Sacha Baron Cohen became a king of comedy upon the international release of his film Borat. In the years following, he seemed to be a star on the rise, commanding hit after hit with an incredible salary to boot. In the last two years, however, he’s dropped off the radar.
Disappearing Into Work
Baron Cohen is known for completely immersing himself into his characters, but this time, he isn’t fooling people with a clever disguise. Baron Cohen’s hiatus occurred for very different reasons.
On Shaky Ground
Despite the many films Baron Cohen released featuring his absurd brand of off-color humor, to audiences, it appeared that the actor could do no wrong, no matter how offensive it might have seemed. There was little that was too outrageous for Baron Cohen to pull off, even when someone might cringe if they saw the same joke written on paper. With the 2016 release of his film The Brothers Grimsby, however, it seems the tide of generosity towards Baron Cohen was changing.
The First Bomb
Most of Baron Cohen’s films feature him dressed in a character while he interacts with an unsuspecting public. The Brothers Grimsby was an experiment in that regard, as it’s the first film that Baron Cohen headlined that was fully scripted. Audiences were already skeptical as they had rarely seen Baron Cohen in that sort of vehicle, and when all was said and done, the film failed to deliver the laughs that were promised. Every inch of the film seemed out of character for the performer.
The Little Slips
Given the kind of work Sacha Baron Cohen usually engages in, it’s clear that being meticulous is generally important to him. While plenty of actors may have a slip here and there, the sheer amount of time Baron Cohen spent in character at various other events meant that Baron Cohen couldn’t afford to let the act drop for even a second. In The Brothers Grimsby, he slips up as early as the first scene. It’s clear that something strange was going on even before 2016.
Taking The Leap
Baron Cohen had a lot hinging on the success of this film, being that it was the first of its kind that he produced himself. It would also be the first time Baron Cohen was acting in a feature alongside his real-life spouse, Isla Fisher. Fisher has appeared in a string of hits of her own, including Wedding Crashers, but she had never starred in a film with her husband. Baron Cohen never expected to find himself at such a professional crossroads.
Hiding In The Shadows
The Brothers Grimsby, about a lower class soccer lover who ends up on the run with his spy brother, was an utter failure at the box office. It seemed for the first time Baron Cohen’s characterization had gone a step too far, and none of the big names in the film could save it. This was the first time Baron Cohen truly experienced one of his projects flopping. Shortly after, Baron Cohen disappeared from the public arena, but there’s much more to the story.
The Outrage To Come
After Baron Cohen took over box offices with the international hit, Borat, audiences were eagerly awaiting the next character that Baron Cohen put in front of cameras. His next two starring roles were two more characters that Baron Cohen had created in a similar vein, but he found that neither Bruno nor The Dictator achieved quite the same level of success. Baron Cohen wanted to branch out, but it seems that that may have been the beginning of his downfall.
Halving The Profit
As anticipation for Bruno began to simmer over, there were some who already considered that Baron Cohen’s follow up film may not have quite the same impact that his first film did. Though the character, who was introduced to audiences in the course of Baron Cohen’s hit show, Da Ali G Show, was never a fan favorite, Baron Cohen tended to turn his pranks up a notch for his films. In the end, it didn’t matter, as Bruno only made half of Borat.
Changing His Pace
Even as it became more difficult for Baron Cohen to trot out his various outrageous characters, he began appearing in projects that seemed utterly different than anything else he’d done. First, he appeared in a small role in the film adaptation of the macabre Sweeney Todd. In 2012, Baron Cohen showed his villainous side when he played the master manipulator, Thenardier in Les Miserables. In both cases, however, his role still veered on the side of comedic, and Baron Cohen was ready for more.
Becoming A Champion
Baron Cohen was searching for a project that would help him break out of his mold. A biopic about the late rock star, Freddie Mercury caught his attention, and Baron Cohen threw himself into negotiations in order to present his first dramatic role on an international stage. He began the preliminary planning in 2010, but after meeting with the remaining members of Queen, he would discover a number of obstacles to overcome if he wanted to get the film made.
Baron Cohen pressed on with the development of the Freddie Mercury biopic. He had a major advantage in that he looked the part well enough. The minute Queen got involved, however, it became clear there were two entirely competing visions for telling this story. The band wanted to focus on how they got along and regrouped after the death of the frontman, but Baron Cohen wasn’t interested in telling the story of the band. He thought the film should portray Freddie’s crazy rock and roll life.
Getting Bogged Down
It seemed no matter who Baron Cohen brought in to write the movie, Queen wouldn’t be satisfied if their journey didn’t play a major part in the narrative. The project continued to stall, but Baron Cohen couldn’t figure out to make their visions meld, no matter how hard he tried. Three years after pitching the project, it seemed no closer to coming to fruition. Baron Cohen had to make a choice as to whether or not he should keep pushing.
Parting The Sea
By 2013, the movie still hadn’t started production. Baron Cohen was frustrated, having realized he was suddenly tied into a movie about Queen, not about Freddie Mercury. Ideas had been pitched about structuring the movie non-linearly or playing around with Mercury’s image, but Baron Cohen wanted to show the wild depravity that defined the rockstar’s life. As it became clear they would never be on the same page, Sacha decided to bow out of the film. The band would tell a different story.
