Some of the press surrounding Brüno (#1 at the box office this weekend with est. $30.4 mil) has questioned the authenticity of the reactions of those shown getting punk’d by Sacha Baron Cohen. After the smash hit Borat, how can anyone not recognize the actor and his stunts, right?
Well, Lloyd Robinson didn’t and here, he explains why. Robinson, agent/founder of Suite A Management, is the agent in the movie solicited by Brüno to make him a star. I spoke with Robinson and found that, unlike some other unwitting participants, he bears no ill will towards Cohen, even deeming him “brilliant.”
Robinson was approached as a result of his shopping around a celebrity interview show to German television. The concept of the show, which he’d developed with a writer client, was celebrities being interviewed in a hot tub in the back of a limousine traveling to different places. Robinson felt it would sell in the European market since “they have a fixation on all things celebrity.” I’ll let him take it from here.
Lloyd Robinson: I contacted a German producer, George Hohbach…I told them we needed an interviewer, kind of an over-the-top personality, like Cojo [fashion critic Steven Cojocaru]. They’d have to be fluent in German and English.
About a month later, I got a call from German TV, saying, “We got a guy. He fancies himself a celebrity who wants to become a star in Hollywood. We’re going to underwrite [his endeavor] since we’re distributing his show. We’ve got a production company [in L.A.] called Cold Stream Productions.” The way I understood it, the guy was doing a promo/teaser because he was a celebrity in Vienna.
So I got a call…The producer and director said, “We’re gonna shoot this thing and think it’d be interesting if one of the scenes is an interview with an agent.” I said, “Fine, bring him in.”
[Brüno] showed up…in this silver lamé outfit with a red spangled jock strap and kinda burst into my office. I’m pitching him [the celebrity interview show] Tub Talk, “You might be perfect for this!” I came to the conclusion he was over the top. “I don’t think you’d back off enough to let the star shine, but maybe someday…you can be a star.” He said, “No! I want to be a star now!” I said, “No, you can’t be a star now. Get out of my office.”
Four or five weeks later, I got another call from Todd [Schulman, the producer, though he’d introduced himself as Todd Lewis]. “[Brüno] is coming back into town. He’s prepared some sides to show you he can act.” I said, “Well, okay.”
So they made an appointment and showed up in the office. [Brüno] was very humbled and complimentary, nice. He was going to show me a sample of his acting ability. It was the worst thing I’ve seen in my life and I’ve been in the biz forty years. [I said] “You need some acting lessons, someone to coach you on how to do this. If I’m still looking and you’re still looking, we can talk another time.”
A month or two later, Larry [Charles, the movie’s director] called me again. This time, they’ve completed the teaser and scheduled a focus group. [I said] “Why a focus group?”
“Because we want to take him directly to producers and studios and we’re being paid to do this.”
I said, “But no one’s paying me.”
“What if we paid you $500?”
So I drive out into the Valley…There’s an NBC exec there…and they walk in the focus group. I take one look and say, “This is not gonna work” because people were all in their 40s, they’re not gonna get this guy’s humor. If you have a focus group of [people aged] 16-24, it might work.
They start the thing and two minutes later, [the NBC exec]’s out the door! Brüno said, “Please stay! Have some champagne!”
…I stayed. They were paying me. But I said, “Todd, what are you doing? The scene with him waving his schlong all over the place—that’s gotta go. You’ve got to tell him to mind his manners and watch his words.”
…About a month or so later, I get another call: “He’s back in town.”
[I said] “What do you want now? What? He’s singing a song in a recording studio? He sings?!”
“Will you come? We’ll pay you $500.”
“Throw in lunch at the Formosa Café and we’ve got a deal.”
I drove to the recording studio down on Santa Monica Boulevard…He’s singing a duet with Elton John! And it wasn’t half bad! Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been bad.
[Brüno] comes out and says, “What do you think?”
“I think you might be on to something!…But this isn’t going to work for Tub Talk.” So we parted and Todd thanked me again for coming out… [Then Todd said] “By the way, would you sign a release?” I didn’t care what the hell they were going to do with the teaser. I know what I said, I hadn’t done anything offensive and [Brüno] hadn’t done anything to me that was offensive.
About four weeks ago [Ed. note: This conversation took place July 8], I was driving on Sunset Boulevard. I came up Doheny, I looked up and there’s this building-scape. It’s Brüno! [I said to my wife] “That’s the guy that’s been in my office! He’s in a movie!”
My wife said, “Really?”
“Yes, I know that face! I know that outfit!”
I never saw Borat; it wouldn’t have been worth my time. I never saw [Da] Ali G [Show] on HBO. I found all that out later.
PCN: Did you ever feel betrayed once it all came out?
LR: No, that was really interesting. I look at things more analytically so I thought, “This guy is brilliant.” He’s a socio-political satirist. If you’ve got a sacred topic, he’ll throw dung at it.
I came to it for a reason. I was pitching…my client’s project, Tub Talk. [I needed] a German-English host, someone who could get starlets to hop in the tub…someone who can have fun with them. In a lot of ways, the guy fit the bill.
PCN: Would you hire him for Tub Talk now?
PCN: As Brüno or Cohen?
LR: Somewhere in between Borat and Brüno…somewhere between that would be an interesting innocence.
PCN: Have you seen the movie?
LR: I have not. I had two opportunities to see it but wanted to sit back and maintain my innocence until more of my friends call me…
A well-known reality-show producer saw the movie at a press screening and called me. “Lloyd, what would you think about doing a reality show about an older, eccentric agent with weird clients?”…I’m meeting with him next week. So, interesting things come from weird things. That’s what keeps me young and excited and involved in the business.