In many ways, Sacha Baron Cohen has established himself as a modern Peter Sellers. Like that legendary actor, Baron Cohen is a master of disguise, able to take on different accents and mannerisms without breaking a sweat. In his new comedy, The Brothers Grimsby, the actor and co-star Mark Strong aims to add another memorable duo to cinema’s long-running history of action movie pairs, and in upcoming sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass, he plays the literal embodiment of Time. With Baron Cohen making a prominent showing in theaters this year, we’re looking back at his film career to date, with specific focus on the range he’s displayed throughout his roles.
1. Madagascar (2005)
This Dreamworks franchise may not be a critical darling, but Baron Cohen’s role as the lemur King Julien XIII — which he’s reprised in its two sequels — has been instrumental in its success. The actor developed an Indian accent for the character and sounds nearly unrecognizable as a result. He brought such energy and life to the role during his audition that the filmmakers gave the fun-loving Julien a much bigger part in the film, setting the stage for the scene-stealing character to become one of the most popular figures in the Madagascar series.
2. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Most actors who share the screen with Will Ferrell wind up losing most of the laughs to the former Saturday Night Live star. However, as openly gay French race car driver Jean Girard, Baron Cohen actually outshines Ferrell every second he’s onscreen. Like many of his own creations, the character — arch-rival to Ferrell’s titular Ricky Bobby — is so outrageous and unabashedly ludicrous that Baron Cohen just may be the film’s greatest asset.
3. Borat (2006)
Baron Cohen first rose to widespread fame as television’s Ali G (a role he reprised for the 2002 film Ali G Indahouse) and later brought the equally politically incorrect Brüno Gehard to the big screen for the 2009 release Brüno. Yet, it is this Kazakh journalist that is undoubtedly his most famous role internationally. Using a mockumentary style, the film follows Borat as he journeys to America in search of a better cultural understanding of the U.S. as well as Pamela Anderson. The film was a critical and financial smash, earning $261 million worldwide against an $18 million production budget, and scored a number of awards, including an Oscar nomination for its screenplay.
4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
This Tim Burton-directed adaptation of the beloved stage musical may not give the most screen time to Baron Cohen, but his Adolfo Pirelli — a rival barber to Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd — provides a comic boost to the film. The flamboyant Italian persona he uses to sell his “miracle elixir” to the unsuspecting public perfectly lampoons the mountebanks of the era and fits snugly in with Baron Cohen’s own resume of over-the-top characters. He would later reteam with co-star Helena Bonham Carter for another musical, Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables, though his appearance there doesn’t fit as well with the surrounding narrative.
5. Hugo (2011)
Martin Scorsese directs this visually captivating film based on Brian Selznick’s unique novel about an orphaned boy living in a Paris railway station in the 1930s. As Inspector Gustave, Baron Cohen plays the role of antagonist to the title character, but in the actor’s more than capable hands, Gustave is less of a cookie-cutter villain and more of a purely circumstantial one, as it is his duty to discover the truth behind Hugo’s lifestyle. Baron Cohen elevates the colorful character into one of the most memorable elements of an already astonishingly emotional and technically pristine cinematic experience.
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