Dick Cheney, former U.S. Vice-President, had a bit of an unflattering cultural renaissance in 2018 thanks to Vice and Showtime’s Who Is America?, the latter of which got him to proudly sign a waterboard kit. Sacha Baron Cohen worked undercover on Who Is America? for over a year before the show debuted, with his new character, an Israeli anti-terrorism expert, being the one who interviewed Cheney about various military practices and techniques. Historically, Cohen has been tight-lipped about how he’s able to persuade (or rather, dupe) prominent people into doing interviews with his characters, but in a chat with Don Cheadle for Variety, he granted us a little bit of intel about the process. No surprise here: It’s very laborious.
“The characters are designed to appeal to some of the people I was trying to speak to. The character creation is a reverse character creation,” Cohen explained. “You have to think, Okay, we got Dick Cheney, he’s agreed to do this. How am I going to convince one of the most cynical, suspicious, brilliant minds that I’m real? How am I going to get him to say things he’s ultimately going to regret? That becomes the process of fully learning your character and making sure there are no holes in your character.”
That’s the first layer, Cohen clarifies, with the second layer being prepared enough to ensure there’s “no way” anyone can perceive his character isn’t real. “Any question asked of me or any performance or movement or story,” he said, “has to be consistent with the overall character.” Luckily for Cohen, prior to sitting down with Cheney, he was able to speak with the man whose uniform he borrowed about his Israeli special-ops career. “I said, Listen, I’m going to sit here and get made-up. For the next hour, tell me everything about your military history,” Cohen recalled. “He told me every operation he did.” Cohen repeated some of the buzziest anecdotes to a skeptical Cheney, and the rest is history: “He knew about some of the operations. So, he was convinced I was real.” Hey, at least Cheney is in very robust company.