Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Geri Cole


Geri speaks to Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, and Peter Baynham—cowriters of BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM—about why they decided to revisit the iconic character, how intense it was to film that now infamous Rudy Giuliani scene, and the reality of filming in very dangerous situations.

Sacha Baron Cohen is best known for his portrayal of bawdy and raucous fictional satirical characters such as Ali G, Borat Sagdiyev, Brüno Gehard and Admiral General Aladeen. 

Sacha and his cowriters and frequent collaborators Anthony Hines and Peter Baynham have featured these characters in a number of films and television series, including ALI G INDAHOUSE, THE 11 O’CLOCK SHOW, BRÜNO, THE DICTATOR, and BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN, the latter of which was nominated for the 2006 Writers Guild and Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Their latest collaboration, BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM, follows the titular Borat Sagdiyev after his release from a stint in prison for bringing shame to his country, as he risks life and limb when he returns to America with his 15-year-old daughter. The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Season 7 of OnWriting is hosted by Geri Cole, a writer and performer based in New York City. She is currently a full-time staff and interactive writer for SESAME STREET, for which she has received Writers Guild Award and two Daytime Emmys. She also performs sketch and improv at theaters and festivals around the country.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Geri Cole: You’re listening to On Writing, a podcast from the Writer’s Guild of America East. I’m your host, Geri Cole. In each episode, you’ll hear writers working in film, television, and news, break down everything from the writing process to pitching, favorite jokes to key scenes, and so much more. Today, I’m joined by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, and Peter Baynham, three of the writers of Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, the surprise sequel to the 2006 film that’s now airing on Amazon Prime.

Geri Cole: In this interview, I talk with Sacha, Anthony, and Peter about why they decided to revisit the iconic character, how intense it was to film that now infamous Rudy Giuliani scene, and the reality of filming in very dangerous situations. So first question, Borat, we brought the character back. Why did we decide to bring the character back right now?

Sacha Baron Cohen: So can I start with that one?

Geri Cole: Yes, please.

Sacha Baron Cohen: This is Sacha by the way. [crosstalk 00:01:00] Okay. So essentially, quick history of how it happened, which was Trump gets elected. Donald Trump, used to be the President, currently the President sort of. I don’t know what we call him. Potentially some people still believe that he’s the president for the next four years. But anyway, he gets elected. We start sharing articles from fake news media, from mainstream media. I think that was the way that a lot of people coped with his election, which was, “Look at this article, look at this article.” And then we had a discussion which was, “What can we do about it?” And we created a show, particularly myself and Ant, called, “Who is America?” Which was designed really to target and reveal the truth about those around Donald Trump and those he supported, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Judge Roy Moore, and Corey Lewandowski, et cetera, et cetera.

Sacha Baron Cohen: And we created characters that we felt would appeal to those around him and also to satirize what we felt was an increasing danger in America, which was the proliferation of conspiracies and lies on social media. So we created a journalist called Dr. Billy Wayne Ruddick, who was a conspiracy theorist who interviewed politicians, including Bernie Sanders and Howard Dean, and a few people like that, Jill Stein…

Anthony Hines: Not Sarah Palin.

Sacha Baron Cohen: And Sarah Palin, but we didn’t ever release that one. And anyway, so we had some success with it. It led to a few people, one person losing his job who was a state Congressman in Georgia, Jason Spencer, who had revealed he bared his buttocks on camera and screamed the N word a number of times and still refused to step down. Eventually, he was forced out and Trump was still in. We hadn’t really made a dent. Then the midterms happened and we did a small piece on Jimmy Kimmel where Borat was trying to convince people to vote for Donald Trump. We just assumed that Borat was impossible to shoot now. That was the thing was it’s impossible to do another Borat movie. Some people, over the last 14 years, had pitched versions where it was completely scripted because we assumed that it was impossible to do with real people again and impossible to do undercover.

Sacha Baron Cohen: But we tried this thing on Jimmy Kimmel, we did this short piece and it went well and we had a realization, which was Borat was essentially a more extreme version of Donald Trump. He was 20% more misogynistic, he was 20% more enthusiastic of white supremacists. The only thing probably was less than Trump was he was less inclined to pay women for sex. So we realized that he was actually a good mechanism to allow Trump supporters to really open up and so Borat could say, “Talk about caging Mexican children,” and say, “It was very nice for them. The cages there are better than the [inaudible 00:04:42] Four Seasons.”

Sacha Baron Cohen: Then during Jimmy Kimmel’s thing, some of the people we interviewed said, “Yeah, you’re right. They’re lucky. The kids are lucky to be in the cages.” We realized that that basic concept of bringing a character that was more extreme than the person you were speaking to allowed that person to really open up. The next day, myself and Ant and Darren [Swimmer 00:05:05], another one of our writers, we were writing a separate project.

