“It was just the most bizarre day of my life.” That’s how Corinne Olympios describes her photo shoot and interview with a wildly eccentric Italian photographer — a man who turned out to be comedian and serial prankster Sacha Baron Cohen. The Bachelor contestant thought she was being given an award for “Reality Star of the Year,” but as viewers will see Sunday in episode 2 of Cohen’s Showtime series Who Is America?, the whole thing was all a setup — one that had Olympios posing sexily in a Hazmat suit and declaring on camera that she helped cure Ebola in Africa. (She did not.) EW spoke to Olympios about how Cohen lured her into his insane orbit, and why she now thinks the “scary” experience was, in fact, an honor.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How were you initially pitched on the shoot?
CORINNE OLYMPIOS: I was told that I was going to be getting an award from this TV company in the U.K. that does an awards show called Hot 100, and one of the categories was Reality Star of the Year and I was going to get the award. They were going to come to LA to film people that couldn’t go to the U.K., and I was like, “Great, cool.” I think it was around October [of last year].
So another week went by, and then I went in to film in a warehouse somewhere in LA. I brought my manager Mark with me, and while I’m doing hair and makeup he’s signing all my papers for me…
He was signing releases and things like that?
I don’t know what it was. I still don’t know what it was. But whatever, he’s signing papers. Then I went into wardrobe and they’re looking through the clothes, telling me what to wear. Then all of a sudden, like 20 people come into the room. They took my phone, they sent my manager somewhere else — and I was not even thinking anything of it. They took me next door and I walk into this big warehouse and there’s a bunch of cameras.
I see this really big, giant tall guy with blonde hair and covered with tattoos. He’s, like, screaming in a really tacky Italian accent. You know that guy from Cupcake Wars who really overdoes his French accent? I thought he was one of those kind of guys. I was like, Damn, he needs to chill with that. He kept screaming “Bella! Bella!” a million times, like I think that’s the only word he knows, but whatever.
I was so freaked out, but I’m used to dealing with bizarre people. So I was just like, “This is a little weirder than normal, whatever.”
What happened next?
He’s like, “We’re going to take pictures for the cover of my magazine for Italy.” He starts taking photos of me, and they’re filming everything, and he’s telling me one million times that I’m so sexy and I should lower my top and all this stuff. I was like, “No, I’m comfortable, thank you.”
Then he’s like, “We now sit down on the green screen and we do interview, and I give you award.” So he asks me all the questions I [was asked in] my pre-interview, and it’s fine. He gives me my award, which was like a glass, taped-together piece of s—. Then he randomly does a 180 and he’s like, “What do I do about the ugly, fat Italian women in Italy?” That’s when I was like, Woah. I was like, “You know, everyone needs a good diet and exercise plan.” I didn’t know what to say! All the cameras were on.
Then he said, “Okay, you need to tell everybody that you lived in Africa for three months and you cured Ebola.” And I was like, “What? What do you mean? Everyone on this earth knows I would never live in Africa for even a week.” I was like, “I can’t say that.”
He said, “No! You have to do this for me! I paid a lot of money for your [shoot]! You don’t have friends in Italy, who cares?” So I’m like, “Okay, okay.” Then I asked one of the producers — who, by the way, none of them spoke English, or pretended not to speak English — “Can you get my manager? Can I have my phone? Was this planned? I’m not understanding.” They’re like, “Okay, okay.”
So I go back to my interview and I’m like, “Yeah I lived in Africa and I helped cure Ebola and I saved this village…”
Wait — just to clarify: At this point, you believe they’re going to bring your manager in, so you’re just going along with the interview until he arrives?
Yeah… I was really pissed. A few minutes go by and I realize that they’re not bringing my cell phone or my manager. So I ask them again, and they kept saying, “Oh, Mark’s on the phone,” this and that. “We need to keep going [with the interview].” I just kept going with it, waiting for my manager to come or to get my phone, you know?
Finally, I flipped out. I’m like, “What the f*** is wrong with you people? Where the f— is my manager?” I freaked out and I start to walk outside. And they’re all like, “No, Corrine, you cannot go outside right now, you must stay inside the building.” I was like, “What the f— is going on?” I started grabbing cameramen, like, “Am I okay? Am I going to die? What’s happening?” I was looking for the nearest exit. I started having a panic attack.
Then I went into wardrobe and I start bitching at the wardrobe lady. I’m like, “This is f—ing bulls—! What the f—?” I’m not paying attention [to what I’m changing into], and I wound up going back into my interview chair in this see-through sweater and underwear.
