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Sacha Baron Cohen Finally Explained How He Got Cheney to Sign a Waterboard Kit

"How am I going to convince one of the most cynical, suspicious, brilliant minds that I’m real?"

by River Donaghey
Jun 10 2019, 3:29pm

Cohen photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images. 'Who Is America?' screenshot via Showtime.

Sacha Baron Cohen's Showtime series Who Is America? was a deeply flawed but intermittently genius show, and when it was good, it was really, truly, outrageously good. For every awkward and flat OJ Simpson interview or scene where Cohen tricked a random gallery owner into gushing over poop paintings or whatever, there was at least one transcendent moment that proved Cohen is still the greatest troll alive. He gave Roy Moore a pedophile test. He got Sheriff Joe to say he'd get an "amazing blowjob" from Trump. He convinced that GOP lawmaker to pull down his pants and scream racist slurs (though that guy didn't need much convincing).

But the greatest feat that Cohen pulled off was his brain-bleedingly brilliant interview with Dick Cheney—where he somehow got the former VP to gleefully sign a "waterboard kit." It's an amazing moment that probably should earn Who Is America? an Emmy based on the strength of that scene alone. And now, nearly a year after the scene aired, Cohen has finally decided to let us in on how, exactly, he managed to pull that one off.

Last week, Cohen sat down with Don Cheadle as part of Variety's "Actors on Actors" series to chat about how a knowledge of Israeli special-ops missions and, uh, Bad Grandpa prosthetics helped him pull off that explosive Cheney interview.

First of all, Cohen says that his fake anti-terror expert character, Erran Morad, was a "reverse character creation" built to appeal specifically to Cheney. "You have to think, 'OK, 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?'" Cohen says. "That becomes the process of fully learning your character and making sure there are no holes in your character."

Unfortunately, actually becoming that character was a little complicated. During pre-production for Who Is America?, Cohen realized that he was a little too recognizable now to just slap on a Borat mustache and call it good. "We did tests before with Who Is America? to see if people would see through it," Cohen says. "And I wore some massive wig. I walked into this gun store, and the guy immediately looked at me and goes, 'I know you.' With recognition, it happens within the first second. There’s a part of the brain that recognizes the face."

From there, it was a very sweaty process to actually become Morad. Cohen went to a prosthetics artist named Tony Gardner, the guy who turned Johnny Knoxville into an old man in Bad Grandpa, for help.

DC: That Israeli character that you played, that’s an extreme look.

SBC: All those prosthetics looks, you get up at 3:30 in the morning and it’s five to six hours, because you put on a new head. It’s layers and layers, and then it’s an hour taking it off.

DC: And then you sweat inside that.

SBC: When you take it off, it’s really good for your skin, because you’re covered in sweat. You’re completely wet underneath.

Cohen also grilled an Israeli special-ops vet for about his military background while he was doing his extensive make-up. Later, during the interview with Cheney, Cohen tossed in some of the guy's stories, claiming them as his own—and Cheney completely bought it. "He knew about some of the operations," Cohen says, "so he was convinced I was real."

Unfortunately, Cohen never filled us in on what exactly happened to the Dick Cheney-signed waterboard kit itself—but it might be time to start saving, just in case the thing winds up back on eBay someday.