Anthony Hines: We just finished writing another movie. [inaudible 00:05:11] remind you, Sacha. We spent months on it. Then the next day…

Sacha Baron Cohen: So we went, so this was the day after the Jimmy Kimmel thing. We’re completing another movie that we’d spent a couple of months writing. We just, in the room, we said, “That Jimmy Kimmel thing really worked. It’s really working satirically. It feels like Borat works in the world of Trump. Is there a movie with Borat that we can put out before the election to show the danger of Trumpism?” Because the absurdity of Trumpism had already been demonstrated by Donald Trump. Pretty quickly, we came up with this concept of Borat gives his daughter as a gift to Mike Pence.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Suddenly, there was a reason after 13 years to make this movie, which was, it was our attempt to do what we could to prevent what we believed was an authoritarian leader securing a second term. We felt very strongly that democracy was at a turning point, was in mortal danger in America. We were disgusted with policy after policy. The legitimization of racism, this brazen misogynist being the most vocal person in the world. We felt this was our form of protest. We didn’t think it would necessarily swing any votes, but we felt that we had to do what we could so that on November 4th of 2020, we could look ourselves in the mirror and say, “We did what we could.” So that’s why we did it and we decided to write a movie. We made it very clear that we were only going to make the movie if we could release it the week before the election, otherwise we weren’t interested in doing it.

Anthony Hines: Yeah.

Sacha Baron Cohen: That’s what we did. That’s a very long answer. Isn’t it?

Geri Cole: Well, yes, but it brings me to several questions, one of which is let’s talk a little bit, actually in general, about the pre-production process. So once you have the story and you know that you want to tour certain places and try and secure interviews with certain people, but how do you make that happen in a year like this year?

Anthony Hines: Well, we knew from the start that the timeline was going to be tight. It’s going to be, this is ambitious to write, produce, shoot at it, and release this movie before the election. I remember, yeah, the story and the script… Our process is basically we treat it like a conventional movie. We’ll write a script and final draft. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then the difficult part, again, because you then have to try and realize this vision in the real world with real people and 99% of the people in the world know who Borat is. I remember there’s a day we did a table read as per conventional movie and it went well.

Sacha Baron Cohen: By the way, I would interject there and people said, “Oh, this movie sounds great. It’s obviously impossible to make.”

Anthony Hines: Yes. There was a brief moment of feeling pleased with ourselves after the table read went quite well and then it suddenly dawned on us that, “Well, the next time these words are uttered, we’re hoping that they’re going to be by real people, not by actor friends of ours.”

Geri Cole: Yeah. How does that… How? This brings me to my first how question, how do you write a script and then get a real person to play that role?

Peter Baynham: Well, the person doesn’t know. Obviously, nobody ever knows they’re in a movie. They’re meeting Borat and they believe in him and they believe he’s real, but also there’s a certain amount of thinking that goes into before an interaction like that. Obviously, Sacha does a lot… He’s improvising in that as well, but that person does not know that they’re helping to tell a story, for good or for bad, or they reveal themselves to be good or to be bad.

Peter Baynham: Can I just have, by the way, just to go into the question of the why is that one thing that came up, I think, after I came on board, because obviously the guys had the idea for the story and I came on later, but I think what was interesting, I think, as we went along was that the first movie was very much about exposing racism or exposing antisemitism and exposing whatever these [inaudible 00:09:43], or sexism. There was a question, I think, and a concern amongst all of us about like, “Is there a danger we tread [inaudible 00:09:50] territory?” Also the American public is doing a great job of exposing racism itself.

Geri Cole: There’s so much of it.

Peter Baynham: There’s no shame, there’s less shame. There’s much more openness about coming out and saying these things and people don’t seem embarrassed. Sacha was talking about Trumpism. That’s a horrible result of Trumpism that people are like these disgusting attitudes are just spouted out in the open now. But I think there was obviously that we just thought, “Well, there’s new things Sacha was saying about conspiracy theories,” and obviously, we delve into that in the movie. But I also think in a way, what was really exciting and interesting for us in this movie was that we met people where they might hold representable or frankly, bonkers opinions on the world, but they were exposed as nice, not nice, but they exposed as not wholly bad.

Peter Baynham: I think that was a big difference. I think that’s what this movie in an end, I hope this movie achieved is this, you actually expose good and you show that the enemy isn’t necessarily other people. [inaudible 00:10:54] Joe Biden [inaudible 00:10:55], I guess. But it’s like part of it is that you are showing that the Trumpist view of let’s divide people or the social media or let’s just make people hate each other, is that’s the enemy and not necessarily other people.

