POSTED May 24 2012

The mercurial Sacha Baron Cohen takes on Freddie Mercury?

Sacha Baron Cohen, left, and 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?



  1. SBC is pretty uniformly terrible and one amusing performance in an enjoyable but hardly great Will Ferrell movie does not a career calling-card make. I’m sorry that Stephen Frears is probably (esp. if SBC is part of the enterprise) wasting his considerable talents on another rockstar biography picture. There are many interesting things about Freddie Mercury’s formative years, but I’m not sure they can justify sustained attention over two cinematic hours. The idea of SBC inheriting anything — an honorific description or even an item of actual memorabilia — from Peter Sellers is dispiriting. I hope SBC goes away soon and joins Russell Brand in the reverse Valhalla of “never was” unfunny comedians. His presence on the scene is sad, sad commentary about the quality decline in popular entertainment (Humor Department).

  2. Morgan says:

    I saw the Dictator last night.. and though admittedly there are several very funny moments, I did not think it was his best. I think this is mostly due to the fact that this was his first fully scripted film. I think as a performer what makes him so good is how he creates situations where the audience feels horribly uncomfortable, we laugh because he is funny, but also out of complete and total discomfort/ convoluted sympathy for his unsuspecting screen partner. The dictator didn’t leave room for the unpredictability of human response.. instead it relied on a mediocre script for laughs and not Cohen’s ability to manipulate people and situations.

    Perhaps he is something of a clown, and not in a pejorative sense.. not quite an actor, or impersonator.. but something in between?

  3. Horse Badorties says:

    Whose gonna play Brian May?

  4. Carrie Rickey says:

    @Horse: Not yet announced

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