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"Through all of the silliness, we can show some issues that aren't quite right," the Bulgarian breakout tells EW on The Awardist Podcast.

By Joey Nolfi
March 15, 2021 at 05:00 PM EDT
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Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

When the world outside is pure chaos, freshly minted Oscar nominee Maria Bakalova embraces the unknown.

"I had no idea I was joining Borat," she tells EW's Awardist Podcast of her mysterious audition for the hit sequel, in which she was tasked to sing and dance and embrace the "craziness" inside of her. "It was a wild, blind casting date…. It was meant to be."

No matter the ambiguity, the Bulgarian star, 24, managed to nail her first big English-language role: Borat's teenage daughter, Tutar, who accompanies her father (Sacha Baron Cohen) to the U.S. as a peace offering to VP Mike Pence. (Long story.) Bakalova was admittedly removed from American politics prior to boarding the film, but her desire to affect change through acting shines through the performance — especially in scenes (like when a shop owner earnestly sells Borat a cage to keep his daughter in) meant to highlight ongoing gender inequality around the world.

"Through all of the silliness, we can show some issues that aren't quite right," Bakalova says. "It's supposed to make us think and act, not only react."

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Credit: Amazon Studios

Such improvised moments (partly shot during the pandemic) artfully wrap the film's equality politics in zany comedic drag — most infamously, in an "interview" with Rudy Giuliani (for which she actually built a broadcast portfolio for by conducting numerous on-camera interviews with unassuming subjects), but also in a debutante-ball scene that ends in a menstruation dance.

"I had a blackout during the whole night because it was so adrenalizing," Bakalova says of filming the sequence, which she recalls immediately cleared the room and left attendees "devastated," "crying," and "screaming" in their wake.

Though the moment was choreographed by a professional (to an extent), Bakalova felt the spirit of the craft take over, guiding her into untamed territory as she surrendered to the art. "[It's like] you're in the middle of hypnosis... just going through it," she remembers, adding that she had to keep slippery, "wet" liquid hidden under her dress for an extended period of time before the big reveal. "After that hits [you feel] nothing."

Whether wild-minded or gritty and grim, Bakalova approaches her characters — comedic or dramatic — seriously, shepherding past women she's played through issues like inter-family relations, suicide, and eating disorders.

But, Tutar challenged Bakalova by giving her a huge stage for her craft unlike anything she'd ever worked before.

"I had to act in the real world — but as the character, not me.... you have to make it believable, but at the same time, you have a bunch of people who have no idea what's happening," she says. "We didn't have someone to be like, 'Stop! Second take!' You have only one moment."

The result is clear: This is hers.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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