There was a lot of controversy and confusion surrounding the 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen played the sexist, anti-Semitic Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev, who traveled throughout the United States testing the patience of unsuspecting Americans from New York City to Los Angeles. And when that movie's sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, arrived in 2020, it brought with it even more confusion and controversy—plus a slew of award nominations. Here are some facts about the ultimate cringe comedy.
1. Sacha Baron Cohen's inspiration for Borat came from a Jewish doctor.
While vacationing in Astrakhan in southern Russia, Sacha Baron Cohen met a doctor who he thought was hilarious, and was similar to what Borat would become—minus the racism, misogyny, and/or anti-Semitism. Initially, the comedic actor turned that doctor into a character named Alexi Krickler, a reporter from Moldova who had trouble understanding British culture. Cohen got his first big television gig by showing producers of the British late night satirical program The 11 O’Clock Show footage of Krickler at a pro fox-hunting rally. From there he developed his characters Ali G, Borat, and Brüno, who all appeared on Da Ali G Show. Once England became too familiar with his characters, Baron Cohen was forced to move them to America.
2. Seth Rogen and Patton Oswalt were uncredited writers on Borat.
Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, and Dan Mazer were the credited screenwriters on Borat, while Seth Rogen and Patton Oswalt worked on the script in an uncredited capacity. Originally in 20th Century Fox’s official production notes, it was claimed that the movie wasn’t scripted at all; Baron Cohen later said 80 percent of Borat featured scenes they “set out to accomplish.” The writers took the time to guess the different ways the real people in the film would respond to Borat’s questions, and some reactions changed the story. A 60-page outline was written, but the studio was only given a five-page outline. The writers were nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
3. A fake film company was set up to represent Borat, and even had its own website.
A representative from One America Productions contacted people to say a foreign correspondent was making a film about American life. One America even had its own website. On the day of the interviews, a release form would suddenly be produced, as well as financial compensation. Whenever a person or group like the Veteran Feminists of America would kick Borat out of a venue, one of the producers would politely ask them to give him another chance because he was from another country and did not know any better.
4. Borat featured only five actors—including Sacha Baron Cohen.
Ken Davitian got the part of Azamat by deceiving Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles in his audition, where he pretended to be an immigrant who didn’t speak English. Luenell Campbell is a comedian and actress who had appeared in So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993) and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Borat’s son was played by Adrian Cortez, a.k.a. Stonie, a 25-year-old porn star. The fourth actor, Pamela Anderson, was also in on the joke.
5. Sacha Baron Cohen was nearly killed because of Borat’s rodeo appearance.
Once Baron Cohen angered the crowd at Virginia's Salem Civic Center, he and his crew got out of there quickly. An attendee said she thought he would have been shot if he stayed just one minute longer. The rodeo’s producer confirmed the crowd was very angry, and was quoted as saying there would have been a riot, and that the crew would have gotten killed had they not left when they did. The producer allowed Borat to perform in the first place because he was fooled by the fake production company and journalist story, and because he had not listened to the demo CD he asked them for to hear Borat’s voice in order to sing the national anthem ... which was blank.
6. Todd Phillips was Borat’s original director, but he quit after the rodeo incident.
7. Borat’s Kazakhstan scenes were shot in Glod, Romania.
The village's 1000 residents were told they were being filmed for a documentary about their hardships. Once the townspeople, such as the one-armed man who was told the rubber sex toy he was given was a prosthetic, discovered the truth, they filed a lawsuit.
8. The real Kazakhstan was also upset about Borat.
The Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan placed a four-page insert in The New York Times speaking of its positive attributes to combat the perceived negative publicity the Borat character was giving their country. When the president of Kazakhstan visited the White House a little over one month before Borat was released in theaters, Baron Cohen—in character as Borat—held a press conference in front of the Kazakh embassy refuting The New York Times insert and claiming the president was in the U.S. to promote Borat.
9. Sacha Baron Cohen spent the entire day in character while filming Borat.
He even stayed in character as Borat when he was at one point being questioned by the Secret Service.
10. A warrant was issued for Sacha Baron Cohen’s arrest in New York.
He was advised to leave the state after attempting to secure a hotel room with his underwear over his pants. Two crew members were arrested for taking a phone, an alarm clock, and a comforter from a hotel (intending to return them later) and spent a night in a New York jail. A lawyer was kept on retainer throughout filming.
