Sacha Baron Cohen, who has been promoting his hit comedy Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan exclusively in the guise of the dunder-headed Kazakh journalist of the movie’s title, is finally speaking up – as himself.
In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, the 35-year-old British writer-actor defends his controversial film, saying, “I think part of the movie shows the absurdity of holding any form of racial prejudice, whether it’s hatred of African-Americans or of Jews.”
“Borat essentially works as a tool,” says Baron Cohen. “By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism.”
In fact, Baron Cohen, a devout Jew who keeps kosher, says his parents “love” the Jewish humor in Borat. And his 91-year-old maternal grandmother even went to a midnight screening in Israel, then called him at 4 a.m. to compliment her grandson and to discuss the movie.
So what led the Cambridge-educated funnyman to mine this particular brand of humor? Baron Cohen says studying a major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw, whose quote, “The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference” got him thinking.
“I know it’s not very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but I think it’s an interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just had to be apathetic.”
Baron Cohen also addresses the outcry from the Kazakh government, which claims the movie defames Kazakhstan. “I’ve been in a bizarre situation, where a country has declared me as its number-one enemy,” he says. “It’s inherently a comic situation.”
And as for the allegation that he, or Borat, or possibly both, take sadistic delight in making fools out of those encountered onscreen – two South Carolina frat boys are currently suing 20th Century Fox, among others, amid claims they were duped into appearing in Borat – Baron Cohen admits he could never do that to others if he were not playing a role.
“I think I’d find it hard to,” he says. “I think you can hide behind the characters and do things that you yourself find difficult.”