Geri Cole: Yeah, I actually was confused around Jim and Jerry where it’s like, they seem like lovely guys who took you in.

Peter Baynham: Yeah, they really cared about Borat. They really cared about him and his daughter.

Anthony Hines: Yeah. They’d lived in a parallel Facebook fortress of bullshit alternate reality, where they just been of brainwashed by conspiracy theories.

Sacha Baron Cohen: So I think that was, I mean, that was a conscious decision and a surprise, which was that they’re conspiracy theorists. I’m sure many liberals would see them as the enemy, but what became clear was that they were ordinary people, and actually in many ways, good people. They welcome Borat, they challenge Borat when he came out with his sexist views about his daughter. They really wanted him to respect his daughter. We felt again to just reiterate and…

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:12:04]

Sacha Baron Cohen: It’s his daughter. We felt again to just reiterate and what Peter said, it was a way to break down this concept of these people are enemies. We can’t speak to them. It’s a way of showing that it’s gray, it’s confusing, it’s muddy. Actually, what is the issue here is the breakdown of truth and fact, where social media now is elevating conspiracy theories, and lies, and hatred, and disinformation and putting it on the same level or even above information and quality news. What’s fascinating about it is one, they’re good people that believe in reprehensible ideas. They believe that Hillary Clinton drinks the blood of children. Secure a non idea, which is based in a medieval conspiracy actually about Jews. Q Anon is a re-interpretation of that medieval concept of the blood libel. Also, the second really fascinating thing is they don’t believe that they are conspiracy theories. They believe that the rest of the world are conspiracy theorists, which is something intrinsic to conspiracy theorists.

Anthony Hines: It’s one of my favorites of that scene actually, Sacha, is when they call you out for being a conspiracy theorist.

Geri Cole: So you were with them for several days, no?

Sacha Baron Cohen: I lived with them undercover for five days, went to sleep, had breakfast, lunch, dinner, stayed up with them, got drunk late at night, went to bed, slept in Borat’s pajamas.

Geri Cole: How are you still producing the film? The crew is contacting you in between?

Sacha Baron Cohen: So what would happen was outside my window, I’d lock the door and then I would climb outside the window and would climb outside. There was a ladder that he propped against my window.

Anthony Hines: It’s really dangerous actually.

Sacha Baron Cohen: A dangerous ladder. In the middle of the night, he’d come up and we’d whisper to each other. I’ll tell you one little funny story, which was because I needed a way to communicate with Ann and Peter. So what happened was at night, first night, I locked myself in the room. Say goodnight to Jim and Jerry and then I had a secret compartment, which had a padlock on it. In there was a walkie-talkie, my iPhone and my computer. I undo the padlock, I get out the computer, I’m on the iPhone redoing script pages, I’m texting Ann and Peter. The crew has gone home. Ann is in his hotel miles away and Peter are miles away. So it’s just me, Jim and Jerry in the house.

Geri Cole: Oh no.

Anthony Hines: A cabin in the woods.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Suddenly knock on the door. Borat? Borat? I’ve got all my stuff out, computers, I’m clearly not Bort. I’m clearly a fake. I decided to just ignore the knocking and the knocking continued. Borat, Borat, open up. I’m thinking, what the hell do I do? Do I hide? Do I pretend I’m not here? So I started frantically like in a bad French fast, throwing computers under the bed and throwing the phone here. Then eventually opened the door and they just said, “Just checking you’re okay. Have a good night.”

Geri Cole: My first thought would have been, how fast can I run?

Sacha Baron Cohen: You can’t run. You’re stuck in the house. You can’t leave.

Anthony Hines: Another thing, I’m not sure if people realize it watching the movie, but there were no camera men in that house. There were hidden robocams, which you can remotely zoom and it’s how they shoot Big Brother, et cetera.

Geri Cole: Did you have to install those yourself?

Sacha Baron Cohen: Yes. We had to install them, yeah.

Anthony Hines: Yeah. We [inaudible 00:15:54]. I was so fascinated the whole time too about how they would take Jason the director aside, sometimes at lunch or during filming and say, I heard … Jim just said at one point, “We got to to help this. I’m really worried about this guy. He’s got to find his daughter.”That’s the thing about Sacha, [inaudible 00:16:11] Borat spending longer, I think than you’ve spent with anyone by far.

Sacha Baron Cohen: So with that, it’s an interesting thing. Because it’s the end of act two, we’re coming to all hope is lost. We’ve followed a traditional father, daughter story stroke, arranged marriage story.

Geri Cole: It’s a beautiful father daughter story also, I feel like.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Thank you. Thank you.

Geri Cole: For all the comedy and controversy, it’s a very lovely father-daughter story.

