Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is hailed as one of the funniest movies of the early 2000s. Star Sacha Baron Cohen had already enjoyed some fame in his native England when the film was released - thanks to his popular Ali G character - but he was largely unknown in America, which allowed him to get away with some genuinely outrageous behavior in Borat.
In the film, Cohen poses as Borat, a reporter from the Middle Eastern country of Kazakhstan who comes to the US to learn about American culture. He partakes in situations with real people who don't know they're talking to a comedian. In the process, Cohen is able to reveal their prejudices or make them behave in shocking ways.
Making this inventive, unpredictable comedy was not an easy feat. From outrunning the cops to nearly sparking a riot, these behind-the-scenes stories prove that making Borat was every bit as wild and unhinged as anything seen onscreen.
How did Borat dupe all those people into taking part in its madness? The answer involves a fake company, hastily distributed release forms, and cash.
Most of Borat's encounters were arranged through a fictional company called One America Productions. A "representative" would convince people to take part in what they claimed was a documentary featuring a foreign journalist reporting on American culture.
On the day of filming, the individuals were handed a release form at the very last minute - this timing was specifically implemented so participants didn't have time to read into the form's specifics. Rather than a check, they were paid for their participation in cash so they would be less likely to refuse.
One of the most gasp-inducing moments in Borat comes when the titular character attends a rodeo in Virginia. After making some controversial comments about George W. Bush and the Iraq conflict, he changes the words to the national anthem, infuriating the audience.
The sequence was filmed at the Salem Civic Center, whose assistant director said that the character's behavior nearly caused a riot. According to him, had Cohen and crew not high-tailed it out of the arena, "There would have been a riot. They would have been [taken out]."
Borat was directed by Larry Charles, who first gained prominence in Hollywood as a writer for the hit sitcom Seinfeld. He stepped in to replace original director Todd Phillips on Borat, who bowed out after 11 days of work due to threats made on his life.
The problem began while shooting the rodeo scene in which Borat angers a crowd of arm-toting attendees. After that bit was filmed, some of the crew members received threats. Phillips was shaken and worried that participating in Borat would hurt his Hollywood career. He resigned, and Charles took over.
Phillips went on to achieve success elsewhere, specifically with the lucrative Hangover trilogy.
A Middle Eastern man traveling the country and saying and doing offensive things obviously drew attention from government agencies in 2006. After all, America was in the midst of a major conflict in Iraq, and the tragedy of 9/11 was still fresh in people's minds. According to Cohen, the FBI consequently kept tabs on Borat, despite him being a fictional character.
"The FBI started following us,” Cohen said in 2016. “They got so many complaints that there was a [threatening character] traveling in an ice cream van that they started compiling a file on us.”