Sacha Baron Cohen Went All In For His Sweeney Todd Audition

Sacha Baron Cohen never gives a slapdash performance. When he commits to a role, whether by donning loads of makeup or crashing a far-right rally, he goes all the way. The same goes for his auditions, as when he tried out for Tim Burton's film adaption of the gruesome Stephen Sondheim musical, "Sweeney Todd."

Fresh off his success in the hit 2006 mockumentary, "Borat," Burton brought in Baron Cohen to try out for the role of Adolfo Pirelli, the unctuous, conman barber and brief rival of the eponymous Todd. The part was tailor-made for Baron Cohen, who was known as a comic chameleon who could shift personas with the change of an accent and an elaborate costume. There was no question the actor could bring the humor that the flamboyant Italian barber required, but he needed to prove he had the pipes as well. According to Burton, Baron Cohen came well-prepared (via Female):

"He came in to audition and he brought in the score of Fiddler on the Roof and basically did all of Fiddler on the Roof. He was great, I admired him because he could have gone off and done lots of different stuff, but he chose to do this and it was great that he did it...I wish we had a camera, because he literally went through the whole score of Fiddler on the Roof."

A musical tradition

You wouldn't know it from his performance in "Borat," but Baron Cohen is an unabashed musical lover. He even snuck songs into his British TV series, "Ali G Show."

"I love doing musicals," he told the New York Times. "Musicals are my embarrassing passion; they give me joy."

Performing "Fiddler" came second nature to Baron Cohen, who played the leading role of Tevye in a production at the University of Cambridge. In typical Baron Cohen fashion, he committed wholeheartedly to the part, growing his first beard to play the Jewish patriarch. In what would serve as the blueprint for his roles in future movie musicals, he also played the comic relief as Alfred Doolittle in a university production of "My Fair Lady."

That experience came in handy for his next audition for Tom Hooper's 2012 adaption of the musical, "Les Misérables." Baron Cohen had heard that Hooper expressed interest in him for the role of Monsieur Thénardier, the underhanded innkeeper who delivers the darkly funny ditty, "Master of the House," in an otherwise somber musical. Unlike his "Sweeney Todd" audition, Baron Cohen told Deadline he didn't have much time to prepare for Hooper, who arrived at his home and made him sing several songs from "Fiddler" in his own kitchen.

Master of the house

"Even though he actually kind of sprang the audition on me; he came to my house and there's a guy with him," Baron Cohen described. "I asked 'Who's this guy?' And he basically was a pianist and then the electric piano arrived and then Tom made me sing 'Master Of The House' for him which I thought terribly unfair because I hadn't prepared for it at all and hadn't really, you know, sung it since the age of 15 when I first saw it in the West End."

Although his performance for Hooper was a bit last minute, he succeeded in nabbing the role of Thénardier. It was a full-circle moment for Baron Cohen, who failed miserably when he auditioned in his 20s for the chorus in a West End production of "Les Mis" (via Today). He had no trouble singing, but couldn't learn the dance routine.

"There's like 200 people standing outside in the rain [at the audition], and then it came to the dancing bit...and you had to learn a routine and it was clear I had absolutely no idea how to do it...So when it came time for action...I decided to freestyle."

Baron Cohen's improvisations didn't earn him a spot on the West End, but he's made up for his past failures with memorable roles in Hollywood productions of musicals. Watching Baron Cohen stumble around with Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Madame Thénardier in "Les Mis," is one of the highlights of the film and his brief time onscreen leaves you wanting more. Though there's no record of either of his "Fiddler on the Roof" auditions, we can hope that one day a director will capture it on film.