11. The bed and breakfast Borat stayed in was actually in Newton, Massachusetts.
The producers asked Mariam and Joseph Behar to bring food to Borat’s room, even though the B&B didn’t provide that service. The Behars later called Baron Cohen’s performance “genius.”
12. The Mississippi news producer who accidentally booked Borat was fired.
WAPT-TV let Dharma Arthur go early from her contract as a result of the incident. Arthur wrote a letter to Newsweek saying it took her three months to find a new job and that she was in debt. She said Baron Cohen being hailed as a comedic genius was “upsetting” to her.
13. The humor teacher figured out it was all a gag halfway through his session with Borat.
Pat Haggerty continued his lesson anyway, because he had been compensated beforehand, and figured it could help his career.
14. Two of the South Carolina fraternity brothers featured in Borat sued.
The third University of South Carolina Chi Psi brother, David Corcoran, said the producers paid for himself and his two frat brothers to drink at a bar before having them pick Borat up in an RV. The two college students who sued claimed they were told the movie wouldn’t appear in the United States and that they suffered from “humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress, loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community.” One of the two unidentified students left the university. The lawsuit was eventually thrown out.
15. Sacha Baron Cohen attributes Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock’s divorce to her Borat appearance.
In a guest appearance on the podcast The Last Laugh in 2019, Baron Cohen said a screening of Borat was the last straw in Anderson and Kid Rock’s marriage. He texted Anderson after the screening to find out how it had gone, and was told they were getting a divorce, telling the podcast, “I thought it was a joke, but then a few weeks later they got divorced and they put as a reason for divorce, Borat."
16. Borat was never supposed to come back after the first film.
After the release of Borat in 2006, Baron Cohen said he was retiring the character as he was too recognizable. He made occasional guest appearances on chat shows and at awards ceremonies, but the undercover days seemed to be over. Then, while filming a segment for Jimmy Kimmel in 2018 in which he went door-to-door as Borat, he was surprised how few people realized what was going on. Plans for a movie featuring the Who Is America? character Colonel Erran Mora, an anti-terrorist expert, were scrapped, and Borat was revived.
17. The Borat sequel has multiple ridiculously long titles.
While the official title of the second Borat movie is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the full title continues into the cheerfully unwieldy Delivery Of Prodigious Bribe To American Regime For Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan. At 110 characters, this holds the Guinness World Record as the longest title of any film ever nominated for an Academy Award. Multiple titles are given on-screen—Borat Gift of Sexy Monkey to Vice Premier Mikhael Pence for Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan, Borat Gift of Daughter to Mikhael Pence for Make Benefit Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan and Borat Delivery of Sexy Gift to Rudy Giuliani in Last-Ditch Attempt to Save Borat from Execution and Make Benefit Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan. The subsequent spin-off series of deleted scenes and extra material has the comparatively lightweight title Borat Supplemental Reportings Retrieved from Floor of Stable Containing Editing Machine.
18. The "Kazakh" language spoken by Borat was a mixture of Hebrew and Israeli slang.
Because of this, the movie was a huge hit in Israel. Baron Cohen told NPR he is proud of his Jewish identity, but doesn’t call himself religious. Already, it's clear that the sequel will bring back some of Borat's most famous catchphrases. Very nice!
19. The Borat sequel was even more multilingual than the first film.
In addition to Baron Cohen speaking Hebrew as Borat, the first film featured Ken Davitian speaking Armenian, the two of them occasionally conversing in different languages and pretending to understand each other. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm adds Bulgarian into the mix courtesy of Maria Bakalova, who plays Borat’s 15-year-old daughter Tutar.
20. Maria Bakalova worried that Borat 2 was a human trafficking operation.
Hollywood films don’t tend to hire a lot of actors from Bulgaria, something which led Bakalova to treat the casting process of Borat 2 with suspicion ... but go for it anyway. She told The New York Times: "I heard from a friend there was an open call for the lead role in a Hollywood movie. And I was like, that’s not possible. We are Bulgarians. Nobody can actually see us in lead roles. I sent out self-tapes, then they called me for a screen test in London. But the project was so confidential, I was like, is this actually a project? I was sure it was going to be a human trafficking situation.”
