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THE DICTATOR

Finding and Filming in Aladeen's World
The flamboyant leader's arrival in the United States was in keeping with his larger-than-life personality, parading down Fifth Avenue astride a camel, while protestors lined the route. "I love America. It's a wonderful place. Death to the West. There are so many people here who love me. You know, outside the hotel there are supporters with signs saying Aladeen, Aladeen! I don't know what the rest of the sign says, but my PR minister tells me they are extremely flattering."

He pauses, then continues, "In Wadiya, there are no dissidents. The opinion poll says 112% of the population adores me, and 14% are indifferent. There are no dissidents, there are no protestors in my country. They are all foreign terrorist gangs."

Production of The Dictator began in Brooklyn, New York, in June of 2011. For the next three months the company visited four of New York's five boroughs, setting down in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. The task of finding the various locations fell to production designer Victor Kempster and location manager Kip Myers.

Says Myers, "This particular film had a lot of locations already written into the script: the United Nations, a zoo, Fifth Avenue. But the idea of creating Wadiya in New York presented more of a puzzle."

Recalls Kempster, "When I met with Sacha, I had just seen Brüno, which I though was hilarious, a perverse act of true provocation. I thought the idea that he would stay in character for something like 16 hours and draw out whatever truth there was to bear in the interaction was amazing. At that meeting, they were being very cagey about the script. It was his first narrative film per se and a wonderful political satire. And I was amazed at the timing. It was about a North African dictator and meanwhile, North Africa and the Middle East were going through an explosive period. I thought Sacha was terribly prescient to have gotten the timing so amazingly right.

"And the tone of the film was very interesting, in that it was a funny political satire making use of all of his skills as a comedian," continues the production designer. "But it also had a nice story and a rather graceful way to handle the comedy of it. In a way, there is a little bit of an old-fashioned story, but so up-to-the-minute, a fish-out-of-water. You have this completely insane character, whose relationship with the real world makes no sense. He's a complete narcissist and very bizarre. Then he's brought to New York, and he winds up in a totally unfamiliar world."

In doing research for the film, Kempster travelled to Morocco and to the Emirates to get a sense of how such a man would live. As well, production looked at such figures as Libya's Qaddafi-"a one-off genius about clothes, an odd combination of brute and dandy"-with a lifestyle so outrageous, it landed somewhere in the area of cartoonish (e.g., Ukrainian nurse guard?).

Kempster points out, "We looked architecturally to the Emirates, chiefly because of the newness of everything there, and the almost rapacious manner in which they're competitively building unbelievable projects. Bigger than anyone, better than anyone, employing architects from all over the world. In what makes these leaders so fascinating is the combination of outrageous means and very peculiar choices…like their very repetitive use of artwork and portraiture of themselves."

Both Baron Cohen and the designer also looked at facets of the lifestyles documented in the book Dictator Style…the rather bold artistic choices demonstrated in Hussein's collection, for example. Kempster: "Let's say fantasy artwork. Naked, beautiful, extremely well-endowed beauties, flying tigers in a place where cities are floating on clouds."

The Supreme Leader is not shy about weighing in on the style of (or lack of style of) his 'fellow leaders': "The way Ahmadinejad dresses is an embarrassment for dictators. He looks like a snitch on Miami Vice. I mean, why does he never wear a tie? Is every day in Iran casual Friday? WTF?"

For Aladeen's palace, three locations were melded into one…his bedroom being one of the more spectacular sets, which was actually a magnificent room in the Villard Mansion (now, the Helmsley Palace Hotel). Per costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, "Aladeen is sort of a boy-child with an adolescent sexuality to him. That's part of the charm of how Sacha played it. He really is a big baby and his idea of how to engage in sexual relations is absolutely silly to the point of the impossible; that's part of why it's funny."

And while, as in the past, Baron Cohen would remain in character for filming, there were moments where the actor had to put on his alternate writer/producer persona. Larry Charles illustrates, "On Borat, we would wake up in the morning and meet in the lobby, and he was Borat, and that was it. He would stay in character and all day. When we would have arguments, he would argue with me as Borat. Listen, we never had a second take on Borat or Brüno, so whatever that performance was, it had to be captured in that one take. With The Dictator, we were able to cut, we were able to talk, we were able to adjust and we were able to tweak things, and so it just wasn't practical for him to constantly stay in character. But we had our little tricks to plunge him back into character when we got in front of the camera. So even after a big discussion on the scene, he was very able to stay in that character and in that mindset-even without the voice and the mannerism, it's still there."

Where does a dictator find a defunct nuclear power plant when he needs one? Well, how about East Shoreham, New York, on Long Island? The Shoreham Nuclear Power plant was a nuclear boiling water reactor located adjacent to Wading River in East Shoreham, New York. Decommissioned by protests in 1989, after generating only a small amount of commercial electrical power during testing, it had sat unused for more than 20 years.

Recalls Kip Myers, "We looked everywhere for this location. We saw huge empty warehouses and airplane hangars and New York basements with big pipes-but Victor was adamant that this had to be really, really huge and look like the real space. Then we stumbled upon the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant."

Repeated testing with Geiger counters confirmed the environment as completely safe, but some were nervous during the first scout. That soon gave way to the enthusiasm felt by the design team, having landed in such an enormous (and near perfect) environment for the sequences. Production utilized the facility's control room, and then constructed a gigantic, "kind of Dr. No" set, based on research of an Iranian centrifuge room in a similar plant.

The entrance to the plant was filmed at a small farmhouse in Spain, so that the plant itself seems disguised as an abandoned dairy farm in the middle of the desert - Aladeen walks past cows and women hanging laundry, passes through a high-tech door, and emerges in the nuclear facility. Later, his return to the facility finds it a little worse for the wear, with cows actually inside the plant.

For that scene, 24 Holsteins and Cardenas were brought in from Pennsylvania and hauled up to the fourth floor set in a newly constructed elevator (the factory's original no longer functioned), where the livestock extras roamed the room (now carpeted in a special flooring and covered in hay).

From bovine to big city…one of the toughest scenes to film was not on a farm or a power plant, but on the streets of New York City. Per the script, Aladeen's entry into the Big Apple is manifested in a parade down Fifth Avenue. The Dictator's summer

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