LOS ANGELES — Over the weekend, millions of moviegoers were introduced to a new kind of comedy, courtesy of an inept reporter from Kazakhstan and the confused, foot-in-mouth Americans who found his cameras pointed in their direction. On the way out of the theater, many of them most likely cleared their hoarse-from-laughter throats and then asked: Who was in on the joke?
What follows is a spoiler-heavy dissection of the behind-the-scenes details that translated into “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” Because, although you may have figured out by now that you’ll never be able to attend the Running of the Jew, some of the other phony moments in the flick might be a bit more surprising.
Getting anyone involved with “Borat” to discuss the film’s production is like trying to get a magician to give away his secrets — especially since star Sacha Baron Cohen has done every interview for the film in character. The studio’s official press notes, however, reveal a few tidbits: “Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines and Dan Mazer were drafted to write an outline for the film,” the notes explain. “There was no script. The movie is an experiment — a new form of filmmaking for an age in which reality and entertainment have become increasingly intertwined. Real events with real people push the film’s fictional story, and when scenes played out in unexpected ways, Baron Cohen and his colleagues had to rewrite the outline.”
Executive producer Monica Levinson further explained the irreverent shoot with the following statement: “All we had was an eight-person crew, including Sacha, a sound person, camera people, [director] Larry Charles and a production assistant. We all traveled around in a van, followed by a pickup truck that carried the equipment.”
These are fascinating explanations, but neither is completely true. “I’m very pleased to be affiliated with it,” grinned Luenell Campbell, a veteran comedian who is very much acting when she pops up as the African-American hooker Borat takes to a proper Southern dinner. “Borat and I go back a long way. We knew each other before Kazakhstan.”
Slightly less surprising is the inauthentic presence of Borat’s rotund producer Azamat Bagatov, who in reality is 53-year-old Ken Davitian — a veteran of dozens of movies and TV shows including “ER,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Gilmore Girls.”
With convincing, obscure character actors like Davitian and Campbell (who had small roles in “The Rock” and “So I Married an Axe Murderer”) assisting Baron Cohen during his interviews, director Larry Charles is understandably careful while answering questions about just how genuine the reality-show-like movie really is. “Almost everybody in it are real people,” Charles insisted. “They didn’t follow any script.”
Which brings us to the biggest question of all: How on earth did Sacha Baron Cohen manage to walk up to one of the most desirable female stars in the world, put a giant sack over her head and not get beaten to a bloody pulp and/or shot by her bodyguards?
“I love Sacha, he’s such a nice guy,” said a smiling Pamela Anderson — who might just give the best performance of her career in the film while playing herself.
“All I can say was that she was extremely good-humored about what happen to her,” Charles said of the shocking scene in which Borat tries to abduct Anderson after he’s fallen in love with her. “She ultimately, ultimately, had no problem.”
“I think it’s a huge compliment,” Anderson said of Borat’s obsession with her. “It was great.” Asked how she got involved with the film, the former “Baywatch” star turned away for a moment to think, then replied, “I can’t really say. I’m sworn to secrecy.”
In real life, the legally questionable activities of Baron Cohen and his colleagues often attracted the attention of local authorities. A warrant was issued for the actor’s arrest in New York, and Baron Cohen was advised by police to leave the state when he tried to secure a room in a fancy hotel while his underwear was hanging out of his pants. Through it all, the actor remained in character as Borat — even when the Secret Service detained him outside the White House (see “Borat Not Amusing Kazakhstan Leaders, White House Secret Service” ).
Levinson, meanwhile, was arrested along with production manager/ first assistant director Dale Stern when they took a phone, alarm clock and comforter from a New York hotel (the studio claims it going to use the items as props and then return them). While New York’s Finest questioned the pair, Stern even went so far as to eat a list of crew names and phone numbers to protect them from legal action. Both spent the night in a New York jail.
It’s hard to imagine that the Anderson abduction went down without the actress’ knowledge — no media outlets reported the ruckus — but what is quite likely is that Baron Cohen and Anderson arranged the ruse together, and then hired unknowing guards to react to the events.
“His whole movie was a mind-blowing experience,” was all Anderson would say when asked if the guards were real. “It’s breaking new ground. He’s the new Monty Python.” The actress added that she trusts her cameo won’t encourage other love-struck fans to try to throw potato sacks over her head. “I hope not,” she grinned.
For now, what we do know is that Anderson said she hopes to work with Baron Cohen again someday, Davitian is putting the finishing touches on a crime drama called “South of Pico,” and Campbell is currently on tour — and swearing up and down that she has no actual hooking experience. “Ooh, naughty-naughty,” she smiled, and then began sounding like Pamela Anderson. “I can’t tell you about any of the inner workings. I’m sworn to secrecy. I can just say I hope you enjoy the film as much as we enjoyed making it.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Borat.”
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