Sacha Baron Cohen is the perfect Howard Stern Show guest: fearless, off the cuff and almost totally unfiltered. During today's appearance on the show, the Brothers Grismby star didn't disappoint, talking at length about his controversial Oscars stunt, that newsmaking Donald Trump HIV joke in Grimsby, why his Freddie Mercury biopic fell through and what got him uninvited from every party after his stint hosting the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards. See below for all the highlights.
His planned Freddie Mercury biopic (in which he was slated to star as the late rock frontman) fell apart after he failed to come to creative terms with Queen's remaining band members.
“My first meeting, I should've never carried on, because a member of the band — I won't say who…he said, you know, this is such a great movie, because such an amazing thing happens in the middle of the movie,” Cohen related. “I go, 'what happens in the middle of the movie?' He goes ,'you know, Freddie dies.' I go 'all right, so it's a bit like Pulp Fiction. You know, the end is the middle and the middle is the end.' I go 'all right, that's a wild movie. All right, that's interesting.'…He goes, 'no, no, no. Normal movie.' I go, 'so wait a minute, what happens in the second half of the movie?' And he said, 'well, you know, we see how the band carries on.' …And I said, 'listen,' I go, 'not one person is gonna see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you carry on to see the band carry on.'”
While Cohen went on to say that he respected the band's unwillingness to compromise — despite talent like David Fincher, Tom Hooper and Oscar-winning screenwriter Peter Morgan boarding the project at various points — he concluded by stating that while lead guitarist Brian May is “an amazing musician…he's not a great movie producer.” Oof.
Sony tried convincing him to add a disclaimer to the end of The Brothers Grimsby stating that Donald Trump doesn't actually have HIV, as is posited in the film.
“I said well, I can't put that in at the end, because it gets a big laugh if I don't write he's not HIV positive,” said Cohen. “I said also, how can I write Donald Trump is not HIV positive? I said, I don't know! The guy's been promiscuous.”
Also of note: Cohen didn't paint a particularly flattering portrait of Trump when he related his experience interviewing the now-Republican frontrunner in character as Ali G for a 2003 episode of the HBO series.
“I went to his office, it was here [in New York], and he kept me waiting for an hour, and I heard him screaming, 'get me the mayor on the line!'…I think it was Giuliani at the time. And he's screaming, going, 'you fucking [unintelligible]'….I couldn't believe it. He was like some kind of villain from a cheesy movie.”
He asked for Dave Chappelle's advice on his opening line (“I know what you was thinking when I walked on: here comes yet another token black presenter”) before going onstage at this year's Oscars, where he appeared in character as Ali G against the Academy's wishes.
“On the way in, I told two people [what I was doing],” said Cohen. “I told one English guy at the Oscars, I said 'don't tell anyone, I'm gonna do Ali G.' And he goes, 'really?' And I go, 'this is my first line, tell me what you think.' And he goes, 'do not do that, man, that's actually racist.'…And then on the way in, I saw Dave Chappelle….I said 'Dave…I need you for 35 seconds please.' I said, 'Dave, I'm going on, I'm doing Ali G, this is my first line, tell me whether I'm gonna get killed.' He's like, 'It's great, get out and do it.'”
After going through an extended process of applying the Ali G beard in the bathroom backstage with the help of his wife Isla Fisher — during which time he used a bout of “terrible diarrhea” as a cover — Cohen revealed his plans at the last minute to co-presenter Olivia Wilde, who he claims “loved” the stunt and even helped “tuck in” his hair before the two hit the stage.
“I was worried, cause I went out there and I didn't hear any reaction. Nothing,” said Cohen of walking out. “And then I realized actually, eventually, the camera was not on me, which was why. And then when they saw me, there was a little pleasant bit of applause.”
He threatened to quit as host of the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards only minutes before the show was scheduled to begin.
“I gave them a fake script and all of that, because I didn't want to run anything by the lawyers,” said Cohen. “And I get the contract, it's the day of the awards show. And the first line of the contract is 'if you defame anyone, you are liable for the cost of the MTV Awards.' And I go 'what do you mean?' I called up my lawyer, I go, 'what is this bloody contract?…I'm gonna defame everyone! I'm gonna do two and a half hours of defamation.' And basically, so we have a standoff, and they're asking for the script, and they're asking me to sign the contract. It comes down to five minutes before the show, and I'm saying, 'I'm not going out, find another host.' And eventually the head of Viacom okays it.”
Not that everything went smoothly — Cohen's insistence on carrying through with his vision ultimately got him blackballed from the evening's post-show festivities.
“My first line was calling Madonna a man,” he said, before adding,” that night, we got uninvited from every single party in town. We ended up having a drink, it was me and my co-writer, alone in the hotel bar.”