21. Borat 2's Jonny The Monkey has his own website.
Jonny the Monkey, “Kazakhstan’s minister of culture and number one porn star” (who is eaten by Tutar en route to America) has a cheerfully rudimentary website celebrating his habits of dressing like Humphrey Bogart and smoking cigarettes.
22. Borat’s Donald Trump disguise made the news.
The scene in which Borat is escorted from the CPAC conference dressed as Donald Trump was caught on news reporters’ cameras, but the identity of the man inside passed everyone by. The Independent Journal Review stated, “The person’s identity remains unknown,” in an article possibly due for an update.
23. Sacha Baron Cohen and Donald Trump crossed paths on Da Ali G Show.
A pre-White House Trump featured in a segment of Da Ali G Show in 2003, briefly listening to Ali G’s idea for a special glove to wear while eating ice cream before getting up and leaving, clearly unimpressed.
24. Babysitter Jeanise Jones was paid $3600 for her appearance in the Borat sequel.
Some of the most powerful moments in the second film come from the kindness and decency shown by babysitter Jeanise Jones toward Tutar, who is dropped off with her wearing a ball and chain. Jones told Variety: “He told me, ‘If she lays a golden egg, please, please can I have just a little bit? It’s worth so much money where I’m from.’ I told him, ‘If she lays a golden egg, man, you can have it.’” A crowdfunding campaign was set up for Jones when news of her small fee came out, and Baron Cohen donated $100,000 to it. Jones ended up donating it all to helping her local community.
25. Getting Rudy Giuliani involved in Borat 2 took a lot of work.
Rudy Giuliani believed he was being interviewed for a documentary called Keeping America Alive, a movie celebrating Trump’s efforts against COVID. The Borat 2 production team made a sizzle reel for the fake movie to convince him, featuring the tagline “Where Trump saw an invisible enemy, the Democrats saw an invisible friend.” However, the interview nearly had to be scrapped as Giuliani refused to take a COVID test before sitting down for it, with Baron Cohen ultimately deciding the risk involved "was worth it." The ensuing controversy around Giuliani’s scene—in which he appears to reach into his trousers—was massive. Giuliani wrote on Twitter: “The Borat video is a complete fabrication. At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar.”
26. Borat 2’s Tom Hanks gag was a last-minute addition.
The sequel’s Tom Hanks cameo—in which Borat is framed as COVID patient zero and coughs on the actor in Sydney—was a last-minute addition shot shortly before delivering the film to Amazon. Baron Cohen is friends with Hanks and emailed him about appearing in the film. The fan who Borat interrupts is played by Jason Woliner, the movie’s director. Woliner told Insider the scene’s slightly crummy green-screened look was deliberate, saying, "That was a scene we wanted to be very clear that was scripted and we weren't actually ambushing the most beloved man in America."
27. Sacha Baron Cohen broke character for the late Judith Dim Evans.
One powerful scene features Borat learning about the Holocaust from a survivor, Judith Dim Evans, who died before the film was released. Baron Cohen reportedly broke with tradition and came out of character after shooting the scene to explain what he was trying to do. The film was subsequently dedicated to Dim Evans’s memory, and a lawsuit brought forward by some of her estate (also before the film’s release) was dismissed.
28. There’s another movie with Borat in it.
Borat has actually appeared in three films: he makes a very brief cameo in Ali G Indahouse—Baron Cohen’s first big-screen outing. Unlike the Borat movies or Brüno, this one was an entirely scripted film and ... isn’t very good.
29. Sacha Baron Cohen made Hollywood history as Borat.
Baron Cohen was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) for both Borat movies, making him the first person to ever win the award twice for playing the same character. The second movie also made Academy Award history for the most writers nominated for one movie, with nine people sharing the nomination.
30. A third Borat movie is totally off the table.
Baron Cohen will not be reprising his role as Borat anytime soon; as he told ET, it would be too dangerous. "There were a couple of times I had to put on a bulletproof vest to go and shoot a scene, and you don't want to do that too many times in your life," Baron Cohen said. "I was pretty lucky to get out this time, so no, I'm not doing it again. I'm going to stay with the scripted stuff.”
The three-time Oscar nominee also told Variety that, given that Trump was the reason for reviving Borat in the first place, there was no need to bring the character back in a post-Trump world, saying: “I brought Borat out because of Trump. There was a purpose to this movie, and I don’t really see the purpose to doing it again. So yeah, he’s locked away in the cupboard.”
An earlier version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.