Bruno: Shooting in the Middle East

The hilariously funny, outrageously offensive (or is it offensively outrageous?) comedy will be released by Universal July 10.


While director Larry Charles and the other producers learned to expect the unexpected when it came to the mind of Sacha Baron Cohen, one thing they were not prepared for was the actor’s intentions for Brüno to help negotiate peace in the Middle East. 


The production’s general policy for interviews is that Baron Cohen allows subjects to keep going and give the most honest reaction they can to the scene he’s created with his fellow writers.  With the suggestion that the company mingle with terrorists, however, the reaction among the normally brave key players was: “How the hell are we going to be do this and not get everyone killed?”  They knew they couldn’t safely go to Jordan, Israel or the West Bank to set these up.   Well, at least that’s what they thought.


Before they embarked upon the plan, the team met with Middle East experts to learn what lines could never be crossed; they engaged the help of key Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli advisors to understand these unwritten codes of conduct.  Whether they followed them, however, was another story. 


This region proved to be the most intimidating and life-threatening location in which the team would shoot.  After slyly getting the former Jordanian prime minister to take part in a 90-minute interview at his home, Baron Cohen needed to meet with the country’s royal family to smooth things over.  And if that—coupled with engaging members of Mossad and other fundamentalist politicians in the region—wasn’t enough, Baron Cohen as Brüno headed to an area of the West Bank (in Zone C) that is not under Israeli control.  If anything went wrong, there would be no help from the Israeli army.  The filmmakers were truly on their own. 


Surprisingly, the head of the Bethlehem unit of terrorist group al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade agreed to meet with this correspondent.  The leader of a sect known for suicide bombings sat with Brüno while an aide translated curious, highly offensive statements from the interviewer.  And while they spoke, they were surrounded by the terrorist’s bodyguards, who grew more and more agitated by the barbs.


Once Baron Cohen and Charles arrived at the secret location in the West Bank, they were informed that Palestinian intelligence knew they were there and were keeping an eye on their every movement. With no time to waste, the team got the footage they needed and quickly headed back into protected territory. 


What peace process would be complete without getting feedback from the other side?  One of the more rapid experiments for the production was Brüno’s sashay through a Hasidic neighborhood in Israel.  Among this conservative community, men and women are forbidden from showing much skin (including legs and arms).  In retaliation for his offenses, furious members of the crowd chased Baron Cohen after Brüno took a stroll in skin-tight short shorts and a Little Debbie-inspired bonnet.


They were out for blood.  A large, angry crowd of Hasidic Jews began to gather, intent upon harming Baron Cohen for his actions.  The performer was forced to hide in the store of a compassionate shopkeeper until a van could reach him and assist his getaway.  Only then could he hunch down on the floor of the getaway vehicle and avoid the growing potential riot situation.


Back in the U.S., the production assumed it would be on safer ground.  Wrong.  They engaged with a domestic terrorist who was as dangerous as any they’d encountered overseas.  While the scenes they shot didn’t make it into the final cut of Brüno, the team lensed at a prominent white supremacist’s house.  The man who had spent a decade in prison for violent hate mongering did not take it very well when Brüno introduced him to his then-gay lover, Diesel.  The supremacist cocked his fist and went to attack Baron Cohen, who was able to avoid his punch and make it safely out of the house.