The mercurial Sacha Baron Cohen takes on Freddie Mercury?
Trying to take the measure of Sacha Baron Cohen, who has played a Kazakh journalist visiting the US in Borat, an Austrian fashionista voguing in Bruno, a North African dictator demoted to ordinary US immigrant in The Dictator. His Halloween parade of beards and costumes and accents makes it hard to tell if he’s an actor or an impersonator.
There is a difference. An actor drills down into the inner life of a character; an impersonator focuses on the externals. Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardiner in Being There: Actor. Peter Sellers in the the triple roles as aviator, president and warmonger in Dr. Strangelove: impersonator. Frequently compared to Sellers, Baron Cohen is destined to inherit his mantle of “international comedian.”
While I don’t think Baron Cohen quite found a character in Borat/Bruno/Dictator, hit-or-miss sketch comedies, I do think he sustained one in, of all things, Talladega Nights. As Jean Girard, macchiato-swilling, gay French race car driver, he unnerves Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby who defensively demands, “What have the French given us?”
“We invented democracy, existentialism….the menage a trois,” Girard answers, with a poised assurance that eludes some of his heavier-handed caricatures. His Girard is also great when he plants a kiss on Ferrell’s character and exclaims, like an oenophile, “You taste of America!”
Baron is attached to play Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in an untitled biopic about the singer’s formative years. Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) is the screenwriter. Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen) has expressed interest in directing. (Yes, I can see all the headlines: “From The Queen to Queen.”) I’m guessing that with a great screenwriter and talented director Baron Cohen will deliver a sustained performance. You?