“I’d Smash Liam Gallagher’s Head In”: A Drunk Dial From Sacha Baron Cohen’s New Character
He is literally never not in character.
Drunk phone calls are usually the most entertaining type of phone calls. Sometimes they come from friends who just need to (subtly) let you know they’ve had “one or two” by screaming Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’ down the line. Other times, it’s simply to inform you that they are in a yard (“whose yard it is, I do not know”). Then, slightly less often, they come from Sacha Baron Cohen.
In character for his latest film, Grimsby, he tells me he loves me, mumbles indecipherably and cries while I think about my prepared questions. Should I awkwardly segue them in, or give up and embrace the fact we’d be talking about ferrets and penises for the rest of the allotted time? Hindsight’s a hell of a thing.
In the film, Baron Cohen plays Nobby: a football hooligan and father of nine. He’s a guy who’d be perfectly content with a life of going to the pub and occasionally sticking a firework between his buttcheeks for kicks, were it not for the fact he’d tragically been separated from his brother since childhood. After a quest to find him, he discover’s he’s a spy and hijinks ensues.
This is Baron Cohen’s second film deviating from the mockumentary style of the incredibly successful Borat and (less successful) Brüno and because of this reputation you likely already have opinions on it. It has all the gross-out comedy and buddy cop tropes you expect, but also delivers some odd and enjoyable slapstick and interesting themes on family and class.
Because of this, my plan was to ask questions about soccer and his character’s relationship to the beautiful game. From there I might even weave a narrative about the film’s commentary about socio-economic and political struggles and how this is echoed through the intensity of England’s soccer fandom.
Instead, the interview starts like this:
Nobby: “Hiya, who’s that? Nick? Nick? Is that Nick?”
Me: “No it’s Elizabeth.”
Nobby: “Nick? Who’s Nick?”
Me: “Oh… he’s out at the moment.”
Nobby: “Who’s Elizabeth?”
In this moment I realise my Dad had been preparing me for this day since 2006. From the moment he saw the trailer onwards, for every formal event with a dress code that cropped up, he’d eagerly ask me “shall I wear that green Borat thing?”. He’d always laugh uproariously.
As Nobby tries to gauge who exactly I am and I try to steer the interview back to A Serious Chat About Soccer As Metaphor, we manage to cover the following topics:
Am I the girl from the newsagents on Lusset Street? (“No I haven’t worked in a newsagents for a while.”)
Do I have his meat? (“Hmm?”)
When I say “big family”, do I mean “big cock”? (“Okay…”)
Eventually he swings from asking who I am, to saying “Elizabeth, Elizabeth how are you? Lovely to speak to you. I’m a little bit drunk. It’s alright.” He then moves on to “I love you. I love you so much. I love you so much Elizabeth why can’t you ever [indecipherable mumbling]”.
At this point, the line between fiction and reality starts to crumble as I wonder if it’s okay for him to be saying this considering he has a long-term girlfriend (played by Rebel Wilson). I angle to see if she’s in the room with him.
Me: “Where are you?”
Nobby: “What was that Officer?”
Me: “Where are you right now?”
Nobby: “Right now? I’m in Grimsby.”
A breakthrough moment! I brace myself for expositional goodness. After all, he used the title of the film and everything.
Me: “And what can you see? Where are you?”
Nobby: “I can see… my feet, and I can see… I think it’s a mushroom. Is it a mushroom? A mushroom. Oh no, that’s my cock. Sorry!”
Me: *laughs less awkwardly than I should have*
Nobby: “I got confused, I didn’t know I got shot.”
Me: “You got shot?”
Nobby: “I can see that. And I can see a bucket. And the bucket has got something in it. Jesus! Some dirty bastard has broken into my bedroom and vomited in a bucket.”
Then we’re back to the drunken “I love yous”.
Me: “Can you tell me a bit about your football team maybe?”
Nobby: “Can I tell you a bit about my football team? Who is this?”
Me: “Well it’s not Shaun. Or the girl from the newsagency. But I do still want to know.”
Nobby: “Ah, from the newsagency?”
Me: “Yeah, down the road.”
Nobby: Oh, sorry, sorry. I live in Grimsby. So I support Manchester United.
…Is this enough for the article?
Me: “Manchester United, right.”
Nobby: “I’m a huge fan of Wayne Rooney. Do you know Wayne Rooney?”
Me: “Ah not personally, no.”
Nobby: “He’s a good lad. Solid working-class stock. If he weren’t a multi-millionaire, things would have turned out very differently for him.”
This is good. Time to jump in with the big guns.
Me: “With Wayne Rooney having so much money, and it costing so much money to go to football games, do you think this is cutting a lot of fans out from being able to see football games?
Nobby: “… I just think that getting on a train, drinking cans of lager, then kicking the crap out of the first person you bump in to on the other end is something humans have been doing for thousands of years. It’s in our DNA. It’s what separates us from the animals. It makes us…civilised.”
Me: “Speaking of…”
Nobby: “Oh my god, what’s that? What’s that on the bed? Is that a ferret? Oh my god.”
And that’s that. I lean in to the questions you ask your drunk friends.
Me: “Speaking of kicking the crap out of people, if you, Noel Fielding and Liam Gallagher all got in a fight, who do you think would win?”
Nobby: “Who’s Noel Fielding?”
Me: “Oh, he’s this comedian. He’s kind of got hair like Liam Gallagher.”
Nobby: “I’d smash Liam Gallagher’s head in. Piece of piss.”
Baron Cohen’s commitment to character is one of his greatest strengths as a writer and actor. All of the films he has written demonstrate this. Grimsby (titled The Brothers Grimsby overseas) is the first one to move away from this slightly; most obviously by not naming the film after its protagonist. The script has its flaws — most obviously in pacing and focus — but on the whole, the film is enjoyable because of Baron Cohen’s inhabitation of this weird dick-obsessed guy I’m talking to.
With seconds left on the clock, I wind things down.
Me: “I think that’s all of our time.
Nobby: “Alright. I hope you had a nice time. Genevieve?”
Me: “Elizabeth. Have a nice day.”
Nobby: “I don’t think I will. Okay I love you bye.”
*mumbling that contains the words “Noel Fielding” followed by hanging up*
Grimsby is in cinemas now.
Elizabeth Flux is the editor of Voiceworks, and has been published in Film Ink, Metro, The Punch, and Lip Magazine. She tweets terrible puns @ElizabethFlux.