Sacha Baron Cohen: I was banned from filming at the UN

The Dictator star's request to shoot the "pro-democracy movie" on location was rebuffed

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Sacha Baron Cohen, star of hit movies Borat and Bruno, and TV series Da Ali G Show, has stepped out of character and given a rare interview as himself to promote his latest comedy The Dictator. 

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At the Cannes Film Festival, the actor abandoned the pristine military uniform of current persona Admiral General Aladeen to talk to the BBC about the tyrants who inspired his new creation, the loss of his anonymity, and why the UN wouldn’t let a pro-democracy film shoot on location.

Baron Cohen said his portrayal of a middle-eastern tyrant is in no way an attack on Arabs: “I wanted this to be clear that it was an attack and parody are dictators and fans of dictatorships.”

Attempts to shoot the movie on location in the UN failed, Baron Cohen revealed. “We asked to shoot inside the United Nations and they actually refused. And we said why? This is a pro-democracy movie. And they said that’s the problem: we represent a lot of dictators and they’re going to be very angry by this portrayal of them.”

The comedian described characters such as Borat and Bruno as a means of attracting attention to important issues that are often avoided: “The great thing about the characters is they can expose things that a documentary finds difficulty in exposing.”

Colonel Gaddafi was the inspiration for Admiral General Aladeen, Baron Cohen said. “I had always found Colonel Gaddafi hilarious and I wanted to do a character that was inspired by him. I think the word is ludicrous – they’re vicious and yet ludicrous. Dictators, because they are all powerful, end up becoming these larger than life, absurd characters – anyone who disagrees with them is executed.”

Asked if he ever feels bad about victimising people for laughs, he replied: “I draw a certain amount of pleasure from riling up bigots.”

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The ability to surprise unsuspecting victims is increasingly a thing of the past for Baron Cohen, who said he fondly recalls the days when he was less famous. “For a number of years in England nobody had any idea what I looked like. I would sit on the tube and people would talk about Ali G whilst sitting next to me. One time I was actually dressed as Borat, before anyone had seen the movie, and I was standing by the Ali G DVD stand in HMV in Oxford Street. All the Ali G fans were around and no one knew it was me. I enjoyed being anonymous.”