After a 14-year feature film hiatus, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh journalist character Borat is back. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is streaming on Amazon now, the sequel to 2006’s Borat brings him back to “US and A” to make amends for how his first trip to the States brought shame to his people. A whole lot of things happen—many you have to see to believe—but the point is that this Borat film is similar to the one that made British comedian Baron Cohen hugely popular in the U.S., in that it involves him going undercover and filming real people, many of whom interact with him unaware that he’s an actor playing a character. But while most people know him best as the mustachioed reporter (or, more so in the U.K., as his other most popular character, Ali G.), Sacha Baron Cohen has taken on some serious roles, as well as some not-so-serious roles in otherwise serious projects.
In fact, one of those performances just hit streaming about a week before Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. So, if you’re in the mood to experience two recent and very different examples of Baron Cohen’s range, you can make it a movie night with both. For that and more of his dramatic, non-guerilla-comedy work, keep reading. And for more stars who’ve disappeared into their roles, check out 14 Actors Who Looked Unrecognizable in Major Movies.
Baron Cohen has one of the lead roles in Aaron Sorkin’s new movie based on the notorious court case involving anti-war protestors from different organizations who crossed paths at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In The Trial of the Chicago 7, which just dropped on Netflix this month, he plays real-life activist Abbie Hoffman. And while his character is seen performing standup comedy and pulling funny, anarchic stunts in court, there’s plenty of dramatic material for the actor to dig into as well.
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Also on Netflix, Cohen stars in the 2019 miniseries The Spy, in which he portrays another historical figure: Mossad agent Eli Cohen, who spent a significant part of his career undercover. “Baron Cohen couldn’t have found a role more well-suited to his gifts and career to date,” critic Alan Sepinwall writes in his review for Rolling Stone. “The Spy is a thriller played entirely straight, but it also feels like Baron Cohen’s persona with vastly higher stakes.” He even earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
The Thénardiers are among the more comic characters in Wretched—and they certainly have the jauntiest song in the musical—but in the 2012 feature adaptation of the stage show, Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are still playing heartless innkeepers who (spoiler!) financially bleed Fantine (Anne Hathaway) until she dies—young, starving, and penniless. Who’s laughing now?
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Baron Cohen plays a bumbling but menacing station inspector in the 2011 film adaptation of the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a family-friendly adventure about the orphaned son of an inventor. That means that, five years after Borat came out, he was being directed by Martin Scorsese. Not too shabby.
Another movie musical, another villainous role. Then again, there really aren’t many good guys in the tale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Nevertheless, Baron Cohen shows up in the 2007 Tim Burton adaptation of the horror-musical as Aldolfo Pirelli, a con artist who puts on an exaggerated Italian accent to pedal his “miracle” hair tonic to unsuspecting Londoners. He tries to blackmail Todd (Johnny depp), who happens to be a serial murderer, and you can probably guess how that goes for him.
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