The Untold Truth Of Borat Star Maria Bakalova

Without Sacha Baron Cohen, we wouldn't have "Borat," or its follow-up, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," and without this sequel, we might never have met Maria Bakalova. In that second film, Bakalova played Tutar Sagdiyev, lead character Borat Sagdiyev's daughter, and the two get up to some wild antics. Perhaps the most famous of all the scenes was Bakalova's meetup with Rudy Giuliani. After filming the scene, Bakalova had some pretty clear takeaways about the strange, nearly sexual interview.

Was Bakalova, who's Bulgarian, aware of who Giuliani was? "Yeah, I did know who Rudy Giuliani was because of 9/11," she told W in February 2021. "But I'm not American; I'm not into the American political system. But as an actor, I knew that it was something important and that the whole production, the whole movie, had to have that scene. So I did my best to learn as much as possible about Rudy Giuliani, who he was, and to prepare myself to be his biggest fan!" She was certainly successful in that regard, and the former mayor clearly had no idea he was being pranked. 

Bakalova became a superstar overnight thanks to "Borat," and while she hasn't made a wild fortune (yet), she's certainly off to a good start. Even better, Bakalova has used her "Borat" clout to land new projects. But before we look at her future — which is glittering and bright — let's get to know a little bit about her interesting history.

Maria Bakalova grew up far from Hollywood

Maria Bakalova hails from Burgas, Bulgaria, a city that's become famous for birdwatching expeditions. Bakalova admitted she had dreams of making it big in Hollywood as a kid, and explained her fantasy to Deadline. "I started dreaming that I was arriving in Los Angeles, rolling my suitcase down those iconic palm tree-lined streets, with the Hollywood sign in the background, and I was telling myself, 'I'm going to be a great movie star someday,'" she said.

But Bakalova checked herself, because no one from Bulgaria had ever made it as a movie star in the United States. "I told myself, these are just childhood dreams. There haven't been any big Hollywood stars from Eastern Europe," she went on. Nevertheless, she persisted. In 2019, Bakalova graduated from the Bulgarian National Academy for Theater and Film Arts and a few weeks later, came across an audition for the second "Borat" film, though she didn't know what the audition was for at the time.

Bulgarian representation is important for Bakalova, and she doesn't hesitate to thank Sacha Baron Cohen for her breakthrough. "There are almost no leading characters for actors from my background or actors who have a foreign accent so to be given this platform to perform and show what I can do really means the world to me!" she wrote on Instagram in October 2020. She said that Baron Cohen was like a father to her and helped put Bulgaria on the Hollywood map.

Music was her first passion

Before acting, Maria Bakalova was passionate about music and took to the flute, something that still plays a big part in her life. How do we know? Bakalova posted a photo on Instagram in November 2018 with a flute and captioned the photo, "Little me."

Bakalova explained when the passion began in an interview with 1883 Magazine. "Everything started with music when I was 5," she explained. "I was pretty much convinced that my life would take a direction as a singer or as a flute player." Interestingly, Bakalova found acting accidentally. "When I turned 12 or 13, we got a new specialty high school of performing arts in Bulgaria and it had acting. It seemed so interesting. I wanted to escape reality; I wanted to do something else and be something else."

Escape seemed to be an alluring concept for Bakalova as a teenager. When she spoke to The New York Times in November 2020, she explained that after singing and playing the flute, she began looking for something that offered a departure from her everyday life. "Because in acting, you can become anybody," she detailed. "You can do everything. You can live on Mars." Thanks to this fascination, she began researching Danish films, explaining she specifically loved the work that came out of the niche known as Dogme 95. These films, made between 1995-2005, deliberately push back on too much technology that ultimately distracts from storytelling. Sounds like a similar aesthetic to "Borat."

She thought the Borat audition was a scam

The audition for "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" was top secret, so when Maria Bakalova found out about the call, she thought the whole thing was shady. "[T]he project was so confidential, I was like, is this actually a project? I was sure it was going to be a human trafficking situation," she told The New York Times in November 2020. "I had no idea I was going to meet Sacha [Baron Cohen] — it was a surprise."