Shining Too Bright
After Baron Cohen’s departure from the film, Queen was asked for their side of the story, which differed significantly from the reason’s Baron Cohen gave. According to Brian May, the band’s guitarist, they “felt that [Cohen’s] presence in the movie would be very distracting… The man who plays Freddie, you have to really believe is Freddie. And we didn’t think that could really happen with Sacha.” Given how totally Baron Cohen absorbs himself into every character, the excuse rings especially hollow.
Behind The Mask
Even before his struggles to engineer the Freddie Mercury biopic fell flat, Baron Cohen was a constant source of speculation, managing to elude the press who sought to uncover the personality behind all of the wacky characters, but only finding someone who seemed rather ordinary as just himself. Media outlets began to wonder what Baron Cohen could be hiding under the facade of is costumes, which only made Sacha double down on keeping his private self out of the spotlight.
The Dinosaur In The Room
While Baron Cohen’s various other projects fell through, he began struggling to find footing in the style that made him famous, as younger stars emerged, pulling the same kind of tricks on an unsuspecting public, only they were making prodigious use of social media platforms like YouTube and Vine. Baron Cohen’s old school method of documenting his stunts takes far more planning and manpower than those showing up week after week on increasingly popular YouTube channels.
Too Much Fame
Baron Cohen also began realizing there was another downside to his popularity. While it might have earned him excellent paychecks for the movie cameos he did make, it also made it increasingly difficult for him to continue producing new material with his old characters. One by one, Baron Cohen announced he was retiring each of his most popular personas because his fame no longer allowed him the anonymity that earned him so many candid interviews in the first place.
Reeling It In
Fans may have been wondering why Baron Cohen didn’t just debut new characters once his old one were too well known. The other obstacle giving Baron Cohen pause was the way the trouble that dogged him when he pulled the many stunts involved in the production of films like Borat and Bruno. In his younger years, Baron Cohen could care less if the FBI was trailing him, but as he aged the responsibilities of adulthood continued to grow.
Keeping Them Safe
When Baron Cohen was a newcomer to the entertainment industry, he couldn’t have cared less if his physical being was threatened in the course of his work. As he began hitting new personal milestones, however, Baron Cohen realized that having a wife and children meant he could no longer account only for his safety. He easily brushed off the various threats he got during and after the filming of Bruno, but his wife was not so dismissive. On her behalf, Baron Cohen agreed to fewer stunts.
Breaking His Promise
Despite the promises Baron Cohen made to Fisher, he still pleaded for her complicity during his last big stunt, which also occurred in 2016, shortly before his disappearance from the public eye. Fisher agreed to hide Baron Cohen’s Ali G costume beneath her evening gown, and then stood guard, carefully deflecting producers from entering the stage door, behind which Baron Cohen was changing for his surprise appearance as Ali G. The couple may have pulled off the stunt, but Fisher’s anxiety reached a breaking point.
Stepping Back To Strategize
Baron Cohen explained his decision to rethink his style in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “Being in a wild situation when you’re deep in character and nobody realizing you’re not real — that’s the ultimate adrenaline. But listen, I’m too old for it. You have to have the mindset that if something bad happens, everyone is going to be fine. I always received death threats, but they increased after Bruno. You start feeling irresponsible when you have a family.”
Wallowing In The Void
If there was a void left by the decision to leave behind is zany, in-world satires, Baron Cohen would soon find that he’d have an even bigger one to bridge. In May of 2016, Baron Cohen had to grapple with the biggest loss he’d ever experienced, when his 83 year old father, Gerald Baron Cohen passed away. Baron Cohen was extremely close to his father, and even brought him as his guest to many Hollywood events over the years.
Lying In State
In the wake of the loss of his father, Baron Cohen needed to take time to himself. His grief was only compounded by the fact that his latest movie had been such a flop. Adding that on top of the responsibilities he had to his family, given that neither he nor his wife wanted to be absent during their children’s formative years, Baron Cohen made the decision to step away from the spotlight for the time being.
Ready For A Comeback
Baron Cohen may have seemed to fade into the shadows for the past two years, but he’s finally recovered from the many shocks wrought by 2016. He’s already begun working on a new character he can use to prank unwitting celebrities, several of whom have already fallen for the ruse. Baron Cohen is falling back on his Israeli roots this time, as he convinces the Los Angeles elite to hire an Israeli security firm to ensure their protection, and that’s just the start.
Courting The Critics
Sacha has already been garnering new controversy with the rumors that he was involving the notorious O.J. Simpson in his last ‘real world’ film. Whether the rumors of his Israeli ‘security firm’ are related to this film have yet to be seen, Baron Cohen allegedly shelled out some big money in order to coordinate a stunt that involved a break-in at Simpson’s Vegas hotel room. The controversy comes given Simpson’s reputation for killing his wife, and serving jail time for an armed robbery.
Turning A New Leaf
Baron Cohen is also finally getting to make his debut in a long-coveted dramatic role, as he has recently signed on to front a Netflix produced series about the Israeli spy, Eli Cohen. The story will follow Cohen as he navigates the infiltration of Syrian society in the 1960s. The series will be written by Gideon Raff, who responsible for Prisoners of War, on which the hit drama, Homeland is based. With this, it seems things are finally looking up for Sacha Baron Cohen.