Sacha Baron Cohen: By the way, that was intentional. We thought, okay, we want to deliver a political message. We want this to be hilarious, but we also want this to be an emotional story. To do that, what we do at the beginning of every movie is we give ourselves a little screenplay writing course in the genre. So what we do is we analyze every other reputable father-daughter story. We looked to Fiddler On The Roof and we try and draw comparisons. Even though our movie is set in the real world, we don’t want to reinvent anything structurally. The invention is that it’s happening with real people and real people are creating the story, but we want the genre to be not bog standard, but to make sense as a typical screenplay. We felt in order for it to be emotionally satisfying at the end, that we needed to ensure that each time we saw Borat and Tutar, his daughter, that it needed to develop their story. His paternal love needed to grow and her distance with him needed to grow, until she rejected him, until she essentially goes through a teenage hood.

Geri Cole: Her own coming of age.

Sacha Baron Cohen: She comes of age and rejects him. At the end, he sacrifices his life to …

Geri Cole: For his little girl.

Anthony Hines: Although, she does end up back in custody. Basically, is a right wing conspiracy theory [inaudible 00:18:11].

Sacha Baron Cohen: It’s our twist on it all.

Anthony Hines: We wanted to under cut stuff.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Just to go back to the … So we’re in this lockdown house, it’s a five day scene. We’re writing a five day scene.

Geri Cole: How many writers are involved in this at this point? Is it just the three of you?

Sacha Baron Cohen: No, no. The writing room was changing on the road. We had Erica [Rivernoya 00:18:34] Dan [Swimer 00:18:35] We had a brilliant writer called Jenna Freeman. The writer’s room would change a bit. The core was always myself and Dan Swimer. We’re very lucky to have Peter join us for large chunks. So with a scene like this, so it’s the act two low point essentially. He’s lost everything. He knows he’s going to die unless he delivers his daughter to Rudy Giuliani. He can’t find her, she’s run away, she’s refused to get plastic surgery. So she’s probably not even going to become attractive to Rudy Giuliani.

Geri Cole: Obviously.

Sacha Baron Cohen: We’ve thrown an even bigger obstacle, which is Coronavirus has happened. So it is impossible. This is the act two low point. So we knew we had to go through the active low point and end this scene with the break into act three, which is they discover Tutar on the computer. We wanted them to say, “Let’s find her.” Which is your break into act three and the beginning of act three. So it’s a bizarre concept. We’ve got a five day scene, but we have to go through.

Anthony Hines: We have to engineer some stuff.

Geri Cole: How? My other question was in watching them search and find where Tutar was, it’s like how are they not searching for Borat and then learning that you are a character?

Sacha Baron Cohen: So I will reveal one trick here, which was that was our computer. That was our computer. We had a limited search on it, so that they couldn’t search …

Anthony Hines: Basically parental controls.

Sacha Baron Cohen: We basically had parental controls on it. So that allowed us that day on day five-

Anthony Hines: We allowed access to, I think there were five extreme right wing news sites.

Geri Cole: Oh my goodness.

Sacha Baron Cohen: So she was doing actual interviews with lockdown protesters and people like that. Obviously, eventually she got into the White House. So she was a real conspiracy theorist journalist.

Geri Cole: I can’t even imagine how you begin to produce something like this, but I also want to talk a little bit about Maria Bakalova because her performance is amazing. Being able to stay in character that long and strong is not a skill I think many people possess. How did that come about?

Sacha Baron Cohen: Well, we interviewed hundreds of actors. I must say, Maria is completely wonderful kind. We decided not to start production until we’d found our Tutar. We search around the world. We literally flew to different countries to audition people because it wasn’t going to be enough doing it over Zoom. She’s hilarious. She’s incredibly courageous because filming scenes with real people is terrifying at the best of times. We put in some really terrifying situations. She’s an incredible actor. Actually when we did the audition, one of the auditions that … We had three auditions with her. During the breakup scene where she tells Borat, “I’ve had enough, I’m leaving you.” At one point we will almost started crying. That was it. We filmed it and you see me just go, “Okay, that’s it” and I break because I found my found myself, I go, I thought I’m going to start crying. That was it. We just went that’s it, she’s in.

Anthony Hines: She was literally a gift. Can I say also that she’s done well in an audition and we’ve tested her. Tested, she’s dipped her toe in the water a bit, but you still don’t know how she’s going to when push comes to shove and you put her in these real situations in a country where it’s her second language, she’s not with friends. Her second ever day of shooting was with the babysitter. I think for some reason we had to change towns we were shooting and we had to rejig. She ended up basically alone on her second day ever of shooting for 12 hours with Janice and didn’t break once. You’ve seen the footage that came of that.

Peter Baynham: One thing that’s brilliant about it is I remember we looked at tapes of other people. You find people who are hilarious and you find people who are believable. You find people who are brave, but it’s unique. I think it’s unique to Sacha and her basically.