Bakalova had already snatched a few film credits, namely a small part in "The Father," a Bulgarian film by directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, per Deadline, prior to the audition for "Borat," so she didn't necessarily need to submit for the call. But when all of her classmates at the Bulgarian National Academy for Theater and Film Arts sent in theirs, Bakalova eventually succumbed to the peer pressure, recording her audition after arriving home at 5 a.m. after a night out. "Well, I'm not going to be the only one who didn't audition," she told Deadline.

Bakalova got a callback and ended up traveling to London for a chemistry read. However, her fears about human trafficking had not abated, so she asked fellow Bulgarian actor Julian Kostov accompany her to her first audition, and she concocted a plan where she would record the interaction and slide her phone under the door to him should the worst happen, for evidentiary purposes. Thankfully, the project was legit.

She had to do some crazy things for Borat

Maria Bakalova had to work hard and get pretty creative to land her role in "Borat." Fans of the first film would have known what to expect for the audition, but Bakalova admitted she hadn't seen it when she read for Sacha Baron Cohen, according to Variety. So the unique world of Borat was unfamiliar to Bakalova, which clearly worked to her advantage, as she came in without any kind of pressure to mimic what had been done before.

Nancy Bishop, who worked as the film's casting director, told IndieWire: "I was told I needed to find an Eastern European girl who spoke an Eastern European language as a first language for a comic role, and was given material to audition them with." She added, "It was mostly improvisation, but eventually they sent me actual text for them to perform to see if they could deliver jokes." The improvisation requirement was next level. "We did all these crazy things," Bakalova told IndieWire. "I drank from the toilet, I tried to eat a fish from the aquarium."

For another callback, Bakalova told Variety that she was supposed to smell bad for it. "I couldn't not shower or brush my teeth for 10 days," she explained, as she was filming another movie at the time, so she created a signature scent out of "onions, vinegar and valerian pills" to create a bad odor. "I'll never forget the smell," she added. "I have PTSD."

What Maria Bakalova really thought of the Rudy Giuliani scene

Of all of the wild scenes shot in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," the most intense one for Maria Bakalova was the hotel room scene with Rudy Giuliani. Bakalova entered his hotel room under the pretense that she was a journalist and, while she appeared completely in control in the film, she explained she was very nervous beforehand. "That scene was the scariest part for me," she told GQ in April 2021. "On the day I started getting scared because he is a lawyer and lawyers are really smart, so you have to be really, really convincing." She certainly was convincing, because Giuliani didn't seem skeptical of who she was at all during the faux interview.

Sacha Baron Cohen was on the scene, working as a sound operator, and Bakalova told Variety that, since she knew she wasn't alone, she wasn't as scared. "Sacha and everybody involved assured me that everything is going to be fine," Bakalova said. "Everything is legal, so you're not breaking the rules. Don't worry, you will be safe."

In the scene, Bakalova helps Giuliani take his microphone off when they go into the bedroom and then he lays down on the bed. He then slid his hands down his pants and it was at that point that Baron Cohen blasted into the room and said to the lawyer (via Vanity Fair), "She's 15. She's too old for you." No wonder it was Bakalova's most talked-about scene.

Her relationship with Sacha Baron Cohen

Filming a movie as intense as "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" would naturally create a bond between Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova. In the film, she plays Tutar Sagdiyev, daughter to his character, Borat Sagdiyev, though the father-daughter relationship extends beyond the movie. "Sacha, he's my nonbiological father and he will be like that forever," Bakalova told The New York Times. "So I trusted him from the beginning and I knew he would never put me in a dangerous situation." This certainly proved true, in spite of all the risks they took to create the perfect scenes. 

While Bakalova trusted Baron Cohen to keep her safe in the more daring exploits required to create the film, Baron Cohen trusted Bakalova's comedic genius and acting talent to make the movie what it really was. "You can't ask Rudy Giuliani to go back in the room and say, 'Can we do that again?' That's the challenge here, and that's why Maria is a one-off: Somebody who is that funny, that believable, that courageous, that emotional an actor, and that professional that you've got one take, and it's gotta be perfect," Baron Cohen said in an interview with Bakalova for Backstage.

The two appeared in a joint interview for "Good Morning America" and Bakalova posted a clip of it on Instagram. In it, Baron Cohen explained that they had interviewed 600 women for the role of Tutar and they landed on Bakalova. "She is a revelation," he said.

