10 Outrageous Facts About Sacha Baron Cohen

Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

Not only is Sacha Baron Cohen the premier in-character satirist of this era, he’s peerless. An incendiary genius, Baron Cohen is the only person in the world doing what he does at the level at which he does it. Whether it’s as Borat or his new Who Is America? character Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., PhD, his comedy works not because he tricks the people he’s interviewing into saying horrific, racist, sexist, xenophobic garbage, but because he makes them feel safe enough to say their worst opinions out loud, on camera.

His fearlessness in making serious people look silly has earned him a global audience and an appropriate amount of outrage—not to mention an Oscar nomination. Here are 10 facts about the comic behind the mustaches.

1. HE STARTED OUT AS A MODEL.

After graduating Christ’s College, Cambridge, Baron Cohen briefly worked as a fashion model before hosting low-paying local and regional TV shows in the early 1990s. Obviously is was good prep for crafting the stylish Brüno, who infiltrated Milan, Madrid, and Paris Fashion Weeks.

2. HE ALSO HELPED SELL FRENCH FRIES.

Like a lot of people in the entertainment industry (Hi, bank enthusiast Tina Fey!), Baron Cohen also appeared in a commercial before getting his big break. Far from embarrassing, though, the pun-heavy, absurdist pitch for microwavable French fries (“chips” if you’re English) would fit in well in today’s manic advertising age. Baron Cohen played a chef for about a nanosecond of screen time (as seen above).

3. HE OWES HIS SUCCESS TO A CLOWN.

One of the best clowns, in fact. Baron Cohen studied with the legendary Philippe Gaulier in Paris. Gaulier is known for his rigid deadpan, frizzy hair, and heartlessly brutal feedback. A post-fame Baron Cohen—who credits Gaulier for his success—returned to the clowning school on its 20th anniversary to perform in workshops. “He was so boring," Gaulier said of his former pupil. "But being boring is normal. Sometimes you have to be boring before you can discover something new.”

4. HE IDOLIZES PETER SELLERS.


Charley Gallay, Getty Images for Disney

Fans of both Baron Cohen and Peter Sellers will immediately see the connection between the two performers. Sellers made a mark dramatically transforming himself into a multitude of comic characters: the farcical, naive Inspector Clouseau; the shrieking, alien hand syndrome sufferer Dr. Strangelove; the television-brained Chance the gardener in Being There. All feature DNA that could morph into Baron Cohen’s characters. Baron Cohen said that Sellers was the “most seminal force in shaping his early ideas on comedy,” and he’s been favorably compared to the late comedy master.

5. HIS EARLY STUNTS INVOLVED MAKING PEOPLE THINK HE WASN’T THE INTERVIEWER.

How does Baron Cohen catch so many people off guard? In the early days of Ali G, he’d carry equipment in with the crew and do idiotic warm-up interview questions with his subjects while a sharply dressed confederate stood nearby. Subjects would assume the guy in the suit was the interviewer, and then the cameras would roll with Ali G still in the interviewer’s chair. This is, of course, after everyone has signed release forms.

6. A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE THREATENED TO SUE HIM.

 Awards host Borat poses in the Awards Room at the 12th annual MTV Europe Music Awards 2005 at the Atlantic Pavilion on November 3, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal
Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images for MTV

Baron Cohen has almost always had lawyers and producers guiding what’s in and out of bounds, but it’s no surprise that he’s been slapped with lawsuits by several people. After Borat, the Kazakhstan government threatened a suit (Baron Cohen responded by encouraging them in character as Borat), and the Romanian village where he shot his “Kazakhstan” segments wasn't pleased about being lied to either. He’s been sued by frat boys, a bingo hall employee, and a Palestinian grocer. The first two cases were dismissed, and the third was settled out of court.

7. THE FBI HAD A FILE ON BORAT.

Baron Cohen grew accustomed to the police showing up to his projects early on, but the FBI also got involved during the Borat shoot. “The FBI were following us for a while,” Baron Cohen told NPR. “They had so many complaints that there was a Middle Eastern man ... driving through America in an ice cream van that the FBI assigned a team to us.”

8. HE OBSESSIVELY STAYS IN CHARACTER.

Sacha Baron Cohen arrives at the Carlton Hotel as The Dictator during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival in 2012.
Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images

Part of Baron Cohen’s ability to avoid cracking during hide-under-the-carpet awkward moments is that he goes method, remaining in character regardless of whether cameras are rolling. That means he’s Borat or Brüno or someone else ridiculous during production meetings, while being questioned by the Secret Service after being pulled over outside the White House, or while an angry mob of rodeo fans are threatening to kill him.

9. HE RARELY APPEARS IN PUBLIC AS HIMSELF.

Focus on his characters has afforded the extremely private Baron Cohen a shield against those who would snoop into his real life. Almost all of his red carpet appearances are in character (which he frequently uses in the art itself), and he spent years giving remarkably few interviews without the put-on. During his rise to fame, Rolling Stone boasted having “the only interview as himself.” “I think that essentially I’m a private person, and to reconcile that with being famous is a hard thing,” Baron Cohen said. “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 LIED ABOUT ADAPTING A ROMANCE NOVEL WRITTEN BY SADDAM HUSSEIN TO AVOID BEING TARGETED BY A DICTATOR.

When Baron Cohen and Larry Charles were developing The Dictator, they were worried that the main influence for his Admiral General Aladeen character, Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, would react violently to being the butt of the joke. To skew attention away from the satirical target during filming, they fed media outlets the story that the movie was based on the romance novel Zabibah and the King, written by Saddam Hussein (and published anonymously). No violence occurred because of the movie, but Baron Cohen was banned from filming at the United Nations because, as he claimed officials said, “We represent a lot of dictators, and they are going to be very angry by this portrayal of them, so you can’t shoot here.”

Orson Welles's Former Hollywood Hills Estate Is Taking Vacation Reservations

Fred Mott, Getty Images
Fred Mott, Getty Images

Orson Welles's former Hollywood Hills estate is a perfect place to get away from society, grow a bushy beard, and brood over a bottle of whiskey.

Interested? The late Hollywood icon's 3000-square-foot home is available to rent for about $755 a night through HomeAway. The house, which sits on its own private 15,000-square-foot knoll, was home to Welles at the very beginning of his career and is where he wrote the screenplay for 1941's Citizen Kane. Bring along your typewriter and try to channel some of his greatness.

Quite a few other celebrities have inhabited the house as well, including Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and David Bowie. Features of the grand four-bedroom mansion—built in 1928—include a lagoon pool, Jacuzzi, deck, and both canyon and city views.

There's never been a better time to rent Welles's abode: his final film, The Other Side of the Wind, is set to premiere at this month's Venice Film Festival before arriving on Netflix. The unfinished flick, which was shot intermittently between 1970 and 1976, has been completed and restored for its much-anticipated release. (Of course the mansion has plenty of TVs for your viewing pleasure.)

The property has a three- to five-night stay minimum, depending on the season. For more pictures, see below or head to HomeAway. And since you're already in vacation-planning mode, another creative celebrity abode to consider is F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's Montgomery, Alabama home, which is available to rent via Airbnb.

Orson Welles' house
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles mansion
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

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