Anthony Hines: Yes, I think so. I think so.

Peter Baynham: Those three things that they can do all of those things.

Sacha Baron Cohen: We auditioned some brilliant improvisers who are great and hilarious in the room. Then part of the audition process is we put them in a real life situation with real people. Often within two minutes, the real person would say, “You’re an actor. You’re an actor.” Because you can be a brilliant, hilarious actor. You can be great on stage. You can be great in the movie. But when you’re actually sitting next to someone, it’s a tight rope. It’s very easy to see through somebody.

Peter Baynham: I remember after Sacha, and Ann, and Dan had come up with this idea. At some point when they told me about the idea, I remember thinking, I love this idea and I have a bit of a-

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:24:04]

Peter Baynham: About the idea and I remember thinking, “I love this idea,” and I had a bit of a feeling of not sure it can be done though, because it was like, “But how are you going to find somebody that’s going to do that?” Because there’s very, very, very few people in the world who can actually do it and to find this person in Bulgaria [crosstalk 00:00:24:18]-

Sacha Baron Cohen: And it’s a two-hander. She’s the co-star. That was also something that we really wanted to do, which was, there are so few funny roles for women in male led movies that we also just wanted to… We felt, “Why not have it as a two-hander now?”

Sacha Baron Cohen: The first time we had Borat’s producer and he had actually had much less a role. He was fantastic, Ken Davitian was incredible find, but this was a far more challenging role. It really is a two-hander.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Bringing it back to the election. We were very aware that to defeat Trump, women would need to come out in unprecedented numbers and vote against him. Having a story about a woman standing up against an extreme misogynist, Borat, we felt might…

Sacha Baron Cohen: Again, listen, we’re comedy writers. There was only so limited amount of stuff that we could do, but this was our form of protest. We felt, “Okay. That could hopefully inspire a few women to come out and vote, and maybe a few women who were going to vote for him to inspire them not to vote.”

Sacha Baron Cohen: It’s just a reminder of the disrespect for women in the government.

Peter Baynham: What Sacha is trying to say is we swung Pennsylvania.

Geri Cole: Basically. We have you guys to thank. I want to talk a little bit about your safety because I can imagine, again, embedding yourself in these situations, to have to be brave and funny. I feel like there’s a lot of clowning in the performance of Borat, and I also feel like clowning is an underappreciated art, because it is that, being able to stay in a character and engage with real people.

Geri Cole: When you find yourself embedded in these situations, how safe do you feel?

Sacha Baron Cohen: Well, it varies from scene to scene. We shot one scene, for those of you out there who’ve seen the movie, we shot one scene at a gun rights rally in Washington state. The story is Borat’s trying to find his daughter.

Sacha Baron Cohen: We knew that it was going to be dangerous. We knew that there were going to be a lot of people carrying semi-automatic weapons. For the first time in my career, I was advised to wear a bulletproof vest. It’s an odd experience before a scene, putting on a bulletproof vest, because you’re facing up to the reality that you might get shot during the scene.

Sacha Baron Cohen: We were also advised by our security guard. He said, “Well, listen, the issue is the bulletproof vest’s only going to do a certain amount” [crosstalk 00:03:07]-

Geri Cole: Check the chest, yeah.

Sacha Baron Cohen: And he said, “What?” So he built an amplifier that was on stage, actually. You see it on stage. He said, “All right, this is going to be resistant to a lot of bullets.”

Geri Cole: Bulletproof. “I’m going to build you a bulletproof amp?”

Sacha Baron Cohen: Yeah, so it’s basically like a tank. He goes, “If a number of people start shooting, jump behind that, and we’ll get you out of there.”

Peter Baynham: Sacha, we came up with that idea. It wasn’t really bulletproof.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Ha, ha, ha. Well, whatever. I was told [crosstalk 00:03:39]-

Peter Baynham: It was like, “Just tell him there’s a bulletproof time. He’ll believe it.”

Sacha Baron Cohen: We were also- Listen. We’d sent people to a similar rally at the same and place the week beforehand, and we were told and warned that if people found out that you were not Republicans, and then you were there on the other side, that they would get COVID-positive people to spit on you.

Sacha Baron Cohen: The whole crew, and I must say the entire crew are incredibly brave.

Geri Cole: Oh my god.

Sacha Baron Cohen: The field producers who are predominantly women are going out and really putting themselves at real risk. Actually, after this rally, a number of their faces were put out and people were searching [crosstalk 00:28:24] I don’t want to go into too much detail because of security concerns, but they were being tracked down by people [crosstalk 00:28:30] targeted.

