'Borat' may have last laugh

Special to The Times

"BORAT" has earned nearly $200 million worldwide, been served with at least five lawsuits and is credited with contributing to one celebrity divorce.

So what ground is left for the guerrilla comedy to cover? Bringing home the gold.

Twentieth Century Fox is rolling out a niiiiccce campaign to see if Sacha Baron Cohen can make sexy time with Oscar.

"I didn't exactly think we would be talking about Oscar consideration, but I did always hope that it would be acknowledged as a landmark performance," says "Borat" producer Jay Roach. Though the campaign focus is on Cohen for best actor, Roach hopes the studio will also submit the film's 90-page "elaborate document" for best original screenplay for academy consideration.

The first step is landing Cohen a Golden Globe nomination (the list will be announced Dec. 14) for best actor in a comedy. He's got a shot because, unlike the Oscars, the Globes split acting categories into comedy and drama -- and traditionally there's less competition in comedy. Sure, the comedy category also includes musicals but, beyond "Dreamgirls," how many of those were there this year?

To push things along, Fox Filmed Entertainment's co-chairman, Jim Gianopulos, hosted a "celebration of the film" at his house last week that drew Golden Globe voters. Cohen attended out of character, a move that Roach feels will boost his chances with awards season voters.

"In his transformation to Borat, he makes it look all too easy," says Roach, who directed "Meet the Parents" and the "Austin Powers" series. "People will be saying, 'We can't award Borat an Oscar for being himself.' If they meet Sacha as himself, it will really underscore how difficult the performance was."

There are no precedents for nominating a mockumentary actor. Though there was industry chatter in 2000 about recognizing Fred Willard for the Christopher Guest film "Best in Show," he was not nominated. Still, the "Borat" team is hoping to convince members of the academy's actors branch that Cohen's avant-garde performance is historic. So, perhaps you'll permit them a bit of hyperbole.

"It's a monumental performance along the lines of Marlon Brando in 'On the Waterfront,' " effuses director Larry Charles. "Brando rendered all previous dramatic acting antiquated and Sacha has done the same with comedic acting in 'Borat.' Those scenes are single takes [that] last 10 hours."

It may all come down to younger voters and the math. Since 2004, the academy has been courting younger -- and, dare we say, hipper -- members. Actors who have been asked to join include Jamie Foxx, Joaquin Phoenix, Will Ferrell, Jake Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello.

As for the numbers game, the actors branch does the nominating. It has 1,256 voting members. Under the preferential or weighted average system used in the nominating process, a first choice counts more than a second choice and so forth. Therefore, if 210 actors select Cohen as their first choice, he will automatically be nominated. And the newer, younger members may be more likely to tip the balance.

"The thought of getting any nomination is still pretty out there," says Roach, "but maybe it will slowly catch fire like the movie did."

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