Actress Anna Faris received her first big break in the gross-out horror spoof “Scary Movie” franchise, while subsequent roles in “Lost in Translation” and “Brokeback Mountain” received widespread critical acclaim. In her latest film, “The Dictator,” Faris plays an ultra-liberal vegan grocery store owner who inadvertently rescues a Saddam Hussein-esque tyrant, played by Sacha Baron Cohen of “Borat” fame. Faris spoke to The Daily Aztec about disappointing her conservative mother, handling on-set verbal abuse and why she couldn’t wear tank tops during filming.
The Daily Aztec: Sacha Baron Cohen is known for being a controversial figure. Did you have any reservations about taking a role in “The Dictator”?
Anna Faris: I feel like I’ve been a part of so many offensive comedies that I’m a little numb to it. I don’t think I ever really get offended, but every time I take a role, the first thing I start worrying about is my mom and what she’s going to think because she’s pretty conservative. And she always wants me to play like Amelia Earhart or something. She sort of crosses my mind. Oh, is this the kind of thing that I have to tell her to avoid or not?
And then I guess it didn’t occur to me at the time, but Sacha, one day during shooting, he mentioned that he had like some fatwas against him. And I would say, “Wait, what?” There’s all these like jihadists that are really upset with him for “Borat” and “Bruno.” They’re somehow going to take revenge. And then it occurred to me, this could potentially be a kind of a dangerous project to be a part of. But anyway, so far, I’m still here.
DA: Sacha Baron Cohen stated that he adapted a novel written by Saddam Hussein for this film. Did you have to read it to prepare for your role?
AF: No, I didn’t. I don’t even know if that’s really accurate. Maybe it is. I didn’t ask that. I play a young woman in Brooklyn, who runs a vegan, organic co-op grocery store. She’s very political and passionate, very liberal, as you can imagine. So I just think that we just sort of share a lot of views in general. But no, anyway, point being no research.
DA: Was there a lot of improvisation on set or was it tight and to the script?
AF: No, it was very, very loose. It took a little bit of a learning curve for me. It was unlike pretty much any filming process I had ever gone through before. And you really didn’t know where the scene was going to go. We had a script and we would do the scripted version a couple of times. And then, the writers and Sacha would collaborate. And then, next thing you know, you would be headed in a completely different direction.
So it forced you to really stay on your toes, which was hard, but also, sort of an exciting challenge for an actor. I mean, in a scene like where he was sort of supposed to be charmed by me, he would suddenly be threatening to kill me, or calling me a lesbian hobbit, or you know, grabbing me on the back of my head. As an actor you’re like, “All right, got to be game.” It was improv, but it was like improv class in a sense that you just sort of roll with the punches, literally.
DA: What was the strangest thing the role made you do?
AF: Wow, man, so many. For “The Dictator,” I had to grow up my armpit hair, which was a new experience for me. And I was very naive about it. They asked me if I would do it, because they said they could glue some hair on me. And I was like, “No, no, no, I’ll totally do it. I don’t care,” and sort of thinking that maybe it would grow in kind of thin and wispy, and maybe even kind of cute. And that was not the case. It was dark and thick. And it defined my whole summer. I was like: no tank tops, no swimsuits, couldn’t hail a cab. At a party, I would always, if I’d had a drink or two, lift my shirt and show off my armpit hair. And it made people gag. It was amazing.