Sacha Baron Cohen in The Spy

Sacha Baron Cohen (second from the right) as Eli Cohen in Netflix’s The Spy. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

There has been chatter for a couple of years now that Sacha Baron Cohen was producing a series with Netflix on super-spy Eli Cohen called The Spy. On August  28, we finally got our first trailer for it, and the announcement that it would be dropping in only a little over a week on September 6. Baron Cohen is known for his comedic turns in movies and shows like Borat, The Dictator, Les Miserables, Da Ali G Show, and Who is America?, but this is an unusually serious role for the actor. My suspicion is that the shift is due to the fact that this is a topic that is near and dear to the actor’s heart.

For some context, Eli Cohen was an Israeli Mossad agent who went undercover in Syria from 1961-1965 to get close to top government and military officials and gather information on the country’s biggest anti-Israel initiatives. He was caught and executed in 1965, but before that he was very successful at passing key information to Israel, and is said to have been an important factor in Israel’s victory in The Six Day War. Baron Cohen is also Jewish, and his mother is Israeli. He’s also descended from a Holocaust survivor, and is known to be a zionist. Syria was a very oppressive place to live for Jews in the years following the creation of Israel, making Eli Cohen’s work vital. As a Syrian Jew myself, I’m particularly invested in this series.

Our story and trailer starts when Eli, working as a filing clerk, is invited to join the Mossad for the specific purpose of this undercover mission. He has to leave his wife Nadia (Hadar Ratzon Rotem) to raise their children on her own, and who becomes suspicious of her husband’s mysterious government job. Noah Emmerich (The Americans) plays Eli’s handler, Dan Peleg, who is weighed down by guilt over the sacrifices Eli makes. Waleed Zuaitar plays Amin Al-Hafz, a military officer who gets close to the undercover Eli. Something that’s special about this cast is that all of the Jewish characters are actually played by Jews. You would think this would be obvious, but in fact most Hollywood projects with Jewish characters are played by mostly non-Jews a la The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Disobedience.

The trailer shows how Eli gets close to top officials in Syria, but increasingly struggles with leaving the persona of his cover behind, and remembering who he is. “Taking off the clothes doesn’t work anymore. I can’t put him away,” says Eli. When he is home, his wife notices the nightmares he’s having, the things he mutters in his sleep. Keeping in mind that in real life, Eli only traveled back to Israel three times during the years he was undercover, one can see how his double life in Syria could easily swallow him whole.

The tone of the trailer is chilling, as it successfully builds tension and sets high stakes. It does a good job of getting into Eli’s head, and showing the stress the job puts on him and his marriage. The series is written and directed by Emmy-winner Gideon Raff (Prisoners of War, Homeland), and is produced by Alain Goldman (La Vie en Rose).

To watch the trailer, click here.