So you tried to leave, you end up in the wardrobe room, they changed your clothing, and then you went back out to continue the interview?
So all this time you’re still going along with it, even though you’re freaking out?
Yeah, I’m weirded out, but at this point I don’t know what to do. I don’t have a phone, I don’t have my manager, and I can’t go outside.
Were they physically blocking you from leaving the building?
Um, basically yeah. They basically were. I was like, “You guys know this is kidnapping. You’re holding me against my will here.”
So [I said] I saved the village from like a warlord or something. He was going to kill a village of 3,000 people, but he came down off the mountain and saw me and saved the village, because he was a fan of mine.
Cohen told you to say that?
Yeah, yeah, he told me to say that… I heard from [people who have seen the episode] that they show me saying, like, “I can’t say that.” So you can see that I’m uncomfortable with the whole situation.
Oh, and then I wound up in a Hazmat suit somehow. They put me on a green screen in a Hazmat suit with a Chanel bag and Fendi sunglasses, modeling. I don’t know why or how that happened, but it happened.
What was interesting was the only person who spoke English was a producer, a former producer from The Bachelor that I know. So I feel like they might have [had him there] on purpose… He kept coming over, being like, “Corinne you’re doing great.” And I’m like, “Jordan, I know I’m doing great! I’m great! You guys are the problem here! What the actual f—?” He kept disappearing so I couldn’t keep talking to him.
How did you finally get out of there?
Long story short I do the last segment off a teleprompter. I don’t even know what I’m reading, I’m so pissed off. It was about children and guns. I was really upset when I was reading it. Then [Cohen] started randomly rambling on about how I should come to his castle in Italy. I was like, “I’m not coming to your castle in Italy. Let me out.”
They see that I’m really upset, so they’re like, “We’re going to let you go. Your car’s outside and Mark’s in the car.” I get in the car and there’s no Mark. I call him, and I’m like, “Mark, what the f—?” He said, “Oh my God. They told me you wanted me to leave.” They sent him away right when I went into the warehouse! I was like, “You have no idea what I just went through.” Meanwhile he’s cracking up. I’m like, “This is not f—ing funny! I’m ready to f—ing fire you! I could have been kidnapped and killed.”
When you told your manager what happened, what did he say?
He’s like, “This sounds like a prank, Corinne.” I started crying. I was like, “No this is real!” I was crying, like, “This is going to ruin me!” We tried calling back, we tried emailing – everything was blocked. The phone numbers, the emails [they gave us] — zero, kaput, done. And when I got home, my award fell apart. I’m like, “What the f—? Now I don’t even have my award!”
How did you find out you had been pranked by Sacha Baron Cohen?
When we found out [his] show was coming out, we were like, “S—, that’s got to be it.” We didn’t know for sure until we saw that this show was coming out.
At the time of the shoot, were you familiar with Cohen or his work?
No, I had no idea about any of that.
Have you watched any of his stuff since?
Yes, I love Ali G — he is so funny. Honestly, I was kind of honored that he chose me… I didn’t take it as a practical, comical prank in the beginning. But as time went on, I was like, “Damn, that is really kind of funny. I wonder where it’s going to go.” Then when I heard about [Cohen’s] show coming out I was like, “That for sure is going to be me” — but then I heard it was going to be all politicians. My Dad was making fun of me, like, “It’s all politicians — and Corinne.”
Maybe Sacha Baron Cohen is a fan of The Bachelor?
I was reading up on him to try to find out [about the show], and apparently his wife [Isla Fisher] is a huge fan [of The Bachelor]. They loved that I was like this funny Jewish girl from reality TV.
It sounds like you’re okay with the whole thing now, even though it was scary at the time.
It was a little scary, I’m not going to lie… This is what he does, everyone knows he’s a jokester, he’s a political jokester. He’s funny, he’s a very well known name, and you’ve just gotta ride with it. Yolo!
Well I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about it. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
I’d love to tell you something. I just launched my Platinum Beauty Shop… It’s awesome timing, actually, and I didn’t even plan it. We have a vegan, cruelty-free, and kosher makeup line coming out.
Oh, last question: How do you think your experience on The Bachelor helped you deal with being ambushed by this show?
I had very, very bad anxiety issues before going on [The Bachelor]. Going on The Bachelor really made me come out of my shell… I got used to being in front of the cameras, all eyes on me… So it definitely helped me remain calm [during the Cohen shoot] — until I didn’t. We all know Corinne: Once her switch flips, she flips.
Who is America? airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on Showtime.