Baron Cohen in £22m deal to make 'Bruno' film

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Sacha Baron Cohen's latest film deal may be about to do for Austria what the comic actor has already achieved for Kazakhstan and Staines.

Riding on the back of his newly released film starring the Kazakh reporter Borat, another of his comic alter egos is about to graduate to the big screen.

According to the industry bible Hollywood Reporter, Universal Studios has agreed a deal worth £22m for a film starring "Bruno", Baron Cohen's gay Austrian fashion reporter. In addition, the studio will foot the £13.1m bill for the production budget.

The success of the Borat film, Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, appears to have increased its creator's bankability. Universal is reported to have defeated strong competition for Baron Cohen's signature. Borat producer Jay Roach, who also worked on Meet the Parents, is thought to have agreed to work on the latest venture.

Universal made no comment yesterday but if it is confirmed it would complete a remarkable hat-trick for the British comedian, whose career took off after he appeared eight years ago on Channel 4's Eleven O'Clock Show. Before the Borat film, Baron Cohen made his cinema debut in 2002 with Ali G Indahouse.

Bruno, a parody of a flamboyant fashion reporter, made his debut on Da Ali G Show, where he earned a dubious reputation for duping guests into making fatuous remarks on everything from fashion, entertainment, celebrity and homosexuality. Frequently appearing in his trademark laced-up denim jerkin, Bruno reports for a station bearing a resemblance to the Austrian national broadcaster ORF.

His section on Da Ali G Show is called "Funkyzeit mit Bruno" (Funkytime with Bruno) and he affects a high-pitched voice using a mock Anglo-German language. He duped one fashion designer into condemning the unfashionable to concentration camps and led a casting director into saying that Osama bin Laden is "cool" and "fashionable". In a swipe at the frequent sham of celebrity reporting, he encourages his subjects to contradict themselves, and he once convinced a fashion boutique owner to wrongly claim Madonna was one of her clients after saying nobody could prove it either way.

Last week saw the premiere of the Borat film following a long debate in Kazakhstan over Baron Cohen's depiction of Borat as a bigoted, anti-Semitic, sexist homophobe. Over the past year, Baron Cohen's act has offended Kazakh government ministers and apparently drawn criticism from the country's President.

One of Borat's favourite habits is describing his homeland's "chain of importance" running down from "God, man, horse, dog, woman, then rat".

The foreign ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev hit back after the MTV appearance, describing Baron Cohen's act as "utterly unacceptable" and "completely incompatible with the ethics and civilised behaviour of Kazakhstan's people".

The government hired two public relations firms to counter bad publicity and ran a four-page advertisement in The New York Times after trying various methods of rebuttal. The country's Deputy Foreign Minister has invited Baron Cohen to see the country. Rakhat Aliyev, the son-in-law of the country's President, said: "He can discover a lot of things. Women drive cars, wine is made of grapes, and Jews are free to go to synagogue." Baron Cohen's publicist was unavailable for comment yesterday.