Inside Sacha Baron Cohen’s 13-Year Feud With Donald Trump, from Ali G to ‘Brothers Grimsby’
How the actor went from interviewing Donald Trump as Ali G in 2003 to infecting him with AIDS in his new movie, The Brothers Grimsby. [Warning: Spoilers ahead.]
Comedian Marc Maron was among the first to spoil Donald Trump’s “appearance” in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie, The Brothers Grimsby. During a rare out-of-character interview with the man behind Ali G, Borat, and Brüno on his WTF podcast last month, Maron casually mentioned that the Republican presidential frontrunner plays a role in the film.
“Donald Trump makes an appearance in the movie,” Cohen acknowledged hesitantly, reluctant to give more details. He clearly wasn’t thrilled that the cat was out of the bag.
But by the time the movie had its U.K. premiere last week, the cameo (of sorts) had become easy fodder for news and gossip sites on both sides of the Atlantic. The scene in question, which comes at the very end of the film, is just one of many that aims to shock audience members into the type of uncontrollable laughter that greeted that naked fight scene in Borat.
Though it has its moments, those same comedic heights are not quite reached in The Brothers Grimsby, a James Bond-esque farce that dispenses with the semi-reality of Cohen’s previous work. Early in the movie, a young HIV positive boy is accidentally shot in the shoulder. Some of his infected blood sprays into the mouth of Daniel Radcliffe (played by a look-alike stand-in) who, as we learn from news clips, had several open sores in his mouth. At the very end of the film, Radcliffe is shot and the same fate befalls a CGI version of Trump.
When a news headline that reads “Donald Trump Has AIDS” hit the screen in England and elsewhere in Europe, audiences reportedly erupted in cheers. There were even some reports of standing ovations.
From there, rumors began to circulate that Sony Pictures had pressured Cohen to remove the scene from the film, perhaps out of fear that the perpetually-litigious Trump would attempt to take legal action against them. However, a spokesperson for the studio has pushed back on any suggestions that they are backing away from the project. "This is utter nonsense,” Jean Guerin said in a statement. “We have been supportive of the filmmaker and the film.”
While Sony may have been “supportive” of Cohen during this process, they did end up pressuring him to include a disclaimer during the end credits that states Trump was not involved in the film. But Cohen pushed back when the studio asked him to include in that disclaimer any assertion that Trump is not HIV positive.
“We actually had an argument with the studio about it,” Cohen admitted in a SiriusXm interview this week. “Because they said, ‘you have to put a card in saying Donald Trump was not involved in this movie and Donald Trump is not HIV positive.’ I refused to say that Donald Trump is not HIV positive. I said, ‘I’ve got no idea whether he is.’”
“He’s had a number of lovers,” Cohen continued, “and what I don’t want is, God forbid he is HIV positive, and he sleeps with somebody, and I get sued, because they’ve heard in my film that he’s not.”
It appears Cohen may have lost that battle. At a press screening on Wednesday, the film ended with a series of disclaimers. First, the screen read, “Daniel Radcliffe was not involved with this film and is not HIV positive.” Then another line appeared that read only, “Donald Trump was not involved with this film.” The omission of the second half of the disclaimer for Trump drew laughs from the audience, but then, after a pause, these words appeared: “And is not HIV positive.”
Sony may have reason to fear a backlash from Trump, who has not only threatened lawsuits against comedians like Bill Maher in the past, but has also expressed his personal distaste for Cohen on numerous occasions.
It all started when Cohen convinced Trump to sit down for an interview with his fictional character Ali G for his HBO show back in 2003.
Throughout the early 2000s, Cohen, as Ali G, held extended interviews with unsuspecting public figures like Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali (or “Boutros Boutros Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as Ali G affectionately called him). To Trump’s credit, he only lasted about 60 seconds next to the character before he cut the interview short while his host was still trying to sell him on the idea of a glove that protects people from dripping ice cream cones.
“I remember being in his office. And he kept me waiting, I think about an hour and a half, which is fine,” Cohen told Maron of his first and only face-to-face meeting with Trump. “But during that time, he was screaming so loudly. He was like, ‘Get me the mayor of New York on the phone!’ He was like this kind of bad villain in a bad Batman movie, screaming at Giuliani on the phone. I just thought he was an incredible character. I couldn’t believe he existed.”
“But he exists,” Cohen continued. “I mean, could he be president? I don’t think so. I mean, it would be great for comedians and great for satirists, but terrible for the world.”
Cohen added that Trump’s campaign success reminds him of a line from the end of his film The Dictator, in which his character, Admiral General Aladeen says he can get poor people to vote against their interests. “It’s what clever politicians end up doing, which is, ‘Vote for me, I’m going to look after your interests,’ which are policies that prevent you from getting money.”
It was during the press tour for The Dictator that Cohen and Trump next crossed paths, albeit not literally. Before the 2012 Academy Awards, Cohen walked the red carpet in character as Admiral General Aladeen, carrying an urn that he said contained the ashes of his recently deceased friend Kim Jong-un. During an on-camera interview with E!, Cohen proceeded to “accidentally” spill the ashes all over Ryan Seacrest’s tuxedo.
But while the E! personality seemed to take the prank in stride and later received an in-person apology from Cohen backstage at Saturday Night Live, Trump decided it was his duty to weigh in and defend Seacrest.
Using his bizarre “From the Desk of” YouTube video series, Trump named “this third-rate character” Sacha Baron Cohen one of Oscar night’s “biggest losers.” According to Trump, Cohen “thought he was being cute and funny” when in reality, the whole episode was “disgraceful.”
In what can now be viewed as a preview of the treatment protesters receive at his campaign rallies, Trump added that if Seacrest had “real security,” Cohen “would not be in good shape right now, he would in the hospital, he would have been punched in the face so many times he wouldn’t have known what happened.”
In subsequent television interviews that week, Trump continued to call for E!’s security guards to be fired and warned that if the same thing were to happen to him, Cohen would have been “unconscious” on the ground and “nobody would have blamed us.” To his friends at Fox & Friends, he added, “They should have pummeled him to the ground, it would have been great.”
Later that same year, Trump used his increasingly popular Twitter account to brag about the fact that he never falls for “scams” and was the only one smart enough to see through Cohen’s Ali G schtick. (Honestly, this says more about people like Gingrich and Buchanan than it does about Trump.)
After that, the feud died down again for a while, but with Trump’s unlikely presidential campaign success dominating the news and a new movie on the horizon for Cohen, it was bound to flare up again.
Long before anyone knew about Trump’s “appearance” in The Brothers Grimsby, Cohen was invoking his name on nearly every stop of his publicity tour for the film. When he debuted the trailer on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in December, he crashed the host’s monologue as Borat and started the plausible rumor that Trump is nothing more than Cohen’s latest over-the-top character.
The Trump jokes continued when Cohen attended The Brothers Grimsby premiere in character as the film’s idiot protagonist Nobby Butcher. Wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, and with a beer in one hand and a gun in the other, he announced his endorsement of Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Lovely guy, he’s the man for president. I love him,” Cohen told reporters. “He is the ultimate football hooligan. He listens to what the other side says very carefully and then he beats the bloody crap out of them.” He then compared Trump’s campaign rallies to British soccer matches: “There’s violence, there’s shouting, there’s abuse. The only difference is we don’t throw out our black people.”
With The Brothers Grimsby scheduled to open in theaters on Friday, Trump has yet to respond to Cohen’s latest barrage of comedic attacks. But if his past reactions to anyone who dares besmirch his name are any indication, we could very well hear from him soon.