Sacha Baron Cohen Talks Playing the ‘Most Successful Spy in the 20th Century’
Sacha Baron Cohen is getting serious. The provocateur, known for comedic characters like mankini-clad Kazakh journalist Borat, portrays real-life Mossad agent Eli Cohen in the tense, six-episode series The Spy from Homeland cocreator Gideon Raff.
“Eli was probably the most successful spy in the 20th century,” Baron Cohen (above right, with Waleed Zuaiter and Reymonde Amsallem) says of the late Israeli icon, who posed as a wealthy businessman and infiltrated neighboring Syria, an enemy state, in 1962.
“Eli was sent to Syria because Israel was blind and deaf,” adds Raff, admittedly “obsessed” with the spy since childhood, when he heard tales of his heroism. “He was sent to sit in coffee shops, read the newspaper and tell Israel where the political winds were blowing.”
And yet Cohen — who left his family, including wife Nadia (Hadar Ratzon Rotem), at home for months at a time — did so much more. Relying on what Baron Cohen calls “wit, charm, ingenuity and intelligence,” the eager agent learned invaluable information, which aided his country in 1967’s Six-Day War, by ingratiating himself with the wealthy and influential political class. “He rose so high,” notes Raff.
That’s why Baron Cohen considers this suspenseful slow burn a “superhero story.” After all, Cohen had been working as a department store accountant when he was recruited by Mossad. “He lived a double identity,” says Baron Cohen, “and ended up basically saving his country.”
The Spy, Series Premiere,Friday, September 6, Netflix