May 16, 2012 at 10:03 AM ET
Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to the big or the small screens, but it's a rare treat for fans to see the actor out of character. On Wednesday morning, for only the third time in his career, the man behind "Da Ali G Show," "Borat" and "Bruno" left his alter egos behind and spoke for himself.
Cohen, who was in Cannes promoting his latest film, "The Dictator," explained to TODAY's Ann Curry just why that's such a rare event.
"Well, the movies that I did up until now, they involved real people and so we wanted to limit the exposure of for lawsuits -- at the moment I think I have the Guinness World Record for most sued actor in history," he said with a smile. "But basically if people saw that I was me, and that Borat was not a real person, beforehand, then they could injunct the movie and shut the movie down."
But with the purely fictional "Dictator," that's not a problem.
"This is a different kind of movie," he assured.
But not so different when it comes to getting laughs at the expense of others -- of course in this case, the others aren't people on the street.
"The subjects of the satire are all of these heartless dictators who are feared in their own countries and rule with, you know, using violence and oppression, but are ludicrous characters," Cohen explained. "And the great thing is, at the moment, they're being overthrown. So anything you can do to mock them and undermine them that kind of false authority, I think it's a positive thing."
Which explains his over-the-top lead role as Supreme Leader Aladeen of the Republic of Wadiya -- a part he researched, but not quite as thoroughly as other parts in the past.
"It kind of backfired on 'Bruno,' because I had a terrorist group come after me," Cohen revealed. "And, you know, (they) decided to seek their revenge. But they haven't got me yet. That's why I'm here -- hiding in Cannes."
Of course, Cohen hides in plain sight often, thanks to those characters he usually takes with him. That's how he's able to pull off pranks, like his now-infamous stunt at the 2012 Oscars in which he dumped an urn of ashes all over Ryan Seacrest -- right on the red carpet. But no worries, he made up for that by buying Seacrest a brand new jacket.
"And it had a little label inside -- 'Made by slave child labor,'" Cohen joked. "But he didn't send me a thank you note. Unbelievable."
"The Dictator" opens in theaters nationwide May 16.
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