Award-winning writer/performer/filmmaker Sacha Baron Cohen has made a living out of culture clash. Whether as a British Jamaican-wannabe rapper slash chat show host, a somewhat naïve Kazakhstani television reporter or an out and relatively out there Austrian fashionista, Baron Cohen is in the business of finding humor and revelation in the often uncomfortable collision of vastly differing viewpoints and lifestyles. His stupendously and deservedly popular British television series made its wildfire way to the British movie screen. His subsequent and unstoppable transition to Hollywood was made in a film helmed by director Larry Charles, who again collaborated with Baron Cohen on his follow-up project (and now, once again, with The Dictator). Larry Charles comments, “When we did Brüno, we were shocked because we had thought that after Borat, we’d never get away with it again.“
Going in with the character of General Aladeen, however, was to be a different experience, and the ‘real’ world was to be replaced with a facsimile of a real, scripted world—however, just outside of the borders of this fictitious North African country, a real world waits…
Baron Cohen’s prescience with regard to story and character proved preternatural – as work on The Dictator started in earnest months before the first demonstrations in the
Middle East began a
chain reaction of unrest, and long before the world had ever heard of (or used
the phrase) “Arab Spring.”
Larry Charles states, “This movie really began more than two years ago. The fact that the Arab Spring emerged as we were making the movie did affect us, with regard to locations and shooting schedule. But here we were, developing this project, and then to watch it happening on the news was uncanny.”
As usual for Baron Cohen, the character also needed to be grounded in truth. During the early stages of development, General Aladeen (Baron Cohen in full costume) was placed in several interview situations with people unaware of the ruse, and the resulting discussions were recorded. Larry Charles says, “Again, we were able to get away with it. It gave Sacha a chance to play with the character and interact in a spontaneous, improvised way.
Joining Baron Cohen onscreen is ANNA FARIS as Zoey, the altruistic owner of the Free Earth Collective, a
health food store run on the honor system. On paper, the part of Zoey is neither glamorous nor
overtly comedic. “Yet we knew,”
continues the director, “that we wanted somebody to ground things, and bring
comedy as well as truth to her. Anna is
a fearless performer. She has an image,
and she was willing to completely abandon that image. It was a completely un-vain portrayal and I think it
gives the movie a lot of heart and emotion, and she really connects you to what
is going on there. She was amazing, actually – almost like the ballast
for the movie.” Manhattan
Faris was more than willing to veer from script when the opportunity was presented. She notes, “We did a ton of improvisation. There was a script, and I would say that about 10-per-cent of the time, we followed the script. We had the writers behind the monitors, throwing out lines to us all of the time – different jokes, different ideas. And Sacha is a genius at improv, so the challenge as an actor, when you are in those scenes, is to stay on your toes. You have to step up to the plate and be able to play with them. It was really rewarding in that way.”
JASON MANTZOUKAS also appears as Nadal, the brilliant Wadiyan scientist, whose nuclear bomb proves unacceptable and not nearly pointy enough for the Supreme Leader. Mantzoukas found walking on to the set of a Sacha Baron Cohen movie somewhat intimidating, like joining a team where everyone already knows each other. But he found joining in the game to be gratifying. He
says, “There was a great core group of people that had all worked together, and they have a dynamic that really works to create good stuff—it’s great to walk in to.“
Reunited with Baron Cohen are multiple Borat and Brüno collaborators, including director LARRY CHARLES; screenwriter/producers ALEC BERG, DAVID MANDEL and JEFF SCHAFFER; producers TODD SCHULMAN and ANTHONY HINES, who are newly joined by producer SCOTT RUDIN. Also returning are executive producers MARI JO WINKLER-IOFFREDA, PETER BAYNHAM and DAN MAZER, with new executive producer ADAM McKAY.
Paramount Pictures Presents A Four By Two Films / Berg Mandel Schaffer / Scott Rudin Production: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris and Ben Kingsley in The Dictator. The music is by Erran Baron Cohen. The costume designer is Jeffrey Kurland
“The Dictator” rated R by the MPAA is distributed locally by United International Pictures thru Solar Entertainment Corporation. Showing at your favorite theaters on July 25.