A role that involves improvisation, being called a "lesbian hobbit" by Sacha Baron Cohen and growing out your armpit hair probably wouldn't tempt your typical Hollywood actress. Yet this unconventional part was eagerly nabbed by funny woman Anna Faris, who's teaming up with Cohen for his latest farcical film, The Dictator.
The movie, which is already gaining notoriety for Cohen's red carpet antics and controversial subject-- it is said to be inspired by the novel Zabibah and the King by Saddam Hussein-- is due for a May 16 release. It tells the story of Admiral General Aladeen, a ruthless dictator who is secretly replaced by a lookalike in his home country and must rebuild his life in New York City. Faris plays the foil to Cohen's tyrant, a young liberal woman who runs an organic grocery store that employs Aladeen.
Faris says she wasn't daunted by the movie's scandalous subject matter or its potential for offensiveness: "I feel like I've been part of so many offensive comedies that I'm a little numb to it."
Faris was initially pulled to the project because she is a longtime fan of Cohen's work. While the format of The Dictator is a departure from his mockumentaries Borat and Bruno, it still relies heavily on improv, a style that Faris considered "a little bit of a learning curve."
"It was unlike any filming process I had ever gone through before," says Faris of the loose scripting. "You really didn't know where the scene was going to go. In a scene where [Cohen] was supposed to be charmed by me, he would suddenly be threatening to kill me, or calling me a lesbian hobbit, or grabbing me on the back of my head. So it forced you to really stay on your toes, which is hard but also sort of an exciting challenge for an actor."
Faris's acting repertoire largely consists of playing a clueless bimbo or female terror, exemplified by her characters in The House Bunny and Just Friends, respectively. While the actress has done many bizarre things in the past, she says that her role in The Dictator had the strangest demand to date.
"For the movie I had to grow my armpit hair, which was a new experience for me," says Faris, laughing. "They asked me if I would do it, because they could glue some hair on me, and I was like 'No, no, no-- I'll totally do it.' "
While Faris admits growing the hair wasn't the most pleasant of requirements, she hesitates to have a refusal to adhere to societal conventions define her character.
"She's smart and she has got a big heart," she says of her heroine. "She's very idealistic too, I think to a fault. It's easy for people to take advantage of her."
While playing a politically conscious liberal in The Dictator is a step away from the typecasting the actress frequently undergoes, she still brings her trademark charm and naivete to the role.
"I tend to play a lot of [those roles]. I'm starting to think that I'm just really naive in real life," jokes Faris.
The actress says roles in comedies have helped her lighten up and "roll with the punches," like those she experienced on set.
"I think that it has made me able to laugh at myself. I used to take myself very seriously."
Faris hopes The Dictator will have audiences laughing with her when it is released in theatres. Despite the film's coarse content, she is confident in the movie's potential to be a hit this summer.
"I think we really take pushing the envelope to a new level," she says of the script and cast. "One of the things you can always count on Sacha [Baron Cohen] for is his fearlessness. I don't think there's going to be anything like this, or anything coming close to this this summer."
In the same vein as Cohen's previous pictures, The Dictator sets itself apart from other comedies by combining "raunchy teenage humor" with "critical political messages." Even with its crudeness and political agenda, however, Faris says that at its core the movie is pure popcorn.
"The main reason to make a movie like this is so people have a really good time. And as lofty as our goals are, I think the main goal is to just offend universally."