Sacha Baron Cohen: We had to essentially move state in a rush and move people to safe houses, including myself, or… Our first day back from filming was at another gun rights rally. It never ended up going on air, but it was in Richmond, Virginia, and I was wearing a “Fuck the NRA” shirt accidentally as Borat. They’re going, “What the [inaudible 00:28:55] hey!” “Fuck the NRA!” Because I thought there was an anti-NRA [crosstalk 00:29:01]-

Sacha Baron Cohen: It was a scene that we chopped out, where Borat’s looking for Tutar. In that version, she’d become anti-NRA, and so to get in with her he’s wearing a “Fuck the NRA” T-shirt.

Sacha Baron Cohen: I was meant to be on the Antifa side, but I ended up on the NRA side, and there were thousands and thousands of people in battle gear with machine guns. What was worse was the day before the rally, the FBI uncovered a plot by a number of members of the (bleep) movement, which at the time was mushrooming on Facebook. The plan was to carry out a mass shooting at this event.

Geri Cole: Oh my god.

Sacha Baron Cohen: The FBI foiled a plot by a group to carry out a mass shooting at this event, and I remember the night before [Adam 00:29:45] said, “You should really give the crew a little pep talk.”

Sacha Baron Cohen: I said, “Listen, I’m not going to lie.” I said, “There is a certain amount risks tomorrow. We’re all aware of this FBI story. You know, there’s a lot of people with machine guns and semiautomatics, and accidents could happen. So, I’m not going to ask you who’s not going to come tomorrow. I’m going to ask you who is ready to come tomorrow.”

Sacha Baron Cohen: The next day, a couple of crew members actually didn’t turn up, which ended up [crosstalk 00:30:15] so we had to improvise really fast. You’re like, “We got no sound [crosstalk 00:30:19] bloody hell.”

Anthony Hines: Call that the [crosstalk 00:30:24]-

Sacha Baron Cohen: The sad thing was the thing never saw the light of day, so we put ourselves through that terrifying situation [crosstalk 00:00:30:30]-

Peter Baynham: And that is, again, part of the process where you write this script and it’s sort of a wishlist, and you know that perhaps 50% of it will be different by time you get to the end, and you know you’re going to spend days, weeks, possibly months…

Peter Baynham: Can I say what happens with Sacha as well? At that first rally, the rally that that ended up in the movie, whilst I was in an Airbnb about 25 miles away, in a bulletproof vest, I’m watching on a live link. There was a point where I was watching it on this link. I could see in the crowd, a guy heading towards the stage with a gun.

Peter Baynham: We don’t want to give away too much of magic, but there’s a way of people communicating, and the codeword went out to get out of here. “We’ve got an abandon, abandon.”

Peter Baynham: But Sacha’s in full… Sacha’s being Borat being [crosstalk 00:31:23] Country Steve, being [crosstalk 00:31:26] he’s deep in some Daniel Day Lewis place, I think shouting at the crowd and whatever.

Peter Baynham: I knew we could tell, I think [Ant 00:31:33] knew as well. We had the scene. We knew we had the material for the scene, but Sacha’s just in it. I’m just thinking, “There’s a fucking guy heading for the stage with a gun [crosstalk 00:31:42] get off.”

Peter Baynham: Sacha sang that song for about 20 minutes. It’s like, “Are you sure?” Until it got to a point where people realized this is not normal, “Wait a minute,” and then rumor went around [crosstalk 00:31:57] I think Sacha forgets self-preservation at that point.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Well, I wanted to get the scene.

Peter Baynham: Yeah, we got the scene.

Geri Cole: How do you know you’ve got it? How do you go in, knowing these risks? I feel like in order to produce and create like this, you have to have an enormous amount of faith.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Well, no. Listen, we felt, again, if the election was not coming up, we never would have made this [crosstalk 00:32:20] and that was the thing. Everyone in the crew took real risks to…

Sacha Baron Cohen: Also, we were the first movie to shoot during COVID. At that time, people were terrified about contracting COVID.

Sacha Baron Cohen: And as I said, by the way, they did storm the stage at that point and an elderly gentleman actually was one of the guys and he reached for his pistol.

Sacha Baron Cohen: We had a fantastic security guard. He was either fantastic or very lucky, but he grabbed the guy’s arm and whispered to him, “It’s not worth it, buddy,” which apparently is what you need to say when someone’s about to shoot you.

Sacha Baron Cohen: The guy didn’t put… Listen, I don’t know if the guy was going to shoot me, but he reached for it, was going to pull out his pistol to point at me.

Geri Cole: That’s enough.

Sacha Baron Cohen: That’s enough [crosstalk 00:33:09]-

Peter Baynham: And could I also point out, could I also remind you Sacha, again, that scene started off with us asking our field team, “We need an anti-lockdown protest.” At that point, the anti-lockdown protests were kind of sort of fizzling a bit, and logistically we can only travel so far, and there are COVID indications, all the rest of it.

