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Maria Bakalova on her ‘completely crazy’ journey from Bulgaria to ‘Borat’

A version of this story about Maria Bakalova first appeared in the Actors / Directors / Writers issue of TheWrap’s Awards magazine. When she was 11 or 12 years old, Maria Bakalova used to draw pictures of the Hollywood sign on her desk at school. She had been involved in the arts since the age of 6, when she started taking piano and flute lessons and, she says, “all kinds of music lessons.” But during her pre-teens her ambitions started to change and she focused on the movies. “I felt like this was not enough,” she said. “I want to do something more. I want to dig deep into myself. And I started to dream of being a great Hollywood actress. Notice she wasn’t doing this at a school that used to send its graduates to Tinseltown – she did and dreamed of becoming a glamor star, in her home country of Bulgaria. But as she grew up, reality set in. “When I grew up a little bit, I thought, ‘This will never happen,’” she said. “No one is going to give a platform to an Eastern European person with an accent. Forget it, it’s just a dream. And I focused more on Danish cinema, Russian cinema, Italian cinema – the cinema around me. She laughed as she told this story, and for good reason. Bakalova was talking about a house near Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, where she had spent most of the pandemic – because somewhere on her path to a more sane, less starry future, this little girl with a taste for Russian literature and a celebrity dream has actually grown into a great Hollywood actress, with Golden Globe, SAG and Critics Choice Awards nominations. Also Read: Maria Bakalova Faded From Excitement Of Being Bulgaria’s First Golden Globe Contestant She Did It With The Kind Of Break They Would Not Talk About At Any Drama School, When Sacha Baron Cohen Took Note Of his improvisation skills and his comedic timing. her as her daughter Tutar in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and put her in the hotel room where Rudy Giuliani made the shirt-tuck seen around the world. This helped make her a Golden Globe and SAG Award nominee, as well as a follower of not giving up those childhood dreams so easily. Not that Bakalova was really prepared for Sacha Baron Cohen’s style of cinema, where he creates characters – a Kazakh journalist by the name of Borat Sagdiyev; the girl he keeps in a cage and plans to donate to a prominent American politician to curry favor – and puts them in situations with unsuspecting people to make often unsettling remarks about American society and culture. But since the age of 12, she had studied and performed in the theater, where, she says, “if you make a mistake you have to escape and keep going, because you don’t get a second take.” Her manager told her that a top secret project was looking for an eastern European actress who could be funny and who was over 18 but could pass for 15 or 16. “We heard that they were looking for a lead actress in a Hollywood movie, and I was like, ‘This is completely crazy, this is not possible,’” she said. But on a whim during a two hour break before having to show up to work on a Bulgarian film, she made a tape and sent it; within hours, the casting director came back to her and asked for a Skype call. Also Read: ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ Review: Sacha Baron Cohen Valiantly Fails To Resurrect Satire Corpse “I had no duty because we were shooting in the woods, so I asked the producers to lead me in the nearest town with WiFi, ”she said. “I jumped on a call with them, and they explained it was a great project, but they can’t tell me because it’s a secret. And then a few weeks later, I traveled to England and met Sacha, and that’s how all this magic started. This magic began with an audition in front of an elderly couple who had no idea that the Kazakh gentleman and his daughter were improvising actors. “They were the nicest couple,” she says. “And they were super empathetic towards Tutar, who I think didn’t even have a name yet. Sacha was awesome, as usual, and I tried to do everything – wash my face with water in the toilet, wonder what the air conditioner was, see the microwave and think it was a television and try to eat the fish from the aquarium. “And I felt comfortable. I was scared, of course, because you don’t know how people are going to react, but it’s extremely addicting. And when you have a partner like Sacha, it’s the best thing ever. She knew who Baron Cohen was from the Showtime series “Who Is America?” and the movie “The Spy,” but chose not to delve into much of his past work before filming. “I was probably right not to do that, because if I had seen the first ‘Borat’ I would have been much more afraid to improvise with him because he’s a genius,” she says. “I should prove to myself that I am not going to ruin his film.” Also Read: ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ Star Maria Bakalova, OscarWrap Portraits (Exclusive Photos) While filming ‘Borat’ she said she was scared but also surprisingly comfortable with the process. “You’re nervous because it’s so unpredictable, but it’s also extremely addicting,” she says. “And when you have a partner like Sacha, it’s the best thing ever.” She sometimes felt bad for the real people she and Baron Cohen were cheating on, especially Jeanise Jones, a woman hired to guard Tutar – and she was concerned before the scene with Giuliani that she had to persuade him that she was a real reporter interviewing him. “I was afraid of being denounced as an actress, because he’s a lawyer, and he’s the president’s lawyer,” she said. “So I have to be the most convincing.” And now that “Borat” has brought her to Hollywood, she enjoys the inside view of her childhood dream. “I love LA,” she says. “I love the weather. It was my first Christmas surrounded by palm trees. I’ve always watched it in the movies and I’m like, “Are these people on a set or is it possible?” Now my dreams are happening and it tells me that things are possible. Find out more about the Actors / Directors / Screenwriters issue here. Read the original story Maria Bakalova on her ‘completely crazy’ journey from Bulgaria to ‘Borat’ at TheWrap



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