This week’s Born This Day feature celebrates the birthday of Sacha Baron Cohen, the English stand-up comedian, writer and actor. A graduate of Cambridge University, Sacha Baron Cohen is most widely known for writing and playing four unorthodox fictional characters: Ali G, Borat, Brüno, and Admiral General Aladeen. He has encountered many controversies regarding some of his comic characters.
Sacha Baron Cohen married Australian actress Isla Fisher on 15 March 2010. After three years of study, Fisher converted to Judaism in early 2007. She received the approval of Baron Cohen’s observant Jewish parents. Baron Cohen and Fisher have two daughters: Olive, born in 2007, and Elula, born in 2010.
Characters played by Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen shot to fame when his comic character Ali G, an uneducated, boorish junglist, hailing from Staines, started appearing on the British television show The 11 O’Clock Show on Channel 4, which first went to air 8 September 1998. A year after the premiere of the show, GQ named him comedian of the year. He won Best Newcomer at the 1999 British Comedy Awards, and was nominated for Best British Entertainment Performance at the British Academy Television Awards. Da Ali G Show began in 2000, and won the BAFTA for Best Comedy in the following year. Also in 2000, Baron Cohen as Ali G appeared as the limousine driver in Madonna’s 2000 video “Music”, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, who was also responsible for directing the titles for Da Ali G Show. In 2002, Ali G was the central character in the feature film Ali G Indahouse, in which he is elected to the British Parliament and foils a plot to bulldoze a community centre in his hometown, Staines. His television show was exported to the United States in 2003, with new episodes set there, for HBO. Ali G’s interviews with celebrities (often politicians) gained notoriety partly because the subjects were not privy to the joke that Ali G, rather than being a real interviewer, was a comic character played by Baron Cohen. The resulting willingness of Baron Cohen’s targets to answer his frequently risqué questions often created surprising conversations. Interviewees have included: astronaut Buzz Aldrin, real estate mogul Donald Trump, businessman and billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed and former Conservative Party MP Neil Hamilton. Sacha Baron Cohen is a supporter of Comic Relief and as Ali G has hosted an interview with footballer David Beckham and his wife, ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, a feature film with Borat at the centre, was screened at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival and released in the United Kingdom on 2 November 2006, in the United States on 3 November 2006 and Australia November 2006. The film is about a journey across the United States in an ice cream truck, in which the main character is obsessed with the idea of marrying Pamela Anderson. The film is a mockumentary which includes interviews with various American citizens that poke fun at American culture, as well as sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, jingoism.
Another alter ego Sacha Baron Cohen performed as is ‘Brüno’, a flamboyantly gay, allegedly-19-year-old, Austrian fashion show presenter who often lures his unwitting subjects into making provocative statements and engaging in embarrassing behaviour, as well as leading them to contradict themselves, often in the same interview. Brüno asks the subjects to answer ‘yes or no’ questions with either “Vassup” (whats up) or “Ich don’t think so” (No); these are occasionally substituted with “Ach, ja!” (Ah yes!) or “Nicht, nicht” (“Nicht” means “not” in German). In one segment on Da Ali G Show, he encouraged his guest to answer questions with either “Keep them in the ghetto” or “Train to Auschwitz”. Brüno’s main comedic satire pertains to the vacuity and inanity of the fashion and clubbing world. In May 2009, at the MTV Movie Awards, Baron Cohen appeared as ‘Brüno’ wearing a white angel costume, a white jock strap, white go-go boots, and white wings; and did an aerial stunt where he dropped from a height (using wires) onto Eminem. Baron Cohen landed on Eminem’s lap, with his rear in Eminem’s face, prompting Eminem to exit the venue with fellow rappers D12. Eminem later admitted to staging the stunt with Baron Cohen. After an intense bidding war that included such Hollywood powerhouses as DreamWorks, Sony, and 20th Century Fox; Universal Pictures paid a reported $42.5 million for the film rights. The film was released in July 2009.
Baron Cohen’s 2012 film, The Dictator, was described by its press as “the heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed”. Baron Cohen played Admiral General Aladeen, a dictator from a fictional country called the Republic of Wadiya. Borat and Bruno film director Larry Charles directed the film. The main target of the film’s satire was Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was still alive when the film was written. The producers of the film were concerned it would anger Gaddafi, possibly even resulting in a terrorist attack, so they released deliberate misinformation saying that the film was loosely based on a romance novel written by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
In 2012, Sacha Baron Cohen will be starring in the film adaptation of the stage musical Les Misérables as the villanous character Thénardier.
It has been announced that Sacha Baron Cohen will star as Freddie Mercury of the rock band Queen in Mercury, an upcoming film about the period in the band’s history from 1971 to the Live Aid concert in 1985. It was Baron Cohen himself who contacted screenwriter Peter Morgan with the idea of portraying the flamboyant lead singer. Time magazine commented with approval on his singing ability and physical resemblance to Mercury. The film is due for release in 2014.
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