The kisses might have been a clue

November 04, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

Mike Psenicska can take a joke.

The Perry Hall driving instructor thought the kisses he received on each cheek from his male student were an unusual way to say hello. He told the student that American women don't appreciate being stalked as they drive.

When the guy, still behind the wheel, pulled out a pint of booze, Psenicska began to suspect that the cameras weren't really rolling for a documentary. And by the time the lesson was over, the 62-year-old Baltimore County man knew he'd been had.

He is, it turns out, one of the comedic foils in the new movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

A former Loch Raven High School math teacher who has spent decades teaching teenagers the rules of the road, Psenicska is an unwitting co-star in the film, where he is suitably taken aback by comic Sacha Baron Cohen's clueless-foreigner-in-America shtick.

The movie, spun from Cohen's HBO series, Da Ali G Show, is based on a simple premise: A television reporter from a backwater village in a Eurasian republic is sent across the sea to the "U. S. and A" in search of insights.

Cultures clash.

Hilarity ensues.

Oh, and it's done more or less off the cuff, with no warnings or explanations given, in hopes of milking genuinely astonished - or disgusted - reactions.

For Psenicska, the gag began in May 2005, when he was called by someone claiming to be producing a documentary on foreigners learning to drive.

"How they picked me I'll never know," he says.

As owner of the Perry Hall Driving School, Psenicska was very interested in the venture. "I have a lot of students who are immigrants," says Psenicska. "I was kind of excited."

He agreed to meet the documentary film crew on a Monday in Columbia because the crew was coming from Washington.

He signed a release. Pointing out that he has master's degree in mathematics and was a high school teacher for 29 years, Psenicska admits he didn't really read it.

"I should've," he says now.

The antics began immediately.

Psenicska welcomes his student to "our country," and when the handshake comes with a kiss, says, "Well, I'm not used to that, but that's fine."

The student seems to not know how to use a seat belt.

"I thought maybe they didn't have seat belts in his country," Psenicska recalled yesterday. "He had it around his neck, between his knees."

When the student uncaps a bottle of what looks to be vodka and offers Psenicska a swig, the teacher grabs the wheel and says, "You can't drink that while you're driving. It's against the law."

When Borat asks whether he can follow a woman in a car "and maybe make a sexy time with her," Psenicska explains the concept of "consent."

"That's good, huh?" Psenicska says.

"Is not good for me," Borat replies.

Through it all, Psenicska keeps his dignity on-screen, and he doesn't rise to Borat's bait to bash his fellow Americans.

"I'm not the kind to insult anyone," he says.

Initially, Psenicska says, he wasn't interested in being paid for his role: "I was doing it because I thought it was going to help people."

But by the time the session was over, Psenicska says he jumped from the car when the producer waved $500 cash in front of him.

When he got home that night, Psenicska described the day to his wife. "She said, `It sounds like an old Jerry Lewis movie.'"

To his son-in-law, though, it sounded more like Da Ali G Show. When Psenicska checked out the HBO series, he says, he instantly recognized the British comedian as his driving student.

More recently, one of his sons informed him that he was in a trailer to the Borat movie, which opened yesterday.

Others featured in the film, including a Gaithersburg car salesman, found out about their roles in similar ways.

At Criswell Automotive, a Chevrolet dealership in Montgomery County, salesman Jim Sell has been interviewed by several national entertainment reporters, operations manager Tony Bartolomeo said yesterday.

Sell wasn't working yesterday, but Bartolomeo said that Sell "is just not sure what he said" in the film. So, Bartolomeo said, his colleagues planned to see the movie last night.

Psenicska's family saw the movie during a recent press screening.

"It was hilarious," says Angela Psenicska, one of his daughters-in-law. "He's been a good sport about it."

But, with some of the material better suited for adults, Psenicska says he's disappointed that his 14 grandchildren won't be able to see his movie debut.

Having been a driving instructor for 32 years, he also couldn't help but voice his concern that the comedian, with his antics, put the safety of other drivers and passengers at risk. "I'm not happy about that to this day," he says.

In the end, however, he declares the film "very funny," adding: "Laughter is good for the world."

To see a clip of the driving instructor scene, go to http:--boratmovie.com/clips.html.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Sun movie critic Michael Sragow contributed to this article.

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