Peter Baynham: Then, we were told, “Yeah, we found an anti-lockdown protest. It’s geographically in terms of our timeline. It’s perfect,” and then slowly on the day, slightly more information filtered through. “Well, it’s sort of an anti-lockdown/ NRA rally.”

Geri Cole: I have to ask you about Rudy Giuliani scene and what you wanted to get going into it, what you were thinking while you were in that closet? How did that work out?

Sacha Baron Cohen: Again, we are writing within a genre and there’s a couple of ways of thinking about the Giuliani scene. It’s either the wedding scene in It Happened One Night, where I realized I love her in a paternalistic way and basically I’m going to stop the wedding. It’s the “stop the wedding” scene. “Stop!” “Does anyone see a reason these two should not be married?” “Yes! Stop.” And they run away.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Yeah, so that is it. It’s also at that point, the genre is [inaudible 00:34:38] to become a slight thriller because… We do that musically where, the moment that Jim and [Jerry 00:34:46] see her, the movie becomes actually, even the score becomes that of a action film. It’s the break into act three, “We’re going to get her, blah, blah, blah.”

Sacha Baron Cohen: Then the score under Giuliani is the tension of a kind of murder scene. Essentially, we were thinking, we wanted to convey that if he slept with her, that that would be the equivalent of the killing of her soul.

Sacha Baron Cohen: She’s sacrificed herself, and that’s the tension, and it’s a race to stop that happen. Will Borat get there in time? When he comes in with this, as the sound guy it doesn’t work out [crosstalk 00:00:35:27]-

Anthony Hines: It’s written also farce Sacha, [crosstalk 00:35:29] that comedically, it was written as a farce, you know?

Peter Baynham: It’s also trying to stop a bomb going off, which is not a pleasant image [crosstalk 00:35:35] when you’re thinking about what was going on in the scene.

Sacha Baron Cohen: The bomb is in his pants, you know? And it’s to prevent him from-

Peter Baynham: Exploding.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Exploding. Exactly. The issue was, just a quick story about that scene, so everything relied on me being in that room and we built a hideaway and it was about a 3′ wide, 6’6” high, and 2′ deep.

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:36:04]

Speaker 1: It’s six foot, six high, and two foot deep. And it was obviously pitch black, and the idea was that I was going to stand in there for the length of the scene. Unfortunately, the assistant director brought me to the wrong room, and he took me to the room and I said, Well, where’s Giuliani? And he goes, “Oh, he’s about to go into the bedroom.” And so I go, “Come on, we need to go that quick. Come on.” And literally, we ran down the corridor, me and the assistant director, just as I saw Giuliani’s feet turning the corner, managed to duck into the room, get into this carpet, close it up, and then Giuliani’s security guard goes and scopes the room and checks every room to see if anyone is in there. He wanted to ensure that it was just Giuliani and Maria in there. And I just closed the cupboard in time, and I hear the security guard coming into the room, checking, and then my only means of communication with Ant and the director, and Peter and everyone was this phone. That was the plan; I was going to look at it. This phone.

Speaker 1: I switch on the phone, the scene starts and there’s 4% battery. I’m like, “Why have we done everything? We build the hideaway.”

Sacha Baron Cohen: I think I got a text from him saying-

Speaker 1: I’m like, “No-one charged the phone.” No-one charged the phone. So I have to switch it off and save battery.

Speaker 2: Can I just jump in and say, the other thing is really, for writing as well, is the crazy but exciting challenge of this which, I guess we created on the first movie was this idea, again, of you’re telling the story and on one level, it is exactly all of that; we were talking about is this, you want the third act climax, you want this, you want the race against time, you want the antagonist, whatever. But also on the other hand, what you’re also doing, what we’re primarily doing really, is we’re doing real people, and obviously with Rudy, that’s less about exposing the good. That’s just about showing… So on another level, there’s a totally different level that other movies don’t have to do where we are showing real people, we’ve got an undercurrent of satire to the whole movie, because you also trying to engineer this whole thing, obviously with real people and that’s a big job.

Geri Cole: And that they then play into to these characters you’ve I mean, not necessarily created for them, but the characters that you need for this to work. I also quickly want to touch on the Usual Suspects homage at the end, which was a beautiful, I was like, when you said it was –

Speaker 2: It was just lazy, at that point, Geri. Just lazy.

