How Sacha Baron Cohen Pulled Off the Wildest Pranks in 'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"

For his top-secret comedy sequel, the comedian went to great lengths to get the footage he wanted.

Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios

Even before the release of 2006's comedy blockbuster Borat, which grossed $262 million at the box office and made its star an international celebrity, Sacha Baron Cohen went to great lengths to deceive his targets. On Da Ali G Show, he'd work tirelessly to convince politicians, celebrities, and business leaders to sit for interviews with the show's goofy wannabe rapper title character, and he'd place equally outlandish characters, like Borat and Bruno, in increasingly ridiculous scenarios. Over the years, reading about how he pulled off the pranks—and tracking the legal fallout afterwards—has become part of the experience.

That's especially true of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the new sequel that's available on Amazon Prime. The movie made headlines before its release, with Rudy Giuliani speaking out against the comedian, and more of the people featured in the movie have come forward to tell their stories of how they ended up on camera. While some characters, like Borat's daughter Tutar (played by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova), are fictional creations, many of the people featured on camera are "real." We've gone ahead and collected some of the stories of these unsuspecting Borat co-stars.

borat rudy
Amazon Studios

How did Borat get Rudy Giuliani to appear on camera?

Much of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is about the difficulty of getting around Baron Cohen and Borat's fame. Early on in the movie, he's chased in Texas by fans looking for selfies and autographs, and many of the interviews find Borat wearing disguises to conceal his "true" identity. So, it makes sense that the interview with the President's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, which serves as the climax to the film, was conducted by Tutar portraying a conservative-friendly journalist. (A promotional tweet showed Tutar interviewing a journalist for OAN, the Trump-boosting news network.)

As Baron Cohen recently told Stephen Colbert, the high-stakes interview almost fell apart because of a phone with a low battery. In order to surprise Giuliani, the comedian hid in a dark "hide-away," which allowed him to stay out of view of Giuliani's private security guard, who did a sweep of the hotel room. 

"The interview starts and I switch on the phone and there’s only 3% battery and I go, ‘Hold on we’ve got Rudy Giuliani, we’ve got the president’s lawyer, we’ve got this scene—this is the climax of the movie and no one thought it might be worth charging the phone?’" said Baron Cohen in the Colbert interview.

He got around the low-battery by putting the phone on airplane mode and occasionally checking for updates from the film's production team. If you've seen the movie, you know the crew eventually got to him and he managed to jump out of his hiding spot and embarrass Guliani, who was on a bed with his hand in his pants. The former mayor insists that the footage is a "complete fabrication" and that he was merely tucking in his shirt. On Colbert's show, Baron Cohen encouraged viewers to watch the movie and decide for themselves. 

Amazon Studios

Did Borat really go to CPAC and interrupt Mike Pence?

Besides Giuliani, Mike Pence is the most high-profile "get" for the Borat sequel, but his appearance is much briefer. The movie's plot finds Borat attempting to deliver his daughter as a gift to the Vice President, so Baron Cohen and his team infiltrated the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering for right-wing politicians, pundits, and media figures. Pence was one of the featured speakers and Borat had big plans to crash his speech. 

To present Tutar, Baron Cohen first wore a KKK outfit on his way to the event, a stunt that the American Conservative Union, the organization behind CPAC, is now threatening to sue him over. Later, he changed into a fat suit and mask that made him resemble Donald Trump.

"Then I ended up hiding in the bathroom, listening to conservative men go to the toilet for five hours until I broke into the room," Baron Cohen told The New York Times in an interview. "We were surrounded by Secret Service and police and internal security.”

The available C-SPAN footage and other social media footage of the event backs up what you see in the movie, with attendees chanting "USA" as Baron Cohen is escorted out with a doll slung over his shoulder.

borat movie
Amazon Studios

Did Borat really crash a right-wing rally in Olympia, Washington? 