Her first Bulgarian film

Maria Bakalova has made Bulgaria proud again by landing a major role in the film "Triumph." Bulgarian directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov helmed the movie, according to Deadline, and Bakalova has history with the two of them, thanks to her small part in their 2019 film, "The Father." Grozeva and Valchanov began shooting their tragicomedy in August 2022, Film New Europe announced, and Abraxas Film of Bulgaria and Graal Film of Greece are producers.

Bakalova announced on August 25 that she and actor Julian Kostov would be part of the production team via their company, Five Oceans, per Deadline. But Bakalova won't just be producing the film. According to the publication, she was also cast alongside Kostov in a starring role. The plot of the film is remarkable, as explained in a teaser by the publication, and the movie focuses on true events that took place in Bulgaria in the '90s, where a team of psychics and members of the army go in search of an alien artifact located in Tsarichina, a village in western Bulgaria.

Interestingly, "Triumph" is the final film in a trilogy from directors Grozeva and Valchanov, the two previous installments being "The Lesson" in 2014 and "Glory" in 2016. Bakalova posted Deadline's headline on her Instagram account, confirming both her role as lead and as a member of production.

She has thoughts about Bodies Bodies Bodies

As seems to be the case with every Hollywood starlet nowadays, Pete Davidson has a link to Maria Bakalova, but they have not started dating (that we know of). The Bulgarian actor was cast in Halina Reijn's 2022 film "Bodies Bodies Bodies" alongside Kim Kardashian's ex. The film, created by entertainment company A24, is an exquisitely filmed horror that brought new learning curves for Bakalova. When Variety asked her if she liked scary things, the "Borat" star answered, "I get scared easily, I have lots of fears. But if I have a chance to try something, I think I'm going to try it! I'll regret it later. But I will try it."

So what did Bakalova think of working with Davidson? "He's one of the nicest people that I've met personally and seeing him being that person, it's like, 'How are you even doing it?' He was super disciplined, which made me appreciate him as an actor and artist," she told Variety.

One scene in the movie required the cast to slap each other, something Bakalova was loath to do. "I was so freaking conscious when I hit somebody because I don't really know my strength," Bakalova told Vulture of hitting Davidson, maybe a little too hard. "And I think one of the times my hand was just too heavy, honestly." But knowing how nice Davidson is — and how dedicated an actor — we're sure the scene went great.

She's joined the MCU

It seems there's no end to groups in Hollywood who want Maria Bakalova. In June 2022, Deadline announced the actor was joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3." Filmmaker James Gunn commented on Deadline's announcement on Twitter and teased, "Yes yes yes, okay, I guess I should be surprised it took you guys this long to get this one. [Maria Bakalova] is incredible. #gotgvol3"

Bakalova responded to Gunn's tweet and thanked him. "You are truly an EXTRAORDINARY creator and it's been the biggest honor for me to work with you!" she wrote. "Your vision, your humor, your talent are beyond this world! Not only that but you're one of the most amazing humans I've ever met! I love you! I admire you."

Bakalova, who is providing the voice for Cosmo the Spacedog, is joined by an impressive cast, including Bradley Cooper, Sylvester Stallone, Chuk Iwuji, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, and Zoe Saldana. Clearly, her reputation has solidified Bakalova as a Hollywood heavyweight and Twitter thought so, too. "She was SO good in Borat," one fan tweeted. "Being able to not break character and be on par with Sacha Baron Cohen is a gift!" Another person referenced the moon blood dance in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" and tweeted, "listen, if a person is willing to have her period in the middle of a debutante ball she can definitely nail a Shi'ar or somethin' ok." The global opinion is that if Bakalova could nail "Borat," she can do absolutely anything.

Maria Bakalova received an Oscar nomination

Pretty much everyone felt that Maria Bakalova deserved an Oscar for her role in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," and Sacha Baron Cohen was one of her biggest advocates. In his joint interview with Bakalova for "Good Morning America," Baron Cohen said: "She is hilarious. She is one of the most courageous actors in history. If she doesn't get nominated for an Oscar, then that's a travesty." He pointed to Bakalova's ability to not only be funny, but to also play a scene with such depth that it made people cry as a reason for her to be nominated.

