Despot the difference
Sacha Baron Cohen arrives in full military garb and fake beard at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York in a limousine also decked out with the green and yellow flags of his fictional north-African country, Wadiya.
The 40-year-old British comedian, husband of Australian actress Isla Fisher, is here to promote his latest role as dictator Admiral General Aladeen in The Dictator.
In the film, Aladeen arrives in New York to address the United Nations but is left stranded after a botched assassination attempt by his uncle (Ben Kingsley).
Behind the beard ... Sacha Baron Cohen is The Dictator.
''Relax, you don't ask any difficult questions, you write good reviews and your family will be safe,'' says Cohen, who also embraced previous alter egos Borat and Bruno by staying in character during press conferences and TV appearances. This included his appallingly awkward guest spot on Channel Nine's Today show in Sydney last week in which he repeatedly propositioned co-host Lisa Wilkinson and chastised Peter Slipper for not remembering the first rule of a politician - ''only sexually harass female staff … the boys will always talk''.
The BBC has since banned Baron Cohen from appearing in character but in our New York press conference - on the back of a world tour - the dictator is his usual nasty self.
Is it true you were banned by the BBC after your Australian TV appearances?
Admiral General Aladeen of Wadiya with his elite guard. Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon
Yes, it's true. The BBC has issued sanctions against me. Nobody is a bigger fan of state-sponsored censorship than me but the BBC took it too far. All I wanted to do was use their airwaves to promote my anti-West anti-Zionist platform.
How do you get along with other famous dictators?
All the dictators come together once a year; we have regular Axis of Evil conferences at a beach resort in Antigua.
The dictator demonstrates he's pretty good at sports of all kinds. Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon
Who are your idols when it comes to dictators?
You have the great Saddam (Hussein), Muammar (Gaddafi) and, of course, (former US vice-president) Dick Cheney. (North Korea's) Kim Jong-il was a great inspiration for me. He did so much to spread compassion, wisdom and herpes throughout the world, but a dictator must have a good stylist and his son Kim Jong-un is trapped between fat Elvis and army Elvis and needs to dress better.
You've won three Wadiyan Golden Globe awards as an actor. What are your favourite movies and who inspired you?
I love American movies. I particularly love science fiction, particularly this film Schindler's List. I love it, it's so fantastical. Me and my friend [Iranian president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad see it and laugh. But I've starred in Beheading Private Ryan, You Got Mail Bomb and the romantic comedy Planet of the Rapes.
Do you like being back in New York?
It's wonderful to be back in New York. Obviously I want the worst for America but I do love New York. And I love the shopping. This morning I went to Prada and bought three suits and two of the shop assistants.
And what about peace in the Middle East?
I look on Wikipedia and see that Israel is still in the present tense and it makes me very upset. My country is only 2000 miles (3218 kilometres) from Israel as the Scud flies.
What is your opinion of the Arab Spring?
It's very sad but the Arab Spring is a passing fad, like the Atkins diet or human rights. I don't worry about what happens in Wadiya because people love me so greatly. And I have removed spring from the calendar and February is now 140 days long so Arab Spring won't find us.
What do you think of our Australian Prime Minister?
Your Julia Gillard is the best ever argument against democracy. She makes [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel look like Heidi Klum … If she doesn't get plastic surgery, how can she expect the country to respect her?
You find love in this movie.
I found true love with Zoe [Anna Faris] in the film but I'm actually a sweetie-pie. I was voted Cutest Dictator of 2011. Kim Jong-un is trying to get it but being fat doesn't mean you are cute.
You've been with so many celebrities. Who is the one that got away?
They never get away because without their passport it's difficult. Maybe they hop the wall of my private disco but there is no escape from the desert. Within hours they shrivel up and look like a mugshot of Lindsay Lohan.
How did you become leader?
I rose to power in tragic circumstances. My mother died from strangulation during childbirth and my father was grenade intolerant. In the good old days of the gentlemen dictators, you simply had to murder your father but now you have to do sneaky things like rigging elections and imprisoning most of your citizens. There are now few of the good ones left, like Saddam, Gaddafi and Oprah.
What is the bad thing about being a dictator?
Now they are victimising dictators like we are so bad. Take [Syrian President] Bashar Hafez al-Assad. He does a tiny bit of genocide and suddenly everyone is up in arms.
You created the Wadiyan Olympics and won every medal. But is it true you plan to buy the Argentinian star Lionel Messi for your country's soccer team?
I don't need anybody else for my soccer team. I score all the goals and no one has ever scored a goal against me. I don't know why that is.
What is your most proud achievement?
Many things. I have recently managed to build a personal ski resort in the Wadiyan desert. It uses 20 billion bottles of Fiji Water per day to make the snow.
What are your favourite past times?
Seeing how many Victoria's Secret models I can fit into my bed at once, tank collecting, Angry Birds (iPhone version), Angry Birds (real-life version in which I launch endangered parrots), keeping up with Oprah's book club and beard maintenance.
CRITICAL BUZZ Baron Cohen's worldwide press tour in character is likely to fuel top box-office results.
DIRECTOR Larry Charles.
STARS Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris.
RELEASE Now screening.