Two years before Step Brothers there was Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), the film that first introduced the shaking-and-baking comedic pairing of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Ferrell was the eponymous NASCAR superstar, Reilly his best friend and teammate, Cal Naughton Jr.
But in their midst was another budding comedy superstar, Sacha Baron Cohen, who played Jean Girard, the gay French disruptor who becomes Ricky Bobby’s archrival on the track.
At the time of release – 15 years ago today – the British actor-comedian was only known to niche stateside audiences from HBO’s cult hit Da Ali G Show, which ran from 2000-2004. It wasn’t until Nov. 2006, three months after the release of Talladega Nights, that Borat dropped on unsuspecting Americans to the tune of $262 million at the box office, making Baron Cohen an instant star.
Reilly, however, says he got a preview of Baron Cohen’s rabble-rousing ways while they were out in public together in North Carolina, where they filmed Talladega.
“I remember going to a restaurant with Sacha Baron Cohen in this very conservative part of Charlotte, North Carolina,” Reilly told us during a 2016 Role Recall interview (watch in full above, with Talladega Nights starting at 3:17).
“We sat down and the waiter said, ‘Oh, we have this meat special tonight,’ whatever, and Sacha said, ‘I don’t eat meat. Do you have any fish? I’m a Jew, you see.’ And the waiter [didn’t know how to respond]. He was like, ‘Do you have many Jews here?’”
The Borat-esque tactics made a clear impression on Reilly, who laughs through the story.
“That’s when I really started to fall in love with Sacha,” he said. “He’s just such an amazing provocateur.”
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