Earlier this year, Baron Cohen made headlines by appearing at a March for Our Rights Rally in Olympia, Washington where onlookers captured video of the comedian performing an original bluegrass song with lyrics about injecting Dr. Anthony Fauci with "the Wuhan flu." In the finished movie, we see Baron Cohen working on the song while under lockdown with a pair of conspiracy-theory-loving friends. Baron Cohen told the New York Times in an interview that he "lived in character for five days in this lockdown house" and that it was the "the hardest thing" he had to do. 

Back in June, few knew that the performance was actually part of another Borat movie. After videos from the event went viral, Matt Marshall, one of the organizers for the right-wing group behind the event, gave an interview with NPR that provided a revealing glimpse into how Baron Cohen's team operates when trying to pull off a big stunt like this. The production team posed as a California-based organization called Back to Work USA, which coordinated with the event organizers and paid around $50,000 to help stage the rally. 

"I mean, they played the game," Marshall said. "We talked to them about how frustrating it was to be labeled racist, and they agreed with us. Like, we really let the guard down and trusted them."

borat movie
Amazon Studios

Was Tutar's "babysitter" in on the joke? 

Jeanise Jones, the 62-year-old Oklahoma City–based woman who looks after Tutar in the film and ultimately encourages her to reject her father's misogynistic worldview, plays a pivotal role in the movie's plot. But, Jones, who came forward earlier this week with a New York Postheadline about feeling "betrayed" by the movie, was, like most of the people in the documentary, fooled by the production team and thought she was filming a more legitimate documentary. 

In an interview with Variety, she clarified that she did not feel she was "betrayed." "'Betrayed' never came out of my mouth," she said. "I don’t know where they got that from. I’m not ever going to say I was betrayed because it was partially my fault I didn’t read the contracts. I’ll take my responsibility on that."

She revealed that her scene was not filmed at her house and she provided some information on the casting process as well. "They came to our church and said they were looking for some elderly Black women—grandma types—for this documentary," she explained. "Everyone did individual interviews and you answered questions to the best of your ability."

In the Variety interview, she also revealed that she doesn't think her pay—only paid $3,600—was fair. After the release of the movie, Jones' pastor Derrick Scobey, who introduced her to the production team, set up a GoFundMe for her that's already raised $78,000 for Jones, who, according to the GoFundMe page, is "unemployed right now due to Covid."

Amazon Studios

Did the woman in the synagogue scene know she was in a Borat movie? 

One of the most shocking scenes in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm finds the character walking into a synagogue in Marietta, Georgia while dressed in a wildly offensive anti-Semitic costume. In the plot of the movie, he's depressed because Tutar has left him and he no longer thinks the Holocaust happened. (It makes sense in the movie.) At the synagogue, he meets Judith Dim Evans and her friend Doris, two elderly Jewish women who assure him that the Holocaust did, in fact, happen, which lifts Borat's spirits and sends him on his way. 

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is dedicated to the memory of Judith Dim Evans, who was a Holocaust survivor and died earlier this year. According to Deadline, Baron Cohen had "someone tell Evans and the friend who shares the scene with her that Baron Cohen himself is Jewish and playing an ignorant character as a means of Holocaust education." 

As the movie was being released, news broke that the Estate of Evans was suing Baron Cohen for tricking Evans into appearing in the film. But, on October 26, news broke that the lawsuit was dismissed by a Georgia judge

"The lawsuit was dismissed, unconditionally," said Russell Smith, the attorney representing Amazon in the case, in a statement. "The lawsuit is over. Sacha Baron Cohen was deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with Judith Dim Evans, whose compassion and courage as a Holocaust survivor has touched the hearts of millions of people who have seen the film. Judith’s life is a powerful rebuke to those who deny the Holocaust, and with this film and his activism, Sacha Baron Cohen will continue his advocacy to combat Holocaust denial around the world."

While that case has been dismissed, it's safe to assume that this won't be the last legal battle Baron Cohen—or Borat or any of his other alter-egos—fights in pursuit of laughs.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.