Bakalova ended up receiving an Oscar nod, the first Bulgarian actor to receive any nomination at the Academy Awards, per Page Six. "Borat" producer Dan Swimer told the outlet just how remarkable she was. "She's bonkers and hilarious but she's also an experienced and very professional actor so she didn't need somebody to hold her hand through it," he explained.

Swimer said part of the audition process involved a British family under the impression they were involved in a TV show about Eastern European people living in England. Bakalova started drinking out of the dog bowl in front of them and the family was completely befuddled. Andrew Newman, the CEO of Baron Cohen's production company, shared his thoughts on the situation. "What this British family didn't realize was that they had taken part in something that led to the creation of a well-deserved Oscar nominee."

She has a decent-sized net worth

Maria Bakalova has not only made a name for herself, she's also amassed an impressive fortune for a Hollywood newcomer. She has a net worth of $1 million, per Celebrity Net Worth, which is good, because Bakalova certainly has champagne tastes. 

For her appearance at Comic-Con 2022 for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," Bakalova wore a full Louis Vuitton look, featuring a black and silver top and skirt with knee high boots, according to WWD. She turned to celebrity stylist Jessica Paster for the ensemble, who also created her Oscar look, a dreamy white gown by Louis Vuitton as well. Since she wanted to create a divide between her character in "Borat" and herself, Bakalova chose something glamorous and simple. "So with me, separating me from screen to Maria in real life, we wanted it to be something softer, something more feminine, something romantic, something that is going to be timeless," she told WWD.

Paster loved working with her new client. "Any dress that Maria wears she brings grace and elegance to and I love that," she said. "Even though she is new to all of this, she is very highly intelligent." Paster was also cognizant of the fact that they wanted a new look after "Borat." "We just wanted to keep it very pretty, very different from what her character was," she said. "We've continued that story. It started with the Armani and it's going to end with the Louis Vuitton."

The actor calls the United States home now

While Maria Bakalova might be all about her Bulgarian roots, she doesn't live there anymore. Our girl has set her sights on everything Hollywood, including making it her new home. Since she's moved to Los Angeles, she's been spotted all over town. In June 2022, she attended a party for the opening of By Far, a store founded by three Bulgarians: Sabina Gyosheva, Valentina Ignatova, and Denitsa Bumbarova, according to WWD. Ever the supporter of all things Bulgarian, Bakalova was there with bells on. But she had one complaint: There were no banista pastries that are so famous in Bulgaria. Phyllo dough stuffed with cheese and eggs, their absence potentially inspired Bakalova to start a new business.

While Bakalova is already a recognized star, she's still in a new country, which came up when she was speaking about her role in "Bodies Bodies Bodies." In the film, her character is a newcomer to a tight-knit group, meaning she's excluded from the general camaraderie. "We are both coming from a different place," Bakalova said of her character, per UPI. "I personally like to look at projects, theatrical plays or films that are following the story of the outsider."

"She's trying to be somebody else to try to fit the group she meets," the actor explained. "And she fails, of course, because she is not honest." That might be Bakalova's secret: Though she's new to Hollywood, honesty will be her saving grace.

She's all about representing Eastern Europe

Maria Bakalova is all about Bulgaria and she sees her success not only as a boon for her, but also for her country. When she found out that she was nominated for a whole host of awards, including a Golden Globe, a SAG award, and a Critics Choice award, she told AP News that she could hardly contain herself. "Maria, you're a strong Balkan girl!" she told herself. "We've been praying. We've been hoping. We've been dreaming. And now when it's happening ... it is something I hope we are going to keep developing and we're going to keep opening doors, because there are some really incredible artists from Eastern Europe, from Bulgaria."

Bakalova credits her success in large part to Sacha Baron Cohen and the ways in which his movie gave her — and Bulgaria — a platform. "Things like that are not happening to people like us, Bulgarians," she told The New York Times. "Most of the time, there is eventually a small, small extra part in a movie, two or three lines as like a prostitute or a Mafia guy. I will be really grateful to Sacha for giving this platform to an Eastern European, to play a strong and complicated character who's not just one thing." 

However, while Baron Cohen may have given her a platform, Bakalova capitalized on it, creating her own production company with fellow Bulgarian Julian Kostov to promote Eastern European film ventures, ensuring her future is bright.