Geri Cole: I appreciated it. Yeah. I thought it was a wonderful way to end the film.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Thank you. I mean, I think the challenge, we were, again, I want to just say again, how courageous everyone who worked on the movie was, and the relentlessness. It was like going to war, and we’re doing this movie, we’re going to release it before the election. We’re going to do it. You know, we had opportunities where the studio at the time said, “Listen, coronavirus has happened. Let’s just park it for a year, finish it off, let’s release it in a year. It’s evergreen.” And we were like, “No, we’ve made this to release it before the election. That’s why we’re doing this. That’s why we put ourselves on the line.” And the challenges that Borat faced, we faced as well. You know, we’ve written this movie, and suddenly we’re shut down because of coronavirus.

Sacha Baron Cohen: And what we did was, we had this decision, which was, should we wait for coronavirus to end? There was the assumption at the beginning that, “Oh, it’s a bit like a hurricane. It’ll just come over America, disappear, and then,” or do we reinvent the story? And what was brilliant about these guys and the team we had around was we said, “Okay, let’s lean into it.” Borat is a documentary, right? So the idea is it’s a fake character played by me, in a real world. So we had a realization which was, let’s abandon the old story, and let’s embrace the new world, which is a world of people wearing masks. A world of people in lockdowns, let’s have the backdrop of act three be coronavirus. And so we basically reinvented the last third of the movie to exist in the backdrop of coronavirus. We still had the same arcs, the same story beats, but the backdrop was the world of COVID and just a little insight into that.

Sacha Baron Cohen: So CPAC, the scene you see with Pence, that was meant to happen at the end. That was meant to be Borat rescues Tutar from Giuliani, he runs out of the room, they’re being chased, he runs through CPAC, and all the RNC we’re going to do and then runs into room, and Pence’s there. And then Borat gets arrested, but that was going to be the climax of the movie. We shot it, we’d already done the CPAC thing, it was extremely difficult to achieve, that’s a whole other story, which I won’t bore you with now. And then we’d shut down for coronavirus. We started editing the movie, and one of the editors said, “I think you should see this.” And he showed me and Jason Wallander, our incredibly brave and vented director, some of the dailies, and it was the vice president saying, “Currently there are 15 cases of coronavirus in the United States, as the president said today, whatever happens, we are ready.” Or something along those lines.

Sacha Baron Cohen: And a bolt of electricity, went through me and I went, “Oh, that’s it. This is about the murderous incompetence of this regime.” We shot this in February, and they’re talking about that they’ve got the virus under control. And by the time we released it, there were over 200,000 people dead through their decisions. And we got together, and again, it’s a bit like the day after Jimmy Kimmel, we said, “Let’s just brainstorm it. Let’s give it an hour. Let’s think about Borat under lockdown. How would that be?” And immediately we’re flying around ideas, “Oh, he’d order stuff on Amazon. He’d do this.” And that’s how we knew that it was a fertile area.

Sacha Baron Cohen: And so we embraced it. We were lucky enough to find an [inaudible 00:06:39], is that correctly pronounced?

Speaker 1: Epidemiologist.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Okay, at Johns Hopkins who helped us. And she, Dr. [Naso 00:42:47] devised COVID safe way for us to go out and shoot. And again, we were, as far as we knew the first movie to go out and shoot during coronavirus. So we developed this whole system, by the way, within two days of shooting, there were two COVID positive cases on the crew, and we shut down. And we had this discussion, I remember speaking to Andrew, and Dan and Simon, and just saying, “Shall we go home?” One of the producers said, “Just call it a day. This movie’s too hard to make, just give up. Right? This is ridiculous. Just give up.” I said, “But we’re doing it for the election. Just give up, go home.”

Speaker 1: They didn’t get sick by the way, those people, they didn’t get sick. They got better.

Sacha Baron Cohen: They didn’t get sick, but we had to shut down. We had to quarantine everyone. The entire crew couldn’t leave their hotel rooms. We’re in Washington state shut down for 14 days.

Geri Cole: Oh my goodness.

Sacha Baron Cohen: But I must say the crew and the writing team and everyone had the courage and the resilience to say, “No, we’re doing this. We’ve got to get out for the election. We’re doing it:. And it was like fighting a war every day. And somehow with a lot of ingenuity, a lot of willpower, and a good deal of luck, we managed to make this movie that we felt was impossible before coronavirus. So I don’t know how it happened, but we did it.

Geri Cole: Thank you for doing it because it truly is a wonderful, wonderful film. I think we’re out of time, and so we have to wrap up. Thank you for sitting and talking with me. Thank you for again, making this film.

Sacha Baron Cohen: Thank you, Geri, lovely to speak to you.

Speaker 1: Take care, thank you, bye bye.

Geri Cole: That’s it for this episode. On Writing is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. Tech production and original music is by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writer’s Guild of America East online at And you can follow the Guild on social media @WGAEast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. I’m Geri Cole, thank you for listening, and write on.

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