Is There a 'Real' Brüno?

07/06/2009 at 08:45 AM EDT

Is There a 'Real' Brüno?
Alfons Haider (left) and Sacha Baron Cohen as Bruno
Retna; PictureGroup
It looks like Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen's over-the-top gay character, isn't as outrageous a fabrication as you may think. There's a debate raging in Austria right now over who the "real Brüno" could be, and there is not one but two contenders.

Alfons Haider is the front runner. A deliciously theatrical 51-year-old entertainer – actor, cabaret star, reality show host, singer – thinks the discussion is a hoot. "Aren't we a funny country? It's like there's no recession or other problems in the world. Here the press is worried about who the real Brüno is."

In between rehearsals for the premiere of La Cage aux Folles at the Stockerau Theater Festival (he plays Zaza and the costume is to die for!) and preparing to host Starnacht, (Night of the Stars) an annual musical variety extravaganza, the performer laments he doesn't even have time to see Brüno.

As for the resemblance, he tells PEOPLE, "I only have four things in common with Brüno: I'm a man, an Austrian, I'm on television, and I'm gay – that's it. But if the world wants me to be the inspiration for Brüno, well then, I'll be Brüno. It's all pretty funny." He also has a theory about being Brüno's inspiration, adding, "Nine years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen studied in Austria for a year. Since I've done over 800 television shows in the past 15 years, I can't rule out the possibility that he may have seen one of my shows."

The only problem with Haider: he's not into fashion. Enter "Brüno" number two. Adi Weiss, a 33-year-old Vienna-based fashion journalist who, although still new to television, fits the rest of the bill. Weiss is hardly as flamboyant as Brüno – he told PEOPLE that he is "the most down-to-earth fashion journalist you'll ever meet" – but he is having fun with his new notoriety, too.

After being "outed" on an Austrian entertainment broadcast as Brüno's inspiration, Adi dashed off a column proclaiming how pleased he was the the truth was now out, adding that he needed "PR for my [drag] show, Miss Fluffy." The joke about a parody lingerie line, he admits, has gotten out of control. "It snowballed and I've been asked about 'Miss Fluffy' so often that I may have to put on a show after all," he tells PEOPLE.

As far as Weiss is concerned, though, Brüno is utterly a figment of his creator's imagination. "I think he is obsessed with maps and was probably wondering one day what the most unlikely country for a hip fashion scene would be. He could just as easily have picked Liechtenstein," said Weiss. Then again, Liechtenstein isn't known for Lederhosen, one of Brüno's key fashion statements.

Which begs the question: What does the style guy Weiss think of Brüno's looks? "I think the way he stages every appearance with splashy outfits is just sensational." Even the Lederhosen? "Oh yes," says Weiss, laughing. "They're hot right now. For a few years, Austrian men tried to get away from the image of wearing Lederhosen and yodeling on their merry way. But that has changed – the shriller the better."


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