for two years before announcing their engagement in 2004. Over the next six years, the couple planned their nuptials and welcomed three children into the world. After Fisher converted to Judaism, the couple exchanged vows in a Jewish ceremony in Paris, France on March 15, 2010. Still together today, the couple remain incredibly guarded about their life at home, as Cohen does his best to honor his faith by keeping kosher and attending synagogue at least twice a year. “I wouldn’t say I am a religious Jew,” he says. “I am proud of my Jewish identity and there are certain things I do and customs I keep.”
Cohen and Fisher are also committed to helping others and gave over $500,000 to the Save the Children Foundation in 2015. The program provides measles vaccinations to children in Northern Syria. They later donated $500,000 to the International Rescue Committee, which helps Syrian refugees.
Apart from his commitment to his faith, family, and philanthropy, Cohen is also committed to his characters, which is why he’s rarely seen out of character—at least when he’s in the public spotlight. “I’ve never really done any interviews as myself,” he admits. However, even that can be exhausting at times especially after he surprised fans and did a string of interviews as himself on The Howard Stern Show, the Late Show with David Letterman, and The Opie and Anthony Show in the new millennium. “It’s exhausting,” Cohen says of constantly staying in character, “because there’s a greater pressure to be funny if you turn up somewhere as your comic character.” After nearly two decades, Cohen certainly knows what he’s doing as one of the most awarded comedians, actors, screenwriters, and film producers to come out of England.