EXCLUSIVE Sacha Baron Cohen’s next movie, after “The Brothers Grimsby” may be “The African American,” which he is developing. He says: “It is about somebody who is white and gets kidnapped and grows up in an African country. And then gets taken back to America so he’s an African American.”
Cohen wore a cowboy shirt and hat at the screening of his new raunchy new film, “The Brothers Grimsby” Tuesday night at the Regal Union Square. The film is a spy spoof about Nobby Butcher (Baron Cohen), an idiot soccer fanatic with a dozen or so kids, and his younger M16 agent brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), who were separated as young boys.
Baron Cohen came out before the screening and started to get the audience sing along with him to a made up cowboy song with lyrics that went, “The Jew Down the Way,” and much of the crowd sang along.
“Any Jews here?” Baron Cohen asked? “Jesus Christ,” he replied when shouts of yes rang out. “Are there any non-Jews here tonight?” The shouting was just as loud.
“It’s pretty white,” Baron Cohen said, looking out at the audience. “Not as white as the Oscars but still.”
Baron Cohen then listed the cast of “The Brothers Grimsby”: “Mark Strong is great. We got Rebel Wilson and my wife Amy Adams.” Baron Cohen’s wife is Isla Fisher who does have a likeness to Adams. Baron Cohen rattled off Gabourey Sidibe’s name. “Black Oscar nominated actor. I’m not racist, officially,” he said. “Who else we got? And we got Penelope Cruz who I must say I tried very, very hard and eventually I persuaded her not to get her breasts out for this.”
After the screening Baron Cohen returned for a 35 minute Q&A. During the raucous session he explained that the story’s inspiration came about from wondering what would happen if James Bond had an idiot brother.
“Who would be the kind of opposite of James Bond,” he said. “James Bond is a complete loner while this guy is obsessed by family. James Bond is a womanizer. This guy is a one-woman man.” Noted Baron Cohen, “You looked at all those kind of spy movies, and the spies are these guys who always say nothing and who sleep with lots of women. Part of this movie is Nobby’s attempt to humanize his brother.”
Someone in the audience noted that Baron Cohen’s film all have social and political messages. How was he going to keep his work alive?
“Well, listen, I don’ know if it should be kept alive firstly. Secondly we’re in an interesting period in cinematic history that everything now is about box office and it’s about the opening weekend,” said Baron Cohen, who added, “I now make movies to sort of with the philosophy of if I see them in 20 years, will I think, ‘all right, I’m proud of that one or I’m embarrassed by that one rather than is it a hit at the box office.’”
The Borat actor then brought up ‘Bruno. “The film hits a nerve even if it takes a while to find its place.” Baron Cohen said, adding the day it came out, “I woke up the morning and thought, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ It seemed so extreme. At that point no major studio movie about gay people actually had a plot where the gay people were not dead at the end of the movie. And in our movie they were totally living happily after. They couldn’t be officially married at that time. Weirdly enough the film needed time to settle in. It’s actually been received better now.”
“The Brothers Grimsby” – and there’s no telling how the world will see it in 20 years – has Daniel Radcliffe infected by the blood of a Palestinian/Jewish kid with HIV.
Did Baron Cohen get permission from Daniel Radcliffe?
“I haven’t heard from Daniel Radcliffe, but I have received a letter from his lawyer,” said Baron Cohen.
Also widely reported is the scene from “Brothers Grimsby” where presidential candidate Donald Trumps gets infected with the virus and develops full-blown AIDS. Baron Cohen said he decided to add it in the film. “Basically once Donald Trump made that comment about Muslims, we put that little bit in.”
Someone asked Baron Cohen how he got co-star Mark Strong, a well regarded actor, to do some of the incredibly raunchy scenes. “It’s tricky but it’s a leap of faith,” he said. “He’s got incredible respect as an actor and suddenly I was putting him in an elephant’s vagina, and about three quarter’s of the way through the film he said, ‘Listen Sacha, I just realized, you’re putting me through the most embarrassing and humiliating situations ever.”
“And I go, ‘Yeah, that’s right, but there’s still elephant sperm,” to contend with, said Baron Cohen to Strong. “It was difficult for him because he’s classically trained.” Also the script was mainly improvised. “He was convinced that he could not know how to improvise. He’s actually a brilliant improviser and a great foil.” Added Baron Cohen, “The amazing thing about him is he grounds the movie. He makes the movie feel real,” he said. “The studio wanted to a get a number of bizarre sort of famous people to play my brother, but all of them – we tried a lot of them out – and they were winking at the camera” and “and he came in with this unique and real action hero persona we wanted.”
It turns out the theme of separated brothers is personal to the comic. “My dad has a brother who cut out on him so I’m really interested in how that affects families.”
Baron Cohen talked about South Africa and what a powerful place it is. “Racism is still there. It’s still evident” and that he had an “incredible love for the people.” He said it was the inspiration for his next film, “The African American,” which he is developing. “It is about somebody who is white and gets kidnapped and grows up in an African country. And then gets taken back to America so he’s an African American.”
At the end of the Q&A Baron Cohen hung around to pose for photos and talk to enthusiastic fans for at least another half hour.
When a young boy asked Baron Cohen to pose for a selfie the comic asked, “How old are you?”
The boy replied: thirteen. “Oh my god!” said Baron Cohen. “Did you get traumatized tonight? You okay yeah?”
As Baron Cohen was leaving I asked him about why he turned up in a cowboy hat and shirt. He said, “That’s how we dress in London.”