LANCASTER, Calif. (AP) — Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie isn’t in theaters yet, but it’s already producing the same sort of buzz and legal backlash that his last hit, “Borat,” created. Richelle Olson sued the 37-year-old actor and NBC Universal on May 22, claiming an incident at a charity bingo tournament that was filmed for the upcoming “Bruno” left her disabled.
Olson claims she was severely injured after struggling with Cohen and his film crew at the event, held in Palmdale, Calif., two years ago. The lawsuit states she now needs a wheelchair or cane to move around.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages of more than $25,000.
Phone and e-mail messages sent to publicists for Cohen and NBC Universal weren’t immediately returned Wednesday.
Cohen’s 2006 film, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” produced numerous lawsuits by people claiming they were duped and humiliated by his antics. A New York judge last year threw out claims by a driving instructor and two etiquette teachers after determining they signed agreements releasing filmmakers from liability.
It was unclear whether the incident involving Olson will appear in “Bruno.” The lawsuit mentions contracts that Olson apparently signed, but claim they were entered under “duress” and included several misrepresentations.
“Borat” was a surprise box-office hit, earning more than $125 million in the United States.
In “Bruno,” scheduled for release July 10, Cohen plays a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista. Much like in “Borat,” Cohen’s humor depends on cajoling people to let him into events and he then tapes their reactions to his outlandish behavior.
Olson’s lawsuit contends Cohen has 30 sham companies that help him pull off his ruses and that is how the comedian and his camera crew gained entry into the Desert Valley Charities’ bingo tournament in May 2007.
Cohen was invited to the event because his handlers identified him as a “celebrity” who was filming a documentary on bingo, the suit states. The event was to raise money for nursing students.
According to the lawsuit, Cohen – in character as Bruno – started using vulgarities while calling the second bingo game in front of a mostly elderly audience.
A struggle ensued after Olson tried to grab the microphone away from Cohen. She claims he then called his camera crew over, who attacked her for at least a minute, hoping to “create a dramatic emotional response.”
Olson’s suit states she ran from the stage and was found moments later by a co-worker, sobbing uncontrollably. She then fell to the floor, hitting her head on a concrete slab.
The suit states she suffered brain bleeding as a result.
The lawsuit, filed in Lancaster, which is about 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, was first reported by celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.