Sacha Baron Cohen, the actor known for his role as Borat, is unlikely to ever forget a moment in another of his films when his provocative jokes could have gotten him very, very seriously hurt.
In “Bruno” (Brüno, 2009), Baron Cohen took on the role of Austrian fashion journalist Bruno, who is openly – and very ostentatiously – homosexual. At the end of the movie, sorry if we spoil the surprise, he’s locked in a mixed martial arts (MMA) cage with his ex-boyfriend and after a few punches are exchanged, the two start kissing.
The preconceived scene was filmed in front of an audience in the US state of Arkansas, with viewers not even knowing that what was happening was going to be part of a movie, but thinking that they had gone to watch real MMA fights. An audience that is not particularly liberal, and half of which is made up of ex-prisoners.
It’s hardly a surprise that Baron Cohen and his colleagues have to run from the maddened mob…
The idea for the scene came from another comedian – Louis CK, who told his British colleague that if he was going to make a film with a homosexual character, there should be a sketch in which two men are pushed into a cage.
For Baron Cohen and screenwriter Anthony Hines, it’s a good way to end Bruno, which, like Borat, is shot in front of unsuspecting real people. They want the story to end like the romantic comedies in which the boy proposes to the girl in an auditorium full of sports fans. Except that here men will be kissing in front of enraged privates, as Baron Cohen describes the situation on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.
“We will do this and there will be a riot,” the two said to each other.
They decide to film the scene in the city of Texarkana, Arkansas – part of the not particularly liberal American South. The event, billed as a night of cage fighting, draws 200 people. However, they are not enough.
“One of the judges had worked at the prison. And he said, ‘I can get you 200 people.’ And all of a sudden these 200 people come in who are on parole [от затвора]. And some have swastikas on them…”, says Baron Cohen.
When playing Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen can be even more provocative than his performances as Borat.
Shooting a film with a provocative gay character like Bruno, not in front of paid extras, but in front of random people, carries a host of similar risks. That is why the actor had to sign an agreement in advance with the film studio that if he was killed during filming, they would get back the money invested in the project.
Also because of the risks, the night before filming the cage scene, Baron Cohen called his lawyer.
“Whatever you do, don’t incite a riot, because that’s a federal crime,” the lawyer said — a counterpoint to what the comedian and the writers wanted to achieve with the ending of “Bruno.”
In order not to get into trouble with the law, they developed rules – for example, what Bruno and his former friend can and cannot do in the cage.
Baron Cohen also assembled a group of bodyguards and explained to them the whole idea of the skit, which would be filmed in front of an unsuspecting audience. He then asked the guards how they would protect him in this situation. Seven of them had no idea. One who had experience in Afghanistan immediately said that there must be a special hidden door in the cage that could be used for escape.
Everyone agreed to this plan and agreed that when the security guard said “Go, go, go!”, it would be a clear sign that the crowd was really dangerous and the filming could not continue.
Footage from another Bruno “incident” where Baron Cohen in a half-naked angel costume ended up on top of rapper Eminem at the MTV Movie Awards.
On the day of the shooting, instead of 2,000 people, there were only 400 in the hall, half of whom were convicted criminals. According to the script of “Bruno”, the main character decided that he would be heterosexual and began to behave like a homophobe. According to the plan, he challenges someone from the audience, his ex-boyfriend enters the cage and after a bit of a fight, the two have to start kissing to provoke a reaction in the audience.
Baron Cohen only realizes in the ring that there is a mistake in the script. His “boyfriend” is smaller and when after a few punches he supposedly starts bleeding (with artificial blood), the audience starts booing Bruno. Mind you – no one knows yet that a gay kiss is coming.
Caught up in the moment, the comedian makes a second mistake.
“I did the one thing my lawyer had told me not to do, and that was challenge the audience. My bodyguards had told me no one could come in,” the Brit recalled.
Then he sees that the bodyguards are gone – they have started to break up ex-prisoners who started a fight in the audience. Baron Cohen also sees another thing – how in response to his challenge, a tall, large and muscular man ran to the cage, who, despite the actor’s hopes, managed to climb the cage and get inside.
“I heard ‘Go, go, go!’, I jumped out of the cage through a special door. (…) It led to a tunnel and to a car that had a burning engine,” explains the comedian. The goal was precisely to be able to escape if necessary.
However, his screenwriter urges him to return to the ring to finish the film. “They’re going to kill me!” retorts Baron Cohen. He turned to the bodyguard and said: “Show your head and if I can get in without going to the hospital for a long time, I will.”
The bodyguard looks through the secret door to see what’s going on in the cage, turns back to the actor and shouts: “Get out of here!”.
Baron Cohen in 2009 retired the character as he was already too recognizable.
What do you think the team does after this setback? Tries to shoot the scene again.
They had previously rented a hall in another city in Arkansas. The next night the ring and the cage are moved there and history repeats itself. There are already 2,000 people in the audience, but also the police – the authorities found out about the incident the night before and warned the actor that if he broke the law, they would arrest him.
And this time, people in the audience don’t know they’re unwitting participants in the filming of a comedy movie – they think they’re going to watch cage fights. To prevent any of them from trying to enter it, an artificial barbed wire is placed on its edge to discourage them from such ideas.
The chairs in the hall are attached to the ground with chains, because the night before they flew towards the ring.
Only the scene to be shot has been changed. Bruno’s ex after entering the cage attacks the main character while he has his back to him to get the bad guy out. Bruno gets the upper hand after a few punches and it’s time to finish off his opponent.
“They expected me to really hurt him, but I kissed him instead. And they went crazy,” said the British man, who was happy with his joke.
The next moment he sees a chair flying over the cage and into the ring. It turns out that a member of the audience used his knife to free the chairs. Baron Cohen and company escape through the secret door again.
According to the actor’s recollections, it took about 40 policemen to get the rest of the film crew out of the frenzied crowd. The director even raised the heavy monitor he used to threaten viewers who tried to touch him.
“You get addicted to the adrenaline,” Cohen says of all the crazy situations he’s gotten himself into trying to make his movies (including the FBI tracking Borat’s ice cream truck because they got a tip that he might be a terrorist).
Although at great risk, “Bruno” gets its finale. And although many associate Sacha Baron Cohen mainly with the image of Borat, it is sometimes forgotten that Bruno with his ostentatious behavior is even more scandalous and can lead to more violent reactions.
Because of the character’s recognisability, however, as early as 2009, the Briton announced that he was “retiring” him and would no longer use him in his sketches.
Maybe for good.