10 Things You Never Knew About "Borat" Creator Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen fans are eating well this month. He portrays Flower Power activist Abbie Hoffman in Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7, streaming now on Netflix, and revives his most famous comic creation in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, premiering Friday on Amazon. The British actor-comedian tends to keep a low profile outside of his movie roles, but here are 10 interesting things we've gleaned from his press clippings over the years.
1. He attended Haberdashers' Aske's, a prestigious independent boys' school in Hertfordshire near London.
Fellow Haberdashers' Aske's alumni include Matt Lucas, David Baddiel, and Jason Isaacs, and it was here that Baron Cohen met his longtime writing and producing partner Dan Mazer. “It’s basically a factory of comedy,” Mazer told Rolling Stone in 2006. “It’s just cocky young Jews. And because we were all too weak to fight each other, we compensated with verbal jousts. Sacha was always the gregarious one in a room. He was such a big personality that I didn’t envision him being able to hide himself so well with such brilliantly formed characters as Borat and Ali G.”
2. He created his comedy alter egos when he studied History at the University of Cambridge.
"I started developing characters partly as a way to get into places without paying," Baron Cohen told Rolling Stone in the same interview. "At Cambridge there was something called the Cambridge Balls, which at that time cost about £120 ($160) per head. I would try to get myself and other people in, pretending to be the band or something. And we’d do it. I remember when I came to New York at the age of twenty-three, it was a fun thing. Me and my friends, we would get into the clubs claiming we were bouncers or drug dealers."
3. Before he became famous, he appeared in a pretty cheesy U.K. TV commercial for microwave fries.
Warning: this clip is very '90s indeed.
4. He also briefly worked as a fashion model and attempted to become a chef.
“I finished high school and there was a chef called Raymond Blanc who got a Michelin star. I went over to his restaurant, called Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, and I asked to work there and he declined," Baron Cohen told the New York Times recently. "He said I was too tall to work in the kitchen, and then I gave up my dream of becoming a chef."
5. His cousin, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, is a preeminent clinical psychologist who heads up the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.
Among Professor Baron-Cohen's published works are The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Human Cruelty. According to The New York Times, this highly acclaimed book "proposes a simple but persuasive hypothesis for a new way to think about evil."
6. He has an amusing role in Madonna's "Music" music video.
As Ali G – his most famous comedy character before Borat – Baron Cohen appears as the pop queen's slightly disrespectful limo driver.
7. The inspiration for Borat came when Baron Cohen took a vacation to Astrakhan in southern Russia when he was 23.
"It was incredibly primitive," Baron Cohen told Esquire in 2016. "The plane was like a bus, there were people standing in the aisle all the way. The woman next to me was chewing on a chicken bone and reading an anti-Semitic cartoon. Anyway, I went to this doctor there and he said, 'In England you say, 'Cock! Cock!' But in America they say, 'Caak! Caak!' Yes?" And I started laughing immediately. He was the guy that eventually became Borat. I owe him some roubles."
8. He almost played Freddie Mercury in the Oscar-winning biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
Baron Cohen was originally in line to play Mercury, but he exited the film due to alleged creative differences with Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor. During an interview on The Howard Stern Show, he claimed that Queen "wanted to protect their legacy as a band" whereas he was keen to show the singer's outrageous side. “There are amazing stories about Freddie Mercury," he said. "The guy was wild. There are stories of little people walking around parties with plates of cocaine on their heads!”
9. We don't know much about him, because he doesn't want us to.
“I think that essentially I’m a private person, and to reconcile that with being famous is a hard thing,” Baron Cohen told Rolling Stone. “So, I’ve been trying to have my cake and eat it, too – to have my characters be famous yet still live a normal life where I’m not trapped by fame and recognizability.”
10. He studied to be a clown at the renowned École Philippe Gaulier in Paris.
Baron Cohen's wife of 10 years, Isla Fisher, says it's one of the things they bonded over. "We both went to clown school. I went to Jacques Lecoq and he studied with Philippe Gaulier, then we both studied bouffon, white mask and commedia dell'arte," she told the Sunday Times. "That definitely attracted me to him."
Are you a fan of Borat and Sacha Baron Cohen?