I read Kathleen Tracy’s Sacha Baron Cohen: The Unauthorized Biography. Unfortunately, the keyword here is “unauthorized”. Judging by the book, Baron Cohen’s skill and dedication in the fine art of dodging journalists has forced the author to work based on stories in popular media. Furthermore, she’s focusing very much on Ali G [see! bold!], which is uninteresting for someone who reads the book for inspiration on pervasive play and role-play.
Some money quotes, though. First, the origin story:
The first prototype of what would eventually morph into Ali G was called MC Jocelyn Cheadle-Hume, whom Sacha describes as “a hip-hop journalist, a wankster reporter.” One day when Sacha and Mike were out filming a segment, they ran into a group of young skateboarders. Sacha says Toppin “gave me a little nod and I approached them and started interacting in character.” To Sacha’s amazement, the youths assumed he was legit. When he showed off his artless skateboarding moves, “they were laughing and mocking me. After a couple of minutes, I went back to my normal voice and said, ‘you know, this is a character.’ And they were really surprised. At which point I realized that people would believe me when I did this character.”
It was an adrenaline-fueled eureka! moment. So when a tour bus happened to stop nearby, Sacha jumped on with his camera and went back into character. “I took the microphone and I was like, ‘Yo, check it out. I is here, and this is me bus.’ Booyakasha.”
He recalls the experience in mental snapshots: commandeering the tourist bus, entering a pub, break dancing for the surprised patrons, marching into the offices of the multinational company where his father worked and where, “essentially, we were thrown out by security after about twenty minutes.” But no matter. The real realization was: “There was never a question of whether I was really this character or not.”
Later, as he and Toppin were walking back to the London Weekend Television studio, Baron Cohen remembers crossing over the Waterloo Bridge with their adrenaline still pumping. “We were just so excited, because here was this new form of comedy… Probably it existed and other people had done it, but we’d never discovered it before — this idea of taking a comic character into a real situation.”
Still punch-drunk, they couldn’t wait to broadcast the segments they had filmed. Before the second clip had even finished, the head of the channel called to demand they take it off the air. Immediately.
Also.. more evidence on whether role-players can sleep in character, from playing Borat in a wine tasting:
Needing to stay in character, he couldn’t admit he was a drinking lightweight. “I’m not a big drinker at the best of times. I’m almost a teetotaler.” But that night, “I think I downed about twenty-one or twenty-two glasses of wine in an hour to try and convince them.” He then excused himself to go to the bathroom, where he “totally passed out, and they all came in. My director was really scared that I’d wake up and go [in normal British accent], ‘Allo! What’s going on here? Allo…,” that I’d come up as Sacha Baron Cohen. But luckily I opened my eyes and went, ‘I want more wine!’
“I woke up in character!”
But, all in all, the rest of the book is not worth a read to the readers of this blog. Even the quotes above show the jigsaw puzzle: Baron Cohen was not interviewed for the book, so everything he says comes through second hand sources.
Amazon has the book with a different cover, and a slightly different name.