He became a comedy sensation as the wannabe-gangsta-rapper Ali G by humiliating the people he interviewed.
As Borat, the outrageously anti-Semitic, homophobic reporter from Kazakhstan he became a cultural icon while lampooning and offending virtually everyone he came across.
The intensely private comic actor readily admits he is more comfortable talking in the guise of the characters he has created, but unfortunately for him, both Ali G and Borat have had their day.
Too many people know them and he reluctantly acknowledges that he can no longer retreat behind their personas."When I was being Ali G and Borat I was in character sometimes 14 hours a day and I came to love them, so admitting I am never going to play them again is quite a sad thing," he said. It is hard, and the problem with success, although it's fantastic, is that every new person who sees the Borat movie is one less person I 'get' with Borat again, so it's a kind of self-defeating form, really."It's upsetting, but the success has been great and better than anything I could have dreamed of."He was talking in a Beverly Hills hotel in a rare interview he has given as himself and not in character, and he allows it is an unusual and not particularly pleasant experience for him."It's much easier for me to be in character and it's a lot more fun," he said.
"If I'd done the entire promotional campaign for Borat as myself it wouldn't have developed in the same way.
If a question appeals to him he veers into a funny anecdote almost as if he is doing a stand-up comedy act for an audience: he switches characters and assumes their voices, becoming a Yorkshireman, a female singing teacher and an Italian in quick succession.But if for some reason he finds the question unsuitable or he simply does not want to answer, he lowers his head and mutters almost inaudibly.He is submitting to interviews at the behest of Warner Bros.to promote Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton's slasher-horror movie musical in which he plays Pirelli, a flamboyant rival singing barber who meets an exceedingly bloody end at the hands of Johnny Depp's Todd.Wearing exceedingly tight-fitting tights with appropriate bulges, Pirelli is a wonderful creation and provides a riotous interlude in the movie.Burton said of him: "He brought a burst of colour into the darkness and his suit was tight - that's how he was able to hit the high notes."Baron Cohen had just finished Borat when he decided he would audition for the role of Pirelli, although he did not know any of Stephen Sondheim's songs from the show."When I was at Cambridge University I played Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof and that was the only thing I remembered so I went in and sang If I were A Rich Man for Sondheim," he said."That wasn't enough so I had to sing about five other songs and luckily Sondheim thought they were okay, but there is one incredibly high note at the end of my piece and Tim Burton doesn't know this but when I went in to record the sound I couldn't reach it, even wearing spandex, so I brought in a very fat female opera singer to sing the final note."Then, as if slipping into a well-rehearsed act, Baron Cohen went on: "I arrived in London the day before I started shooting and I realised I needed a singing lesson.So I foolishly called my mother and asked her to find me a good singing teacher so she looked in the Yellow Pages and gave me the address of a woman.I turned up at the woman's door and told her who I was and she said, 'I was expecting you to be a girl.' She said, 'Have a cup of tea,' so I had a cup of tea.I told her I was going to be in Sweeney Todd and she said, 'Never heard of it.' I told her it starred Johnny Depp and she said, 'Never heard of him.' I said Tim Burton was directing it and she said, 'Never heard of him. Could I have his telephone number because I often have these local concerts here and we're looking for someone to direct them.'"So I started singing Pirelli and she had never heard the music before but she goes 'Oh, no, no, no you don't do it like that.'" Then the punchline: "So I ignored everything she said and went to the set the next day."Born in North London to a Welsh clothing store owner and an Israeli aerobics teacher mother, Sacha Baron Cohen grew up watching Peter Sellers, whom he says was his inspiration."I think I was seven when I saw the first Inspector Clouseau film and I really believed the character. He was this incredibly realistic actor who was also hilarious and who managed to bridge the gap between comedy and satire."Admittedly he wasn't much of an inspiration in his personal life because he wasn't the greatest father or husband, but as an actor and a comedian he is the guy that I've tried to emulate."Cohen attended private school and went on to read history at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he wrote a dissertation on the role of Jews in the U. civil rights movement."I'd gone to Cambridge partly because they had such a prolific acting department and a lot of really good actors came from there," he said.