'Bruno' and Universal pull back the curtain
Sacha Baron Cohen operates a bit like the titular character in "The Wizard of Oz": The secrets should remain hidden behind the curtain. When Baron Cohen's "Borat" was released three years ago, the British comedian and his filmmaking team protected their production process the way Coca-Cola guards its recipe. On Monday, however, "Brüno" producer and distributor Universal Pictures released production notes that provided a rare glimpse into how Baron Cohen assembled his July 10 release over the course of 19 weeks of filming.
The notes reveal that there were numerous clashes with authorities, police pursuits, various disguises and a dangerous mob at the film's concluding scene at a mixed martial arts event. Their mantra, learned making "Borat": “Know and obey the law, and always have an escape plan.” If the production information is to be believed, Baron Cohen barely got out alive from any number of threatening situations. "The crew found themselves receiving calls from the FBI warning of death threats and dodging clenched fists, angry mobs and loaded guns at every step of the way," the notes say.
Here are some edited highlights:
Early in the film, Baron Cohen's flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion journalist interrupts the Milan Fashion Week by wearing a Velcro-covered suit that sticks to everything, ultimately sending his character sprawling on the runway during a fashion show. Here's how the filmmaking team snuck in:
"Baron Cohen insisted that they change everyone’s appearance and create an entirely new crew. Director [Larry] Charles shaved his beard and modified his hairstyle; likewise, producer [Dan] Mazer cut his hair, as did other members of the Milanese camera crew. Everyone involved in the final stunt changed his or her outfits....The team secured him the proper credentials, and he walked in…in the guise of an Italian photographer in a fabulous new outfit....Baron Cohen found a hidden nook backstage and transformed into Brüno. He attempted to reduce his rapid breathing as, inches away, models and security walked by him .... Baron Cohen sprinted past stunned models and lunged by waiting security guards. ... Just as the team caught the footage they needed, security shut the lights off and dragged Baron Cohen off the stage. Police cuffed the actor and hauled him to jail while his fellow crewmembers chased him down."
Later in the movie, Baron Cohen and costar Gustaf Hammarsten pretend to be gay lovers with a proclivity for bondage wear. From their hotel room, they call the front desk claiming they have lost the keys to their handcuffs and need to be freed:
"...[W]ord arrived that the police were in the lobby. As Kansas City’s finest rode up the elevator, both men made a mad dash down the emergency exit staircase. To their alarm, they discovered the staircase ended at the second story. They were trapped. It was time to choose between facing the police (read: possible arrest and deportation for the Europeans) and a 15-foot leap to freedom. Both men took the plunge and fled into the escape vehicle."
Baron Cohen and Charles also visited Israel to see how the locals might react to his appearance. The answer was, not kindly:
"Among this conservative community, men and women are forbidden from showing much skin (including legs and arms). In retaliation for his offenses, furious members of the crowd chased Baron Cohen after Brüno took a stroll in skin-tight short shorts and a Little Debbie-inspired bonnet. They were out for blood. A large, angry crowd of Hasidic Jews began to gather, intent upon harming Baron Cohen for his actions. The performer was forced to hide in the store of a compassionate shopkeeper until a van could reach him and assist his getaway. Only then could he hunch down on the floor of the getaway vehicle and avoid the growing potential riot situation."
The film's concluding scene unfolds at an Arkansas arena hosting a mixed martial arts fight card. The first attempt at capturing the crowd's reaction to two men kissing in the ring didn't go quite as planned:
"Moments after the first embrace between the two men, chairs were pulled up and tossed, a fighter who had been watching from the audience climbed into the cage and challenged Baron Cohen to a fight. Director Charles got none of the footage he needed, but Baron Cohen and the crew escaped just in time."
But they found another fight card in a different town, and invited local police along:
-- John Horn
Photo: Sacha Baron Cohen as Brüno. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images