Since “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” landed on Amazon Prime on Oct. 23, it’s been the talk of the town. Also the subject of much discussion: Maria Bakalova, the Bulgarian actor who plays Tutar, the daughter of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat. The 24-year-old Bakalova proves to be as hilarious and adept at improvising as the seasoned Cohen, completely committed to her character. Her storyline also brings an unexpected sweetness to the tale, as audiences become invested in the father-daughter relationship and get to see a gentler side of Borat. She also emerges as one of the feminist icons of the year, going on a journey that takes her from living in a filthy barn and believing women are second-class citizens to being an equal partner of her father and a seasoned journalist. It’s a turn that has already earned Bakalova supporting actress Oscar buzz.
Bakalova was a guest on last week’s bonus edition of Variety’s Award Circuit podcast, which you can listen to here. Here’s seven fun facts you might not know about Bakalova landing the role and making the movie.
She had no idea what the initial audition was for, and her manager had to assure her she wouldn’t be kidnapped.
Due to the secrecy surrounding the project, when Bakalova first learned about the audition (as part of a targeted casting call by casting director Nancy Bishop), she was suspicious; nobody was giving her any names or information and she had to sign a huge NDA. “It [sounded] unbelievable. I mean, I’m from Bulgaria, nobody knows who I am,” she recalls. “I called my manager and he was like, ‘I promise you, they won’t kidnap you, they won’t sell your organs and they won’t kill you. So don’t worry.’”
She had never seen the original “Borat” — or “Bruno” — and knew Cohen best for his dramatic work.
After sending in a self-tape, Bakalova began to learn more about the project — but she wasn’t familiar with the character of Borat, having been too young when the first film came out. However, she had been watching the Netflix limited series “The Spy,” which starred Cohen in a rare dramatic role. “I couldn’t stop watching it, he’s doing something unbelievable there,” she notes. “He’s genius, he’s incredible.” Of course, she eventually caught up on all of Cohen’s work.
Told to show up “stinky” for one of her auditions, Bakalova concocted a horrific perfume.
For one of her callbacks, Bakalova was instructed to “try your best to be stinky, dirty and disgusting.” She was shooting another film at the time and “I couldn’t not shower or brush my teeth for 10 days” so instead, she created a secret weapon made from onions, vinegar and valerian pills, and put it on before her next audition. “I’ll never forget the smell,” she reveals. “I have PTSD.”
She calls Cohen her “other parent” and always felt safe and protected.
From the moment she met her co-star, Bakalova knew she was in good hands. On one of her early auditions, they were talking outside and, Bakalova recalls, “He said something, I don’t think it was the same word, but he was like, ‘You’re an idiot.’ And I was really touched.” Bakalova says she knew he meant it as the highest compliment, as being a clown meant she wasn’t self-conscious or wrapped up in vanity. “From the very beginning, I was like, ‘I’m happy that I know this person.’ Even if we’re not working on this project together, maybe someday.”
Her real parents didn’t even know what the movie was until a trailer premiered.
The film required such secrecy, Bakalova says she didn’t even tell her mom and dad what the movie was, “which wasn’t really nice of me.” Still, she jokes, “Challenge accepted. I know how to keep a secret.”
The dance scene that revealed her “moon blood” left a mess.
One of the most talked-about moments in the film is when she and Cohen perform a “fertility dance” at a debutante ball; and the audience can see Tutar is on her period. “I remember the whole floor was full of blood when we [left],” Bakalova reveals. And though the scene is played for big laughs, Bakalova also points out it’s helping to take the shame out of something natural. “It should not be a stigma,” she notes.
The only time she was scared was shooting the Rudy Giuliani scene, but not for the reason you might think.
Despite all the crazy pranks Bakalova takes part in, she says she was never worried about her safety. “Sacha and everybody involved assured me that everything is going to be fine,” she says. “Everything is legal, so you’re not breaking the rules. Don’t worry, you will be safe.” The one exception was the famous hotel room interview with Giuliani, but only because he called the police. Bakalova says she had a moment where she worried they might go to jail. The concern didn’t last long, she notes, because “at least if we were going [to jail], we would be together.”