Why Hollywood won't cast Sacha Baron Cohen

English actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer Sacha Baron Cohen is known by most for playing his outrageous original characters. Whether it be the character that established him, British suburban rap stereotype Ali G, or the Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev, his breakout creation, everyone has almost certainly heard of the actor's antics by now.

Lately, we haven't seen much of the controversial actor. Cohen has largely been off most moviegoers' radar. Which makes us wonder: why won't Hollywood cast Sacha Baron Cohen anymore?

His characters are (mostly) retired

Aside from a promotional appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, retired Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev hasn't been heard from much since 2008. Likewise, flamboyant Austrian fashion reporter Brüno Gehard retired shortly after Brüno hit theaters, and Admiral General Aladeen has been out of the news since spilling Kim Jong-il's ashes on Ryan Seacrest at the 2012 Oscars. So what happened to them?

Cohen's films have centered entirely around fooling unsuspecting victims with his outrageous personas—something that's almost impossible to accomplish these days. "It's wonderful that the films are successful," Cohen explained, "but every new person who sees the movie is one less person I can be Borat or Bruno with again, so finishing a movie means having to say goodbye."

One character that isn't quite retired, however, is British suburban hip-hop stereotype Ali G. The long-running character surprisingly presented an Oscar in 2016—something the Academy wasn't particularly keen on. "The truth is we actually had to sneak it in, because the Oscars sat me down before and said they didn't want me to do anything out of order, they wanted me to actually just present it as myself," Baron Cohen told ITV's Good Morning Britain. "But luckily my wife put … the Ali G beard [on me] in the disabled toilets, and I managed to get away with it."

Not everyone gets it

Not everyone gets Baron Cohen's controversial and intentionally offensive brand of humor, which can create problems for those involved in his projects' production.

One such example came after the actor prompted an anti-Semitic sing-along of sorts by performing a song titled "In My Country There Is Problem"—also known as "Throw the Jew Down the Well"—in an Arizona bar as Borat on Da Ali G Show. As is often the case with Cohen's controversial skits, not everyone thought it was funny. "While we understand this scene was an attempt to show how easily a group of ordinary people can be encouraged to join in an anti-Semitic chorus," a letter from the Anti-Defamation League's national director read, after receiving a tidal wave of complaints, "We are concerned that the irony may have been lost on some of your audience … in attempting to expose bigotry and prejudice you also bear a responsibility to be sensitive."

HBO spokesperson Quentin Schaffer defended Baron Cohen by explaining that "through his alter-egos, he delivers an obvious satire that exposes people's ignorance and prejudice in much the way All in the Family did years ago." 

That sort of satire may be more trouble than it's worth in today's hot-button and (perhaps) more easily offended society.

His stunts could be destructive

Though most of his audiences find Baron Cohen's stunts funny, they're not always so comical to those in charge of the events he disturbs.

In September 2008, flamboyant fashion reporter Brüno crashed the famous Milan fashion week andglod—as the national newspaper La Repubblica commented—"violated the sacred rituals of high fashion." During a show by Spanish designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Baron Cohen and crew used fake passes to gain access to the backstage area where he proceeded to cause quite a ruckus whilst wearing a full-body velcro suit. He somehow ended up on the catwalk with a whole plethora of clothing stuck to his body and thus began to strut his stuff before organizers cut the lights. He was forcibly removed by security and even forced to explain himself to the Italian police.

The disruptive stunts were, of course, used in the filming of Cohen's Brüno, but not everyone appreciated Baron Cohen's gatecrashing for the sake of his art. "Everybody is talking about it," a spokeswoman for the National Chamber of Italian Fashion told The Telegraph after Cohen's fashion-week stunts. "Some people were very angry and annoyed"; she also admitted some had a good laugh.

Lawsuits galore

Baron Cohen's controversial stunts not only offend and anger some people, they also tend to provoke lawsuits.

The executive director of Desert Valley Charities unsuccessfully attempted to sue the people behind Brüno for upwards of $25,000, claiming a Baron Cohen prank at a bingo game left her confined to a wheelchair. A Palestinian grocer settled a slander suit against both Baron Cohen and David Letterman for defamation of character, after being portrayed as a terrorist in the same movie. Two South Carolina college students, a Baltimore driving instructor, and a Macedonian singer all tried to sue over issues taken with Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, as did the residents of the Romanian village Glod. And that's just the start.

In addition to peeving off Eastern European villages, Baron Cohen unsurprisingly managed to offend the country of Kazakhstan by portraying its people as backward and bigoted. "We consider this movie offensive, a complete lie and nonsense," a prominent Kazakh cinema distribution manager told Reuters, adding that "it's a shame that some Americans will probably believe what they see there." However, Kazakhstan ultimately realized that any publicity is good publicity when building a brand state, and Deputy foreign minister Rakhat Aliyev even invited Baron Cohen to Kazakhstan, so Borat himself could see that that "women drive cars, wine is made of grapes, and Jews are free to go to synagogues."

