Giuliani with His Hands Down His Pants: An Oral History of the ‘Borat 2’ Scene That Shocked the Nation
Rudy Giuliani didn't know he was in the script for Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, but the film crew was ready for him. The shocking finale of Sacha Baron Cohen's timely satire put the proverbial October surprise on a new twist: the film, released weeks before the November election, was a welcome excuse to discredit President Donald J. Trump's sniffling, xenophobic attorney and him to humiliate in the process.
For the uninitiated: spoiler alert! The sequel ends with Tutar (Maria Bakalova), the daughter of the fake Kazakh journalist Borat, who poses as a reporter and interviews Giuliani in a New York hotel room - but the characters have more on their minds. Tutar, who assumes that her father will be executed in her home country if he does not deliver her as a bride to Giuliani, enters an adjoining bedroom with her day-drinking theme, ostensibly to give herself to him. A hidden camera watches as he puts his hands in his pants, and although Borat storms into the room before the encounter can take a graphic twist ("You 15! She's too old for you!"), The damage has been done Giuliani, that is.
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Although Baron Cohen and his team usually don't discuss their process, they are making an exception this year as "Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm" is gaining momentum in Oscar talk. In recent interviews and a Q & Screen Actors Guild Q & A for the film, key figures in the Giuliani scene explained how this came about. (For his part, Giuliani claimed that he "put on his shirt" during the scene and was never "inappropriate".)
The following excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.
SACHA BARON COHEN, WRITER MAKER STAR: I'm not sure America needed Borate to come back. But we were in a room on the day of halftime, basically thinking, "What can we do to show our disapproval of the current government?" We felt we had to do something. Democracy was in jeopardy, and if Trump had a different term in office America would be in an entirely different place that was just in the name of democracy. We had to do what we could to make a film that showed that we disagreed and maybe got some of our fans to vote against Trump.
ANTHONY HINES, WRITER: We knew we couldn't just bring Borat back to the same America. We realized that with pro-Trump folks, borate was a powerful tool for saying something satirical. That was a catalyst for us.
SBC: We wanted to make sure the scene was funny and we revealed everything we wanted to reveal about the unspoken misogyny of Trump's inner circle. But it had to fit the movie.
JASON WOLINER, DIRECTOR: I met with Sacha to possibly direct "Who Is America?" for Showtime. We're both friends with Nathan Fielder and I directed Nathan for You so my name came up a couple of times. I received an email from my agent's office asking if I would be interested in meeting him about his next movie. They didn't say what it was. Then an overview was sent to me. Everything was encrypted with code words. While reading, I figured out what it was pretty quickly. I thought oh my god he's doing it. This was early 2019 so we were already deep into the Trump era. The premise and general structure of the film were similar.
SBC: We decided to read through with a lot of our comedy colleagues. We realized that we need to write for real people too, so we had a dummy dialogue. Everyone heard it and said, “This is great. It's all written in scripts, right? "
AH: We have a wish list about what should happen in the real world. Then the challenges begin. They know that by the end you will have about 50 percent of what you started with.
JW: We had to do it with such secrecy that most of the people I knew didn't know what I was working on. My wife and I had to find a way to say something about why I was traveling so much, especially during a pandemic. We didn't want to lie to our friends, but we had to say something. She would tell them that I'm working on a mockumentary about politics in America. That was technically true.
SBC: The first thing we did was look at the whole genre of parent-child films. "Paper Moon," Fiddler on the Roof, "" Bend it like Beckham. “In these arranged marriage films, you often have this misogynist character who eventually becomes a feminist. We thought, 'OK, we're going to get the world's greatest misogynist - someone even bigger than Trump - to give his life for his daughter sacrifice."
MONICA LEVINSON, PRODUCER: The Giuliani scene was one of the things Jason and I discussed with Maria Bakalova early on, even before she took the job. We were afraid she would say it was too much. Instead, she just said, "It's great, I'm in, I'm excited." She was super brave about everything.
