Borat 2: Sacha Baron Cohen’s Hilariously Funny, Politically Relevant Sequel

Over the past two decades, British-born satirist Sacha Baron Cohen has made an unforgettable impact BY impersonating some hilariously diverse personalities, Ali G, a show host and wannabe rapper; Borat Sagdiyev, a sexist and racist TV personality in the Borat movies; Admiral General Aladeen in The Dictator; Brüno Gehard, a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion reporter in Bruno.
However, his most memorable movie is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, in 2006, which centered on a crude, offensive and backwards fictitious journalist, embarking on a quest designed to help him learn more about “the real” America.  Audiences embraced the clever blend of a shocking social satire and slapstick humor to the tune of over $260 million at the global box-office.
Fourteen years later, Baron Cohen faces the challenge of following up his smash hit with a sequel that may bear the longest title ever, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The most important thing for the comedian, who’s 49, was the timing of release: “We shot the movie rather secretly, and but goal was always to show it to the public ahead of the 2020 elections. Ever since Trump took office, I’ve been concerned about the undermining of our democratic institutions, and now I fear that even if Trump loses, he may try to stay in power.”
The sequel, also known as Borat 2, was set to stream on Amazon Prime on October 23, but it was actually uploaded a day earlier, right before the final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Though aware that the shock value of Borat, which came out of nowhere, has necessarily declined, he claims that, along with trying to be “the funniest movie since the first Borat, the sequel is first and foremost a warning about the dangerous slide towards autocracy as we’re incrementally moving away from this wonderful ideal of American democracy.”  He thinks that “Borat is the perfect character for the Trump era, because he is just a slightly more extreme version of Trump.  They are both misogynistic and racist, they both don’t care about democracy, and they’re both laughable characters.” Borat exposed the ugly underbelly of American society–racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry, ignorance–but Baron Cohen feels that “over the years, that underbelly has become exposed, and it’s now overt. Opinions that we have put on screen back in 2006 are now being espoused by the President himself!”
He says the sequel was “the most challenging movie I’ve ever made, because I was taking my most famous character, trying to make a movie with real people who are placed in higher places, holding important political positions.” Borat 2 was also the hardest effort technically: “I was getting up at 5am, working all day, and after finishing the shoot I was going back to writing and preparing, basically surviving on-and-off for a year on four hours of sleep.”
While all actors are tasked with preparing for their characters and remembering their lines, he says, “there are a lot more lines in the Borat movies than in any other film, because I needed to be fully prepared for any question anyone may ask me.  As Borat, I was learning one hundred pages of dialogue within a day, instead of the norm of three to four pages. My character had to be three-dimensional, there couldn’t be any chinks in the armor where others realize they are not talking to a real person.  I made myself know everything about this invented mythical country, everything about Borat’s personality, his family and friends.”
Baron Cohen’s fellow actors, crew members, and participants had to endure quite a lot: “My smell was so abhorrent to make people aware they were really in the presence of somebody from a different civilization.  It was very hard for people to be around me, because the smell was repulsive. Everything about me, including my underwear, is authentic to the point where if somebody took out every pocket on me at any time, it would be completely consistent in keeping-in-character. In one scene, I stayed in character for about 125 hours, I even slept in Borat’s pajamas and lived in a house with two guys.”
He insists that, “first and foremost, I’m a comedian, I’m an actor. I’m not a philosopher, and I’m not an academic. I wish that as a society we would listen more to the academics and experts than to the politicians and demagogues.” Downplaying his celebrity status, Baron Cohen says: “I am not the person to give advice to anyone on managing anything.  I’m friendly with a surfer who specializes in big waves, and he once gave me a very good advice, ‘when you are stressed, just breathe in and out through your nose.’ Obviously, I was quite stressed this past year, and breathing was a good way to lower my heart-rate. It’s all about breathing.” (Laughs)
Having played a wide variety of characters, he underlines the foundation of his approach, which begins and ends with language: “The key into my characters is the exact words they use, the syntax, the rhythm, the punctuation. After that, I can play with the specific accent and with physical things like wardrobe and hair.” This method also applies to the way he played a real-life character, Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7: “I listened to everything he had said, I read everything he had written. And the more I read about him and the more I heard him on the radio and saw every video of him, I realized that this man was an orator, a deeply political and morally sincere agitator who was using comedy, syntax, and rhythm to get his message across to a generation that wasn’t really motivated to protest or risk their lives.”
