Bulgarian actor Maria Bakalova went through last year while Sacha Baron Cohenis co-star in Next movie Borat. She has won over 20 awards for performance, including Best Supporting Actress at Critics’ Choice Awards last month, and was nominated for a Golden Globe, a Bafta And one Academy Award.
This year, we’ve all put more effort into dressing waist-to-waist in favor of a Zoom work call. Actor Maria Bakalova did the same, but in her case, she dressed fully and made up for the red carpet events, while also wearing slippers and pajamas just outside the screen. “The last 12 months have been really crazy,” she says now over the phone. “It’s probably a little different from the normal way to get famous. It was… interesting!
The 24-year-old Bulgarian actor recently had to attend several of these virtual ceremonies. Bakalova gained international fame last year after starring in Next movie Borat, the follow-up to Sacha Baron Cohen’s mock documentary in 2006 in which he pretended to be a Kazakh journalist traveling to the United States. Bakalova plays Borat’s daughter Tutar, a breath of fresh air in the film, combining her characteristic disgusting humor with genuine pathos and emotion.
Tutar’s character arc, from the semi-wild creature to the sophisticated and ambitious woman, endeared Bakalova to both audiences and critics alike. So far, she has won over 20 awards for performance, as well as nominations for an Academy Award, a Bafta, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Golden Globe. Her biggest win to date was last month’s critics’ choice for Best Supporting Actress. “I just loved that they were saying my name right next to Olivia Colman and Glenn Close, and I was so happy,” she recalls. When her name was read as the winner, she “didn’t realize it at all at first – I wasn’t prepared.”
Bakalova had to learn to adapt. The Covid-19 pandemic struck while they were still running on Borat: production was halted and it looked like everything should stop. But after working with public health experts, they decided to go ahead, providing constant PPE and testing to the cast and crew. (The experience will serve him well in Judd Apatow’s upcoming comedy The bubble, about a film production during the pandemic.)
Given the events of the past year, says Bakalova, comedy is more vital than ever. “People are struggling and we need things that will make us laugh – that’s important.” Under burlesque humor, Borat also deals with issues of immigration, racism and corruption; and in tender scenes with babysitter Jeanise Jones, the film delves into what it means to be a woman in 2021. “This is the new world, or it should be,” says Bakalova. “But in many places patriarchy still exists, misogyny still exists. We don’t treat each other the same, which to me isn’t fair.
Bakalova made headlines last year for a scene from the film in which she posed as a reporter to interview the former New York mayor turned Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani appeared to be behaving inappropriately to respect. “I had to be as convincing as possible and not spoil the scene, not ruin the movie – my heart was racing.” Fortunately, Baron Cohen, in the character of Borat, entered at the right time and ended the interview. “We had to flee from the police immediately. It was scary.
As the first Bulgarian actress to be nominated for an Oscar, she hopes her success will open doors for others. “I dedicate each prize to all the actors of Eastern Europe who can recognize themselves in me, because we are from this region little recognized in Western cinema. That’s what I’m fighting for.
Bakalova does not yet know whether she will be able to attend the Oscars in person or not; if she does, she hopes to take her mother as her guest. “Oh my god, these people have been my idols ever since I was little,” she says. “Being able to be in the same place as them is going to be – I guess the next best day of my life. “
Best prize you’ve ever won?
Of course, the most important is Critics’ Choice, but all of these awards have been everything to me.
Favorite anecdote from the awards ceremony?
Probably all of the ceremonies we have done have been a bit funny. But I hope it’s still to come – probably in April!
What are you looking for in an awards outfit?
I delegate this to my stylist and friend Jessica Paster. I totally trust him.