Writer-director Larry Charles put his satiric stamp on TV’s Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Entourage. But after helming 2006’s $128.5 million-grossing Borat, the Brooklyn-born Charles, 52, eschewed offers for big-budget comedies. Instead, in his new comic nonfiction film Religulous, he teams with another caustic social satirist, Bill Maher of HBO’s Real Time. Can their $2.5 million attack on piety appeal to even a fraction of the Borat brigade? That’s what Charles is, uh, praying for.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Borat and Religulous delight in exposing what you see as hypocrisy. Are they in some ways the same movie?
LARRY CHARLES: They use a similar process. Very stripped-down crew. Generally, it’s two camera guys, a sound guy, and me. We shoot before anyone realizes it. We’re able to move stealthily.
Even so, didn’t you get thrown out of quite a few places considered sacred?
Let’s see. The Vatican, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mormon Temple, the Jefferson Memorial. Sometimes we got thrown out of places where we just tried to have lunch.
Critics of Religulous say it shoots fish in a barrel, lining up low-level, inarticulate people only to mock them.
Woodward and Bernstein never interviewed Richard Nixon, and yet they managed to bring down his administration. You don’t have to interview the person on top to show the corruption of these institutions. Believe me, we tried to get an audience with the Pope. We tried to get the head of the Church of Scientology. There are so many layers of bureaucracy, you can’t get to them. So you move down the line until you find somebody willing to talk.
Will anyone see Religulous other than confirmed atheists and agnostics?
My goal is not to talk to the people that agree with me. I’m interested in reaching the people that would never dream of seeing a movie that questions their religion. I want Passion of the Christ fans to come see the passion of the Antichrist.
Which denomination might be most offended by Religulous?
To me, the movie’s an equal-opportunity offender. You can’t call it an anti-Christian movie or an anti-Muslim movie. You can say it’s an anti-organized-religion movie.
Are you concerned you could become the target of angry zealots?
I wanted to tell a story about ancient beliefs, and how they’ve slowly taken more and more hold in modern society. I wanted to show how they came to be, and how absurd the foundations are…. If Bill and I are threatened the way Salman Rushdie or [slain Dutch filmmaker] Theo van Gogh were, it unfortunately only underscores our point. I’m not that concerned. If we get murdered, it’ll make a great DVD extra.
More on Religulous and Larry Charles
Religulous: Owen and Lisa’s take from Toronto