Sacha Baron Cohen Built His ‘Dictator’ From ‘The Ground Up’

'He's been to comedy what Marlon Brando was to acting,' director Larry Charles tells MTV News.
By Kevin P. Sullivan

Sacha Baron Cohen in "The Dictator"
Photo: Paramount Pictures

For each of Sacha Baron Cohen's onscreen conquests, one man has been there every step of the way. Larry Charles made a name for himself as supervising producer and occasional writer for "Seinfeld," but his work directing Baron Cohen's films brought him a new kind of recognition.

Baron Cohen asked Charles once again to helm his film with "The Dictator," and MTV News spoke with the director in the lead-up to the film's release.

One of the biggest challenges posed by their new film was the creation of an entirely new character. Unlike Baron Cohen's previous films, which came out of his work on "Da Ali G Show," the writers of "The Dictator" created the concept for General Aladeen with the comedian in mind. This meant that Baron Cohen had to work through the specifics of Aladeen to make him as fully realized.

"Unlike the other movies, where Sacha had a character that he had been working on for years and years and years and was to hone, he knew how this character walked and talked and reacted to every situation when it came to Bruno or Borat or Ali G, but this is a brand-new character," Charles said. "He had to create this character from the ground up, from the accent to the look to the body language. We needed to give him as much time as possible to evolve that character to where he was ready for the camera."

Additionally, "The Dictator" did away with Baron Cohen's old format of real-life people interacting with the character. The more traditional structure allowed Charles to get additional takes with Baron Cohen for the first time. "I had never had a second take with Sacha in any of the movies," he said. "We would do one take. Now that one take may last eight hours for some of the scenes we did in 'Borat' or 'Bruno.' Eight straight hours of him having to do a character. Eight straight hours of filming it. Here we didn't have to do that."

Considering that some of the "Borat" and "Bruno" interviews resulted in lawsuits and physical threats, Charles said the "Dictator" set was indeed much safer, but that security came at a price. "It's certainly physically safer, no question about it," Charles said. "To be in the United States with a full crew and security and have some kind of permission to be there and not encounter the hostility that we have encountered all over the world and here. At the same time, the danger here is complacency."

The real reason Charles has been willing to work with Baron Cohen repeatedly is that he genuinely believes him to be a comedic genius. "I really classify him in that rare company of comic geniuses. I think there have been a handful of them in film and television history," Charles said. "He has changed the face of comedy like few other people have. He's been to comedy what Marlon Brando was to acting. Comedy will be different after him. You can't go back to some of the old-fashioned ways after you've seen Sacha do his thing at his best."

Check out everything we've got on "The Dictator."

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