• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2021: Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Maria Bakalova made her grand entrance into world cinema in the movie Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. The Bulgarian actress caught the eye of critics and Hollywood players alike for her faux innocent comic role and she was rewarded with a Best Actress in a Comedy nomination by the HFPA, by SAG and by the New York Film Critics Circle.
Playing Tutar, the feisty and naive daughter of Borat (Sasha Baron Cohen) Tutar, is brought to the U.S. as a human offering to Vice President Mike Pence and she conspires with her wacko father to unveil America’s wicked side and make fun of Trump and MAGA supporters. Bakalova showed herself to be a good sport and team player, catching whatever fast curveball was thrown at her.
Was it really overnight success? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Bakalova is a very well-known and successful actress in her native Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries. She might only be 24, but she has a considerable resume of work in film, theater and TV.
It all started when she was six years old with music. Maria wanted to be a singer and she enrolled at the National School for Music in Sophia. She then discovered acting and joined the National School for Performing Arts and started doing plays when she was about 12. “I remember when I was a little girl, I used to draw the Hollywood sign on my desk at school,” she says. “I took note of a quote by Marilyn Monroe, which went like: ‘I’m going to be a great movie star someday.’ But by the time I was 16, I was like “Jesus Christ, Maria, get real  and realize that these things are not going to happen.”
She concentrated on Bulgarian and Eastern European productions, thinking she would have more chances to make it as an actress. And she was right: she played roles on stage, TV and films, mainly as troubled teenagers, she says, “girls with disabilities, on the verge of suicide or with incestuous relations with her father and so on.” Her life would change when Borat’s casting director saw her in The Father, the Bulgarian film which was screened at the Karlovy Vary Festival in July 2019 and invited her to do an audition on a self-tape.
“I recorded it, probably at about 5 or 6 AM as I was about to travel on location for another movie that I was shooting in Bulgaria,” Maria recalls. “And I recorded as a joke, overexcited, but a few hours later they called, and my manager told me, “they want to see more of you, you have to record another one”. And I was like, “but I’m in the woods, and I have no service or anything”. Somehow I recorded it and then they flew me to England to meet Sasha.”
In the beginning, she was a little reticent. “The film’s plot sounded like an exploitation of human trafficking! Then I met Sasha [Baron Cohen] and I completely got its sarcastic, over-the-top humor. Sasha has been, since then, a teacher and a mentor to me as an actress. He taught me a lot about comedy. He so embodied Borat during the filming – even off the set – that sometimes I myself was relating to him as Borat, not as Sasha.”
The turn in Borat as a happy-go-lucky girl was for her a welcome change of pace. She explains that the project was very secretive at the beginning, and she was only allowed to read a few lines, with the direction that she was supposed to be a teenager from a different country than the US. “I had to sign a confidentiality agreement; it was so top secret that I couldn’t even tell my parents what I was about to do. They found out only when they saw me on the movie’s trailer!”
She swears that the “Giuliani scene” was not scripted, and she felt very nervous and uncomfortable to carry on such a prank. “I knew who Giuliani was, a lawyer to the President, a very powerful person, but I had Sasha in the next room, hidden there, very close to me, and he swore that if something happened to me, he would intervene, and I could make my exit at once.”
Maria now lives in Los Angeles, where she’s receiving many film offers. “I love it here, because of the sun, the openness of nature and people, the freedom you enjoy, the variety of food. I can’t wait for COVID to be over and start hugging people again.”