He says: “I realized that to make a sequel to Borat, which was a startling experience, I would have to put myself in some deeply uncomfortable situations, in which my heart would start thumping.”  Such a situation occurred on the one of the first days of filming, which was at the Richmond Gun Rally, when there was a threat by a white supremacist group to conduct a mass shooting.  He recalls: “The FBI had foiled it, but I was going into a situation wearing a T-shirt that was not fully supportive of the National Rifle Association. It was the first time in my career that I donned a bullet proof vest. I’ve never done that before, but there were so many semi-automatics that even if somebody wasn’t actively trying to hurt me, I could easily get accidentally hurt by a stray bullet.”
As for casting the female lead: “We spent seven months searching the world for Borat’s perfect daughter, Tutar, and we auditioned hundreds of actresses. We wanted someone believable enough to play a woman who had lived an incredibly primitive existence in our mythical version of Kazakhstan, and a woman who had the range to transform herself into a right-wing journalist. We finally found this incredible actress, Maria Bakalova, who had recently left drama school and had done some movies in Bulgaria. She was hilarious, which is important because it’s a comedy, and she was courageous, because she had to take risks. We actually ran through some scenes in London, like her break-up with Borat, in which she brought tears to my eyes. I immediately knew she was the one, because I wanted this movie to be an emotional family tale about a father from a primitive society where women are not respected, who finally grows to respect his own daughter.”
The movie’s climax, which Baron Cohen is reluctant to discuss in detail for fear of spoiling the fun, occurs near the end, when former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks to Bakalova, who’s posing as a journalist. Giuliani can be heard telling her that she can give him her phone number and address. After the interview, which takes place in a hotel room, Giuliani is seen lying on the bed and putting his hand into his pants.  Baron Cohen admits he was “quite worried” for Bakalova while secretly monitoring that scene: “As a producer, I would never have let an actress be in a dangerous situation, so the idea was always for me to intervene.”
Keeping a deadpan face while sporting various guises, Baron Cohen interacts with unsuspecting subjects who don’t realize they have been set up for self-revealing ridicule.  But he does not feel he’s violating a code of ethics, because “the people in my movies always agree to be on television, and the cameras are always present, always visible.”
Last week, Giuliano said that, “At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar.” Claiming that the scene is “complete fabrication,” he said he was only tucking in his shirt after the recording equipment (used for the interview) was removed.  Says Baron Cohen: “The only person responsible for what Rudy Giuliani did is Rudy Giuliani.  He was obviously concerned enough about the incident to call the police, and the police raided the hotel room and searched it afterwards, but I am not sure what he told them.  If the president’s lawyer says that what he did there was appropriate behavior, then heaven knows, what he’s done with other female journalists in other hotel rooms. I just urge everyone to watch the movie. The scene was pretty clear to us, but we want the viewers to make up their own minds.”
He believes that real change must happen and always happen, “but social media has done more damaging changes in the past few weeks than in the past few years. There are a handful of powerful men who control what information billions of people around the world receive. That is unfair and undemocratic, because they are not voted for, they cannot be replaced, and they’re not accountable. We are now witnessing a technological revolution that’s far more impactful than the Industrial Revolution.  After the Industrial Revolution, it took decades for governments to get caught up with the changes, urbanization led to crime, child abuse, prostitution. It took long time for governments to introduce legislation to curb the excesses of the industrialists. We are now in a period of a technological revolution that everyone assumed is merely positive, but there are very negative effects to it.”
Baron Cohen admits that, “It’s very hard for me right now to be upbeat about the future. There will be so much suffering, so many deaths due to politicians refusing to listen to experts. And the elections are uncertain, America could be in a far worse position than it is now, depending on how the elections go.”
In order to expose the people behind the horrific views and lies, he spent five days living in character with two conspiracy theorists: “I really wanted to demonstrate that, underneath it all, they were good people who had been fed lies through social media. The main issue with the Internet is that it doesn’t differentiate between factual information and lies.  Conspiracy theories and lies spread faster and wider on the Internet than facts, because the truth is boring, the truth is dull. But I also wanted to show that in this incredibly divided country, and in this increasingly divided world, there’s human commonality to all of us.”