Sacha Baron Cohen got his breakout role in Borat (2006) and has starred in many comedies since. Among his comedic roles, he’s started taking on more serious projects, like Hugo and The Spy.
Sacha Baron Cohen is not related to Israeli spy, Eli Cohen. Baron Cohen plays the role of Eli in a 2019 Netflix series titled The Spy, but despite sharing similar looks and the same surname, they do not have any known relation.
Keep reading to discover more on the interesting story of Eli Cohen, and why many people wonder whether the two are related.
The main reason for the confusion between Sacha Baron and Eli’s relation lies in the 2019 Netflix series, The Spy.
Baron Cohen is no stranger to going undercover and acting like someone else. But in The Spy, the character he plays is like no other. The role is much more serious, as he plays bold Israeli undercover agent, Eli Cohen.
While they have the same last name, look eerily similar, and are both of Jewish descent, there is no evidence that they are related.
The Spy tells the story of Eli Cohen, who gave highly valuable intelligence information to the Israeli military, which assisted Israel to eventually succeed in the 1967 Six Day War.
Spoiler alert for the series if you haven’t watched it and don’t know about Eli’s life:
He ended up getting caught and executed in 1965.
Eli Cohen’s daughter, Sophie Ben-Dor, shared her thoughts on the series in September 2019. She wasn’t too happy with the historical aspects of the show but was impressed by Baron Cohen’s performance.
She was originally “more worried” than excited for Baron Cohen to play the role of her father, but revealed that he ended up reminding her of her father at times.
Watch Baron Cohen speak about the series in the interview below.
The Life of Eli Cohen
The famous agent was born to a Jewish family in 1924 in Egypt. While his family eventually moved away, he stayed to complete an electronics degree, until he was forced to move to Israel along with many other Jews.
In 1960, his life completely changed. He was hired for a special mission that involved faking his identity. He had to act as a Syrian businessman in order to gain information on Syrian politicians and other high-ranking officials.
Cohen wasn’t able to tell anyone in his life about what he needed to do for his job, even telling his wife that he had to work abroad.
His new name was Kamel Amin Thaabet, he learned a new language and accent and lived in Argentina first to make a name for himself in the Syrian ex-pat community.
Cohen successfully infiltrated the top rankings of Syrian society. One of his methods was through throwing lavish parties, where intoxicated guests would chatter about their work – Cohen, on the other hand, would remain sober and act drunk.
A concealed radio transmitter was used by the secret agent to send the information back to Israel. However, he was eventually foiled because the Syrians had discovered a way to trace the transmissions.
Without any defense, Cohen was given the death penalty and killed in a public hanging.
As we mentioned, it’s believed that Cohen’s work led to Israel’s ultimate victory of the Six Day War in 1967.
One example of this is when Cohen recommended that trees should be planted to give shade for some Syrian army troops. It was found that those trees later assisted Israel with locating the Syrian troops.
Taking on the Role
When it was revealed that Baron Cohen would play the role of Eli, it wasn’t just Eli’s daughter that was skeptical.
Speaking to Vanity Fair on his decision to take on the role and what drew him to it, Baron Cohen replied:
“ It was kind of a superhero story—a deputy accountant in a supermarket who ends up becoming the most successful spy in the 20th century. This is somebody that I could relate to: He has genuine emotions, and loves his wife, and misses his children, and is living this dual life.”
He continued, “And I related to him in my own way, in that when I go undercover on my shows, I have to convince people that I’m the real person, and I have this dual life. Obviously the stakes are nowhere near what Eli Cohen had to go through.”