Sacha Baron Cohen And Larry Charles Talk 'Bruno'

Sacha Baron Cohen in character as 'Bruno' i

Wild Thing: In character as Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen upstages even the toreros in a promotional appearance at Madrid's Las Ventas bullring. hide caption

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Sacha Baron Cohen in character as 'Bruno'

Wild Thing: In character as Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen upstages even the toreros in a promotional appearance at Madrid's Las Ventas bullring.

When Sacha Baron Cohen grants an interview, it's usually in character — as Borat, the clueless faux-Kazakh journalist; or as Bruno, the outrageously shallow, ostentatiously gay Austrian fashionista at the center of Cohen's most recent film, released on DVD Tuesday.

To mark the release, Cohen joins Fresh Air as himself, for a conversation with Terry Gross and Bruno director Larry Charles.

Cohen says the character of Bruno — which he developed before Ali G or Borat — has gotten him into plenty of trouble over the years. In Bruno's debut performance at London Fashion Week, he nearly got himself shot by a British Mafioso. "I actually hid in a cupboard," Cohen recalls.

"Borat was more lovable," Cohen says. "He could say the most vicious, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist things ... But with Bruno, they would get actively angry."

So Cohen took Bruno to some of the most dangerous settings he could dream up. "There's a desire to do comedy that hasn't been done before," Cohen explains. (As Bruno, he moshed bare-chested with neo-Nazis at a fascist concert in London. "It got a little bit hairy in there," he reports.)

"We want to push the boundaries," Charles explains. "We want to experiment and see how far we can go and how much we can juxtapose very, very serious, dire, dreaded situations with the humor ... It's a constant experiment."

One of Charles and Cohen's experiments can be seen at the end of Bruno, when Cohen's character makes out with his love interest at a real-life cage match in Arkansas.

"It was an amazing experience as an actor," Cohen says, "because of the energy from 1,500 people in the crowd — it was an energy of hatred. It actually pushes you as a performer further into the character."

Charles was watching the charged scene off-camera — and hoping that security would intervene if chairs started flying into the ring. The dangerous nature of Cohen's work has added layers of legal complication to his productions. And the legal complications don't end after filming — Cohen has faced several lawsuits from people who claim they were misrepresented in his films.

"We're trying to make a funny film," says Cohen. "That involves a little bit of fibbing."

Charles says no one in Cohen's films is forced or manipulated to say anything they don't want to. "I don't feel that we are really deceiving," Charles says. "We are presenting an alternate reality, and we are playing within the rules of that alternate reality."

Cohen says a lot of the humor of his films comes from putting "good targets in uncomfortable situations." Former presidential candidate Ron Paul was one of those "good targets" — Bruno lures him to a hotel room under the premise of an interview ... and then tries to make a sex tape with him.

Cohen thinks it's a fair challenge for someone who is angling to become the leader of the free world: "Is he going to be able to cope with it if he has an Austrian fashion reporter dancing provocatively in front of him in a hotel room?"

Cohen has plenty of critics who don't see the humor in his work — they argue that his caricatures only perpetuate the harmful stereotypes that he claims to be fighting against.

"Do I have the gay community's interest at heart? I'd like to hope so," Cohen says. "I tried my best. Maybe some gay people could say that it failed, but it was definitely well-intentioned ... [Bruno] has to be a physical incarnation of the homophobe's worst nightmare. You know, he's got to be so extreme that he couldn't actually exist."

Whether audiences agree or disagree with Cohen's undercover tactics could soon be a moot point. In the end, Bruno, Borat and Ali G may have fallen victim to their own extraordinary success.

"It's impossible to do now," Cohen says of his previous moviemaking M.O. "It's too well known as a genre, and it's just too hard to get people who don't recognize me."

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