SACHA BARON COHEN RETURNS FOR GRIMSBY
Sacha Baron Cohen is known for his many outrageous alter-egos – Ali G, Borat, Bruno, and The Dictator, for starters – and I’ve met most of them over the years.
Today, however, is the first time I’ve shaken hands with Baron Cohen.
The British comedian rarely appears as himself, and is so unpredictable that even his publicist couldn’t guarantee whether he would arrive in character or not.
Happily, he is himself, dressed in a grey designer suit.
“Oh, this is just how I wake up,” he announces, straightfaced. “Actually, I have a threepiece pyjama as well.”
Baron Cohen is in Los Angeles to promote the upcoming film, Grimsby, named after the English seaside town that sets the stage for this international James Bond-esque comedy.
He stars as Carl “Nobby” Butcher, an unemployed father-of-nine, who is searching for his brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), an MI6 agent, from whom he has been estranged for 28 years.
For all the shocking scenarios in the film, Baron Cohen ultimately delivers a sweet message about the importance of family.
‘‘Nobby’’ is a likeable, avid soccer fan with a penchant for drinking.
Baron Cohen says, “Actually, one of the reviews in England described it as ‘a family movie, albeit, a very strange one’.’’
Baron Cohen has been married for nearly six years to Isla Fisher, with whom he is raising their children, daughters Olive, 8, and Elula, 5, and son, Montgomery, 1, in London.
Raised in a Jewish family in Hammersmith, London, he is the youngest of three brothers.
His Israeli-born mother worked as a fitness instructor and his father owned a clothing store.
Baron Cohen’s rise to fame included a stint as a fashion model before entering the world of stand-up comedy.
He took clown training in Paris, landed some television commercials and made his film debut in The Jolly Boys Last
Stand in the 1990s. Eventually, in 1998, he landed a part in The 11 O’Clock
Show, where he presented his character, Ali G, a wannabe white rapper.
The character became so popular that he parlayed him into Da Ali G Show, in which he did “serious” interviews with politicians and celebrities.
In December, Baron Cohen donated $US500,000 to a Save the Children program tasked with vaccinating Syrian children against measles, and donated an equal sum to the International Rescue Committee to help Syrian refugees.
“We give a contribution every year to a different charity and this year we felt that the situation was so dire in Syria that they asked whether they could make our donation public,” he says.
‘‘The inaction of the international community over a number of years has led to this refugee problem that is vast and is going to completely change the nature of Europe.
‘‘So it was just something we had to do as parents.
“We saw children suffering and we felt we had to do it.”
Baron Cohen isn’t oblivious to political and societal issues. “When I did press for The
Dictator (2012), I made a comment about Syria.”
Baron Cohen has always taken the opportunity to trash stereotypes, be it the gay community in Bruno, or racially, in Ali G and Borat.
In Grimsby, featuring Rebel Wilson and Gabourey Sidibe, he’s breaking down another prejudice in Hollywood.
“As for the fuller-figured women in the movie, the idea was to challenge that old sexist assumption of Bond movies where James Bond is never going to sleep with a woman who is a plus size.”
The age-old question – how far is too far? – is something Baron Cohen says he considers when exploring the parameters of offending his audience.
“It’s one that I discuss with my co-writer (Peter Baynham) all the time: ‘Can we do this joke? Is it moral, is it ethical, is it too far?’ It’s not just a slapdash attack. Charlie Hebdo are always playing with that line, and for example, is it too early to make jokes about the attacks? Is it ever responsible to make jokes about the attacks? These are real issues that I think any comedian who is writing stuff that is near the edge has to deal with, otherwise they are irresponsible.”
British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen plays unemployed father of nine Carl ‘‘Nobby’’ Butcher in his new film Grimsby.