MARIA BAKALOVA ("TUTAR"): I was prepared early for a moment when I had to interact with someone who is on a high level. I was adrenalized. We had a few ideas how that could work. You might think he'll start laughing and that's a joke. Or you might think he's going to start screaming. People do unpredictable things. Everything we did in the film was completely legal and I was sure that I was safe. Sacha was in the room with me, hidden in a closet about three feet away from me. We also had a security team that could rescue me if something happened.
SBC: I've never really spoken to anyone about litigation for the past 22 years because I didn't need to. I would take care of this stuff internally. I realized that I had developed these techniques over the past two decades. One of the most important is that when someone is suspicious, you get deeper into character. You step in, you try to crack some jokes, but you also make a dramatic scene.
MB: Sacha's assistant Nicole helped me a lot the night before. She read Giuliani's full biography to me the night before bed. I will always be grateful to her for that.
JW: If he had just done this interview and left, it wouldn't have been a big scene. So we had to figure out every idea what might happen from a technical point of view and make sure it was clearly filmed. Maria was alone to do what she was doing. We were hoping for some tension because that was the climax of the film.
SBC: We wanted to make sure the scene was funny and we revealed everything we wanted to reveal about the unspoken misogyny of Trump's inner circle. But it had to fit the movie. We had no idea how far Giuliani would go. As a result, we've prepared for various incremental phases of the scene: One where I would try to convince Tutar to give up the mission of sleeping with Giuliani by showing up in a room service van. We actually had a room service car and I hid under it, but we cut that out. The second was about what would happen if Giuliani noticed what was happening and left. We knew we would at least have a good version of the scene. Then there was the option we used where I come in as a sound guy and try to convince them to come out. We have decided whether it will go out then, we can still let the film function structurally. The dream scenario was that he would go into the bedroom with her. Dramatically and satirically, that was the perfect result for us.
JW: When Rudy went into the bedroom, I gasped. And when he lay down on the bed, my heart stopped. I'm not sure how to describe exactly what it was like to see this in real time.
MB: She did everything to save her father and as Maria I did everything to save the scene. I used what people on the scene gave me as resources. And I wasn't the first person to touch someone. He touched me first.
JW: Sacha was hiding in a closet in a storage room.
SBC: An hour and a half. It was pitch black and tiny. I had to change there.
JW: Rudy is only a few meters away. The phone we gave Sacha was only five percent charged. I'm trying to text him to tell him what's going on. Maria is alone. We had no way of communicating with her. Sacha and I tried to say, "Are we going in now or are we going to finish?" He rubbed his shoulders, sat on the bed and asked for her phone number ...
SBC: I look at the phone and wait for someone to tell me to leave. I think it's good that we went in the moment we did it.
ML: I was very concerned after we finished filming as he threatened our team with federal crimes that we all knew were wrong. But we were in NYC with a man who seemed loved by the police, so we let our team leave town that night instead of the next to protect them!
MB: I didn't see the statements he made, but it's all in the film. Everyone can see it and decide what happened. I don't want to draw any conclusions.
JW: I've been in this business for a long time. I've never seen anyone lie on a bed with their hand inside their pants to take out a microphone. He went into the bedroom with a young reporter who had just said how nervous she was around him and how much she admired him. He sat on the bed, asked for her phone number, touched her lower back, lay down on the bed, took off his shirt and put his hand on his pants. All of this is objective. So it doesn't look good for him.
SBC: This scene isn't just a sketch - it's the climax of the film. We've seen it in movies many times. It's the climax of "The Graduate". Also, we really looked at the structure of "It Happened One Night" where the realization comes very late that he is in love with the girl and can't pull it off. And it also has an element of a thriller in which the heroine is supposed to be murdered. Instead of the murderer reaching for his weapon, Giuliani reaches into his pants.
ML: We ran to the finish line and didn't have much time to think about whether or not we could break the noise of the elections. But once the trailer broke, it was a huge relief to see people take a comedic break from the world! I absolutely love that it turned into a virtual conversation about water coolers. And we have to thank Mr Giuliani for making it even more relevant in the days leading up to its release.
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