Maria Bakalova hadn’t seen “Borat” until after signing on to play alongside Sacha Baron Cohen as his daughter, Tutar Sagdiyev, in the sequel.
In the Variety Streaming Room, hosted by deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley, breakout star Bakalova discussed leaping into comedy and working with “mentor” Baron Cohen on “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Bakalova won a Critics’ Choice Award for best supporting actress for the film, and has been nominated for an Academy Award.
Speaking about the audition process for the Golden Globe-winning “Borat” sequel, Bakalova said that until she arrived in America, she didn’t even know what she was auditioning for.
“I was doing tests with real people, but still even Sacha was in a different costume in the first audition that I did,” Bakalova said. “I think we used a different title for most of the time. So it wasn’t actually out there that it was going to be ‘Borat.'”
While auditioning, Bakalova “freaked out” because she loved Baron Cohen, but she hadn’t actually seen the first “Borat” until after signing her contract to star in the second.
“Before I got to the personal audition, I’d already watched ‘Who Is America’ and ‘The Spy,'” she said. “But somehow I hadn’t seen the first one.”
Starring alongside a comedy titan like Baron Cohen was no easy task, not only because of the towering expectations surrounding “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” but also because Tutar was Bakalova’s first comedic role. While she was nervous to take on a leading role in one of comedy’s most beloved franchises, Bakalova said that director Jason Woliner, writers Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer and Dan Mazer and co-star Baron Cohen were all extremely supportive.
“Sacha is not only a great actor, not only one of the smartest people in the world, but also a huge supporter from the beginning, a mentor, a teacher and a really, really important figure in my life,” Bakalova said. “Somebody that has had unwavering support for me from day one up until today.”
Throughout filming, Baron Cohen helped Bakalova truly become Tutar by teaching her his process.
“Sacha told me to believe more in the character, that she is a real person, and to dig deep inside the reality of it and not get distracted,” Bakalova said. “You have to stay in character. You have only one shot, so you have to make it usable.”
Bakalova also opened up about her anxiety while on set, saying she had small panic attacks before each scene. The actor would often cry, causing the crew to retouch her makeup, but she found solace in Baron Cohen’s advice to “use her nerves.”
“If you’re nervous about something, that means you’re passionate,” Bakalova said.
While filming “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” Bakalova stepped out of her comfort zone by improvising and learning about American politics.
“I did learn a lot of things about Rudy Giuliani because I should have been his biggest fan,” Bakalova said, referencing the movie’s shocking scene with the former New York City mayor. “I had to be as convincing as I could.”
Watch the full conversation above.