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Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova, who play father and daughter in Borat Subsequent Moviedom, sat down for a THR Presents Q&A, powered by Vision Media, along with a quartet of the film’s screenwriters to talk about concept, execution and the unpredictability factor.
Jena Friedman, one of the nine credited writers — all nominated for an adapted screenplay Oscar — likened the making of the film to the pandemic and resulting lockdown that crippled the industry for the better part of 2020, not to mention throwing another curveball at the filmmakers who were already taking an enormous leap of faith with their surreal storyline.
“I remember we were in the writers room as things began to go into lockdown,” Friedman recalls, “and that really became a through-line in the film — that was obviously not planned. And I think given the nature of political comedy, you have to be dynamic and elastic. So the real challenge was trying to write and ensure that what you end up with is relevant and fresh within the parameters of a screenplay. And I think the producers and the writers and the actors married that pretty well — the traditional screenplay and the unscripted insanity.”
Maria Bakalova, who was cast as Borat’s daughter, Tutar, after the filmmakers viewed 500-600 audition tapes, says the script was withheld during the first week of shooting, adding that when she did receive something to read, “two pages would evolve into 10. The script was evolving every single day.”
The foundation of that evolution was a script with a beginning, middle and an end that, amazingly enough, remained intact.
“We started off by writing a very traditional screenplay and testing that, and making sure it worked narratively and all the emotional beats hit, and we had lots of jokes in there,” explains co-writer Dan Mazer. “And as we went along, and new situations arose, we were able to move with those. The beauty of the process was that we could be fleet of foot and write new things.”
Adds co-writer Peter Bayham: “It’s quite tricky to make a movie that has a story structure, but apart from Sacha and Maria, the entire cast doesn’t even know they’re in a movie.”
Given the unpredictable nature of filming mostly real people who are unknowingly reacting to preconceived situations, contingency plans were drawn up. But luckily for the filmmakers, much of what they initially laid out went according to their grand, if somewhat lunatic, design.
“Going back to the script and talking about what could go wrong and what has to change, we had that ending,” says Bayham. “That was the ending of our movie. That’s the most important part of any movie, really. But on the other hand, you are sitting there quite often going, ‘This isn’t going to happen. How the hell are we going to get Rudolph Giuliani in a room with Tutar under these circumstances? And then once you’ve got him in there, have him react in a certain way, have Borat come in.’ That’s enormous.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle was reviving the character of Borat in the first place, given the public’s familiarity with Cohen’s fictional Kazakh journalist after the release of the original Borat in 2006, and the unlikelihood that certain public figures would be duped again. But Cohen and company felt a certain urgency was at hand given political developments that had enveloped the world during the Trump presidency.
“The first movie, apart from trying to be funny, exposed a dark underbelly of American society: racism, misogyny and anti-Semitism,” explains Baron Cohen, whose film was released prior to the November election. “But then under Donald Trump, that underbelly became overt, the racists came out proud, and these horrific views are being pushed from the biggest mouthpiece in the world, and I didn’t want to be a bystander.
“We felt we had to do something,” Baron Cohen adds, “because we felt that the election coming up would further see the deterioration of democracy in America. So as actors and writers, we felt we could bring back our most successful character, and a character that was a Trump supporter. That would be a way of showing how far real Trump supporters would go along with the president’s dismantling of democracy.”
This THR Presents is brought to you by Amazon Studios; additional Q&As and other supplementary content can be viewed at THRPresents.HollywoodReporter.com.
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