Sacha Baron Cohen steps forward at last as himself

Sacha Baron Cohen, in a dark suit, straightens his necktie.
Sacha Baron Cohen received Oscar nominations for the screenplay of ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and as supporting actor in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
(Russell James / For The Times)

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen and welcome to the newsletter companion to “The Envelope: The Podcast,” where my cohost, Yvonne Villarreal, and I bring you highlights from each week’s episode.

The Oscar nominations came out early on Monday morning. Josh Rottenberg covered the big picture of who got what, while Glenn Whipp drilled down into the snubs and surprises.

Producers from all eight of the best picture nominees spoke to The Times for a snapshot survey that covers what the Oscars mean in a year like this and what the future of moviegoing might be.

Amy Kaufman talked to Steven Yeun and Yuh-Jung Youn about the nominations for “Minari.” I spoke to Riz Ahmed about his lead actor nomination for “Sound of Metal.” Sonaiya Kelley talked to Andra Day about her lead actress nomination for “The United States vs. Billie Holliday.”

There were many notable firsts in the nominations — including Yeun as the first Asian American nominated for lead actor, Ahmed the first Muslim nominated for lead actor, the first best picture nominee with an all-Black producing team in “Judas and the Black Messiah and the first time two women were nominated for best director in the same year, with Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman” and Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland.”

Nevertheless, Laura Zornosa wrote about the relative lack of representation for Latinx talent in the nominations. Even the international feature category failed to nominate any of the three films from Central and South America.


Mary McNamara wrote about why she has reservations about celebrating even when it seems progress is being made by the Academy, saying, “It’s just that every historic ‘first’ reminds us of the long history of ‘none.’”

This week’s interview is with Sacha Baron Cohen, who earned two Oscar nominations, one as supporting actor in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and another as co-writer of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” (One of the true joys of this week was listening to Priyanka Chopra read the film’s entire wordy title — “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” — in announcing the Oscar noms.)

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm."
Sacha Baron Cohen stars in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” a sequel to his 2006 comedy “Borat.”
(Amazon Studios)

Cohen was long notorious for giving interviews only in character, never as himself. Over the last few years that has slowly changed, and this awards cycle he has been out speaking as himself in full force, representing both movies and advocating for a reevaluation of social media companies’ hold on information.

As Baron Cohen said during our conversation, “I suppose to me it’s all connected — ‘Chicago 7,’ ‘Borat’ and my advocacy — there is this common message across all three, which is the importance of truth and the danger of lies.”

Thanks for reading/listening/subscribing. We have lots more conversations to come, including talks with Garrett Bradley for the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Time,” Kate Mara for the FX on Hulu miniseries “A Teacher” and Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen for the Danish drama “Another Round,” a Oscar nominee for best director and international feature.

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