Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has never been afraid to ruffle feathers – in fact, he delights in it – but he might be playing with fire this time around.
His new movie, The Brothers Grimsby, reportedly contains a scene in which “Donald Trump” contracts HIV. (Obviously, the front-running Republican presidential candidate did not agree to be in the film. Instead, it uses existing photos and footage and blends them into the story.)
A joke in poor taste? Of course. That is Cohen’s specialty. (Trump’s not the only celebrity ‘infected’ in the film – and the way the disease is spread is gruesome in and of itself.)
Because of Trump’s status in the Republican party (and Sony’s last year debacle with The Interview), though, some outlets have reported Sony Pictures, which is distributing the film, is in a mild panic, fearing potential political repercussions. Sony point-blank calls those reports hogwash.
“This is utter nonsense,” says Robert Lawson, executive vice president and chief communications officer for Sony Pictures Entertainment. “The studio has been fully supportive of the film and the filmmaker from the start and continues to be.”
(Fortune reached out to Trump for comment and will update if we get a response.)
Cohen, meanwhile, has made it exceedingly clear that he’s not fan of Trump. At the U.S. premiere of the film Thursday, he mocked the candidate, calling him “a demagogue”
The Brothers Grimsby, which will be released March 11, circles around a top spy (Mark Strong) who’s forced to team with his football hooligan brother (Cohen). Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher and Penélope Cruz also star in the film.
Regardless of the tastefulness of the joke, audiences in the U.K. are said to have loudly cheered during the film when it showed mock news reports that “Trump has AIDS”.
(Attendees at the U.S. premiere reportedly found it funny, too.)
Wherever the reports of Sony’s angst originated and regardless of their veracity, they’re well timed to take advantage of growing interest in an animosity towards Trump. Fellow Republicans have begun openly attacking him after his victories on Super Tuesday. And Wall Street may not be far behind.
The larger question is: Will leveraging that anger could boost ticket sales? Or will it backfire on the studio as it did with The Interview?