Nov. 12, 2006 — -- Some unwitting stars of the hit comedy "Borat" don't get the joke.
In the fall of 2005, Michael Psenicska, owner of the Perry Hall Driving School in Baltimore County, Md., got a call from a production company making a foreign documentary film. Their star needed driving lessons.
Psenicska was not surprised: His school offers a class specifically for immigrant drivers. But when the student arrived, Psenicska had no idea that the supposed Kazakh journalist, Borat, was really British comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen. Little did he know that 18 months later, the "foreign documentary" he agreed to appear in would be the number one movie at the American box office.
Psenicska and several others approached by the film's producers are the inadvertent stars of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." The feature film grossed over $26.4 million when it opened last weekend in limited release. With the number of theaters tripling to over 2,500 this weekend, it held the top spot, earning an estimated $29 million more.
But the films "stars" aren't celebrating the chart-topping debut.
For more on the film and the objections of some of its "stars," watch "World News" this evening.
Most recently, Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reported that villagers in the Kazakh town of Glod, where Baron Cohen filmed scenes, feel that they were tricked and ripped off by the actor and his producers.
Psenicska and several others said they were duped into participating in the film. At least three people who appeared in the film claim a producer handed them cash to distract them from the release form that followed.
"I saw $500 and signed it," Psenicska said. "I thought nothing about it because I would release them to do a documentary."
Car salesman Jim Sell said he also was deceived by the lure of cold-hard cash when the producers of Borat approached him to participate at the Criswell Chevrolet car dealership in Gaithersburg, Md.
"They put [the release] in front of me right when they were giving me the $150," Sell said.
He didn't read through the release because the crew had already started filming. Sell also worries that his reputation as a dealer of fine vehicles will be tarnished by the implication that he sold Borat an ice-cream truck. (For the record, he did not.)
Joe Behar said he was duped into participating in the movie when members of the production team arrived at the Four Seasons Kosher Bed & Breakfast, which he owns with his wife Miriam in Newton, Mass.
He said he was told the documentary was commissioned by the Kazakhstan Department of Tourism. Even then, Behar and his wife were hesitant to participate.
"I told him that I didn't want our pictures to be presented in the promotion of the movie," Behar said.
The producers kept to their word on that front. The Behars don't appear in any of the previews or advertisements for the film, but the couple believes that's hardly a consolation.
In a scene from the movie, Borat and his producer, Azamat, believe two cockroaches in their hotel room to be the Behars. The joke is that as Jews, the Behars have transformed into vermin to spy on the Kazakh guests.
The Behars said the cockroaches were superimposed by the studio in their house and "hurt us personally."
"This is very insulting to us," Joe Behar said. "They never told us they were going to do this, so this is really terrible to us -- because every friend is talking to us, thinks we have cockroaches."
The Behars worry that word of the cockroaches will fuel the town rumor mill, and others fear appearing in the movie will have implications on their futures as well.
Car salesman Sell said he doesn't think he got his fair share of the pie.
"One hundred-fifty dollars, and the movie grossed $26 million in three days," he said. "Everybody there's all smiling at our expense."
Sell isn't the only one questioning the film's payout. Two South Carolina college students who appear in the film are now suing 20th Century Fox for distributing their likenesses under false pretenses. The unnamed plaintiffs said film producers told them they were participating in a documentary to be shown outside of the United States.
Olivier Taillieu, the attorney representing the students, told ABC News, "Our contention is that they were set up, [that] they were set up in a way that made them say certain things that they do not believe to be true."
Driving instructor Psenicska said he also has hired an attorney, but hopes to settle before taking it to court. He claimed he risked his life by getting into the car with Borat, who drives on the wrong side of the road in one scene.
Psenicska is hoping to have the last laugh.
"I don't care what I signed; I know what they did to me and it's just not fair," he said. "Borat has not totally heard the end of me."
Some say Baron Cohen may be the ultimate prankster. Though he may have duped people like Psenicska, Sell and Behar into humiliating themselves for a couple bucks, in some ways he has earned respect.
When asked what he would like to say to Cohen, Behar replied, "He made an extremely good movie. He's very polite. He's very nice. He's a genius."
Despite portraying a character who is wildly anti-Semitic, Baron Cohen himself is Jewish, a fact that was not lost on Behar.
"He doesn't know exactly what he's produced, and I don't think the company knows what they've produced," Behar said, "because what they've produced is a comedy that makes fun of Islam … and he's Jewish, you know."
Psenicska and Behar have different theories on how participating in "Borat" might impact their futures.
Psenicska said his involvement may make him the "cool, old relative" several years down the road.
"My great grandchildren will be saying … 'Back in '06 grandpa was in an R-rated flick,'" he said.
Behar, on the other hand, learned something from his experience. He will forever be skeptical of inquisitive journalists, even the one who wrote this article.
"Just make sure that you don't put anything in that's out of the ordinary," he said.