He rarely did interviews out of character

There is no shortage of interviews with Ali G, Borat, or Brüno. During the height of his popularity, however, Baron Cohen almost never granted interviews as himself—causing most moviegoers to know very little about the man behind the personas.

Before Baron Cohen promoted The Dictator on Today in May 2012, the actor had only done an astonishing two interviews out of character. Far from being camera shy, the actor attributes that fact primarily to the nature of his previous films. "Well, the movies that I did up until now, they involved real people and so we wanted to limit the exposure … for lawsuits—at the moment I think I have the Guinness World Record for most sued actor in history," he explained. "But basically if people saw that I was me, and that Borat was not a real person, beforehand, then they could injunct the movie and shut the movie down." Of course, it also would've been harder for Baron Cohen to trick his unsuspecting victims had he been putting himself in the media spotlight the whole time.

These days, Baron Cohen is heard from and seen out of character much more regularly.

Studios don't want to take the risk

The Hollywood landscape has changed since Borat hit theaters in 2006, so much so that Baron Cohen thinks his past films might not have even gotten made had he pitched them today. "I think studios are becoming more reluctant to take big risks," he told The Telegraph. "They're all owned by multi-nationals now and have to show profits."

Still, Baron Cohen doesn't think Hollywood's gotten too far off track: "If it wasn't for the Academy Awards, studios would only make movies to make money," he explained. "Because of the Academy Awards, studios make movies to be good as well."

Though Baron Cohen appreciates the Academy for keeping quality in Hollywood, the feeling is almost certainly not mutual. The Actor offended the powers-that-be not once but twice: First by ruining Ryan Seacrest's suit on the red carpet and later by making a surprise (and unwanted) appearance as Ali G. "I think my publicist got into a bit of trouble," the actor admitted, "and I doubt if I'll be invited back."

He's afraid of being too offensive

In today's political and cultural climate, some might argue that it's easier than ever to offend someone. And while one might assume Baron Cohen isn't concerned with political correctness, that's far from the truth.

"We will do a joke that makes us laugh in the room," the actor explained to The Telegraph, "and we say, 'Can we do this joke?' And then there is a discussion of 'is it moral to do and is it ethical to do; is it too far?'" Often times, it is too far, and many of his team's ideas are left on the cutting room floor. "There are a lot of jokes that I would not make … I am continually filtering stuff that is too much."

Comedians have been coming under fire more than ever in recent years, and Baron Cohen's job has only become more difficult in the process. "Comedy is a weird thing that's hard to analyse," he admitted. "I work very hard to make these films. They happen once every three years, and I put as many jokes in as I can and I want the movie to be as good as possible … Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't."

He bailed on a Freddie Mercury biopic

In 2013, Baron Cohen was set to play Freddie Mercury in an official biopic sanctioned by the surviving members Queen, but things didn't go quite as planned, resulting in him leaving the project.

According to Baron Cohen, creative differences arose from Queen's desire to make a substantial portion of the movie revolve around the band's post-Mercury career—a prospect he found uninspiring—while shying away from the prolific singer's legendary debauchery. "Brian May is an amazing musician," Baron Cohen told Howard Stern, "but he's not a great movie producer."

May didn't like that, not one bit. "Sacha became an arse," May explained while telling his side of the story. "We had some nice times with Sacha kicking around ideas, but he went off and told untruths about what happened. Why would he go away and say that we didn't want to make a gritty film? Are we the kind of people who have ever ducked from the truth? I don't think so … It's obvious that it wasn't going to work, him playing Freddie. It wouldn't suspend your disbelief."

Unfortunately, we'll never know if Baron Cohen would've made a good Freddie Mercury, and the project has only continued its long tradition as a problematic production.

The public knows very little about him

We don't see too much of Sacha Baron Cohen outside of his character appearances because he mostly prefers to keep his private life out of the spotlight.

In addition to historically giving very few interviews out of character, Cohen's publicists once even denied that Baron Cohen attended a London premiere party for Borat. In fact, they claimed the party never even happened, even though it most certainly did. He's also largely kept his marriage to Australian actress Isla Fisher out of the tabloids—at least compared to some other celebrity couples.

Diminishing returns

Questions have arisen about whether or not Baron Cohen still has the creative touch which made Borat so successful. Since the actor's breakout hit in the U.S., we've seen diminishing returns with Brüno, The Dictator, and The Brothers Grimsby—the latter opening to a disappointing $3.2 million from 2,235 locations.

"We certainly wanted more," Sony's distribution chief Rory Bruer told Variety, regarding The Brothers Grimsby's failure. "Sacha is amazing and we love him, and we tried to crack the code on it, but it just didn't happen for us."

What's next?

Even though Hollywood isn't casting Baron Cohen, and we've seen the diminishing returns on his latest movies, the controversial actor is far from calling it quits.

His latest project, a remake of Danish comedy Klown, has generated a lot of positive attention in foreign markets. The original film, released in 2010, tells the story of a man who kidnaps his girlfriend's 12-year-old nephew in an attempt to demonstrate his fathering skills. With the remake, the producers are aiming for a "semi-improvised, boundary-pushing comedy"—which certainly sounds right up Cohen's alley.