MArie Bakalova will go down in history as the only actor to earn an Oscar nomination for playing a fierce, monkey-eating Kazakh who discovers feminism through a date with Rudy Giuliani. Unless, of course, Meryl Streep decides to get really brave in her twilight years. Until then, however, Bakalova is on her own. It was that encounter with Giuliani — a skin-crawling performance that sees him touching her waist and arms and digging in his lap — in Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2020 sequel borate: Next movie this made Bakalova one of the bravest actors in Hollywood.
The Bulgarian actor, who plays Borat’s hard-working 15-year-old daughter Tutar, is alone with Giuliani – the former New York City Mayor and one of Donald Trump’s top advisers – in his hotel room, made up in Republican presenter cosplay, interviewing him for a right -Wing TV Network. Tutar flatters him. Giuliani grins. Tutar gives him a Kazakh picture book about a girl who gets swallowed whole by her vagina. They retreat to the hidden camera rigged bedroom, where Giuliani asks for her phone number and lies back on his bed, his shirt tucked in his pants suggestively. Cohen’s Borat bursts in to save the day. “She’s 15,” he calls out. “She’s too old for you!” To this day, Giuliani swears he hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary.
“I don’t know anything about this person other than the meeting we had in this room,” Bakalova tells me via Zoom from New York, wincing a little at the memory. “And everyone can see it!” The scene understandably stole the film. But the entirety of Bakalova’s performance earned her that Oscar nod. Transforming Tutar from a clueless, caged teenager into a journalist on a crusade, she infuses her with an unshakable vulnerability that slowly transforms into steely strength. Look past all the Trump bait and what you get is a heartwarming feminist parable. With Holocaust jokes.
We’re here to talk about the 26-year-old’s most high-profile follow-up boratecalled a scathing slasher satire body body body. It’s what would happen if the worst 20-somethings you meet on Twitter had a party and started getting assassinated left, right and middle. TikToks are filmed. Podcasts are threatened. Pete Davidson boasts of his super sexual powers. What on earth would Giuliani think of that?
“I don’t know if he would even see the film,” laughs Bakalova. “As much as it’s a timeless story about human behavior, it captures generations like mine and a little bit older than mine. Not so much of my mother’s generation or her mother’s generation.” I think she’s calling Giuliani old as dirt in the most polite way.
Bakalova is sunny, expressive, lively. A zoom window seems too small for her. “I send you the brightest energy!” she beams. “New York is rainy and beautiful, but it gives me this nostalgic feeling that I haven’t been to England in a while!” Later while retrieving a scene in body body body in which rain and hail are thrown at her character, she practically plays it for me. “You should have heard the noise! It was like whooosh, yikes – it was like a war!”
Bakalova comes closest to that body body body must be a hero. She plays Bee, a shy foreigner who accompanies her new girlfriend (Amandla Stenberg’s scheming Sophie) to a party her rich friends are having. Bee’s gift of zucchini bread goes down like a cup of cold, and she’s often overwhelmed when it comes to conversation and the gang’s mutual self-loathing. She is a serious compliment to her bitter disdain. delight in their nihilism. Facebook to their BeReal.
It’s a relief when the group starts falling like flies – if only to break the pass-agg tension bouncing off the walls. In a crowded, brilliant ensemble – which includes Davidson, Shiva babyis Rachel Sennott, Industry‘s Myha’la Herrold and professional great Lee Pace – Bakalova shine. They feel personally hurt when she is thrown out of the house on suspicion of being the killer.
“I had deep sympathy for her,” she says. “At some point in our lives, we all feel like we don’t fit into the circle, even though we want to belong somewhere and be valued. I can understand that. I think her problem, however, is that she’s trying to be someone she’s not. She keeps all secrets, which she shouldn’t, because secrets get you nowhere.”
Since beginning her work in English-language film, Bakalova has often played this type of role: the outsider who looks in, slightly overwhelmed. “It’s like my movie posters have come to life,” said her character in Judd Apatow’s Covid comedy the bubble, where she played a concierge at a hotel that was hosting a parade of A-listers. Also next year Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, she stands out in the midst of a group of raccoons and trees: She addresses a Soviet dog that was sent into space. “Sometimes I feel like I’m able to just talk and talk and talk and talk out loud,” she says. “But then there are times when I’m like, ‘Oh God, there are so many more experienced people around me.’ So I sit down and close myself.”
She must have a certain fearlessness, I say. Anyone who likes to show the spectators their blood-stained underwear at a society ball – in borate, obviously – must be brave? “I’m scared of a lot of things,” she says. “But when it comes to a character, it’s my way of escaping reality. That’s one reason why I became an actress. If I put on a mask of this character, maybe I won’t be so scared. Maybe I won’t be so shy.” She says she’s a mix of different qualities. “I could be fearless today and tomorrow I could cry. Next time I might laugh at something so damn stupid.”
Despite the “Star is born” narrative that surrounded them borate Buzz, Bakalova wasn’t a deer-in-a-headlight genius when she was cast in the film. She had some Bulgarian film credits and was about to graduate from the country’s National Academy of Theater and Film Arts. Spurred on by her love for Danish filmmakers like Thomas Vinterberg (The hunt, Another round) and Lars von Trier, she also had a firm plan to make it as an actress. “In my head, I thought, ‘After I graduate, I’m going straight to Denmark — I don’t know what I’m going to do or how I’m going to learn this language, but I’m going to do it.” She sensed that they were working in European co-productions needed to make a name for herself and was hoping that immersion in the Danish film industry would lead her to other European filmmakers, followed by America She calls out some of her heroes: “Susanna Bier. Pedro Almodóvar. Oh my god Paolo Sorrentino Andrea Arnold American honey was one of my favorite films back then.”
At least that was the idea. Instead of heavy European drama, however, she has found an unexpected home in American comedy. “I could never dream of things like work borate‘ she says, ‘this is Hollywood, it’s too far away, it’s impossible.’ It was while on the set of the bubble that she found out she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. “When you’re on that [awards] At the track people keep talking about ‘today the nominees will be announced’ so subconsciously you have that thought in your head,” she recalls. “But honestly, it was one of the most precious moments of my life. And it’s documented!”
The clip of Judd Apatow breaking the news of that Oscar nod to her is online and has been viewed almost 100,000 times. Bakalova certainly has a knack for going viral. Luckily this time was a lot less gropey.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is in theaters now