Ahh Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the beloved Sacha Baron Cohen sequel famed for basically tricking its entire cast, spurring Kazakhstan's latest tourism slogan, and of course, that infamous Rudy Giuliani scene. Amid the fanfare surrounding the film's October release, a star was born -- 24-year-old Maria Bakalova, the actress behind Tutar, Borat's teenage daughter. Throughout the film, the young actress flexes her comedy chops, maintaining both a straight face and razor-sharp wit whether responding to pavlovian-esque dog commands or discussing her future as Mike Pence's future child bride.
Her performance was so impressive that many have even questioned whether Bakalova would earn an Oscar nod for the role. As such, finding an actress of her caliber was an arduous task, one that director Jason Woliner says required a ridiculous number of pre-requisites.
"There were so much criteria for that character where she needed to be an actress that could pass as a teenager, that could be in scenes with real people in the real world who don't know they're in a movie, who don't know that they're in a comedy project, [to] be able to do this really funny stuff that's going to be really hilarious on screen, but not break the reality within the actual shooting environment, which is something that really only Sacha does," he told Collider.
However, Borat's specific brand of comedy also posed a challenge in finding Cohen's costar. "There are a few people out there who do similar things, but this exact thing, Sacha invented it, and there's a reason no one else does it. It's extremely hard to be a comedy character in the real world and be able to perform in a way that's hilarious on-screen but seems like you're a real person."
Finding a young actress who could fit this very, very specific bill was a challenge, requiring the film's casting team to search around the globe for their star. "We had a bunch of casting directors around the world. We had an amazing one here [in Los Angeles], and we saw amazing actors here, but part of the process was [that] we did a lot of test shooting on the movie."
Amid that trial and error, another problem arose -- sometimes the actresses in question were a bit too funny. "We did so much shooting that will never see the light of day where we're just trying things out," he recalled. "And a lot of that was a few different actresses for this role, and all of them incredible, all talented, but some were so funny that then we would be with a real person for five minutes and they'd say, 'You're an actor. This can't be real. This is a joke.'"
And it turns out one wrong quip can put an entire scene in jeopardy. "All it is is saying one wrong thing that feels like a pre-written joke. People are not stupid. People are like, 'Okay, what is this?' It became so clear that we needed someone who was not only funny, who could pull off the emotional scenes with Sacha, and fearless, who can sit in a room with someone like Rudy Giuliani and get through that, but also someone who is never going to be, as we would call it, busted."
After sorting through countless tapes, in search of an actress that met all of the above requirements and was "really from Eastern Europe" Woliner finally came across Bakalova, in a moment that forever changed the course of the film.
"I found Maria's audition and just watched it; it's incredible that Maria existed. Turned out she had just had her graduation from an acting academy she was going to, and it was the middle of the night after the graduation, and she's in this attic, and she was just hilarious and real and doing some material that we'd sent her. It was a speech about how her daddy's the best daddy in the village and her cage is nicer than the other girls'. She just had so much cockiness and bravado about how nice her cage was that it was really hilarious."
Impressed, the team then flew the actress to England, where they tested both her chemistry with Cohen and an unsuspecting older couple. "The testing process was with real people. So we just shoot it like a scene. I was seeing that stuff remotely. And then I went to England, and we tested her with Sacha as sort of a chemistry test, and we did the breakup scene where she rejects him." The scene was so good, it elicited an emotional reaction from both the Director and Cohen himself. "It made Sacha and I both well up and almost cry. So he said, 'Wow, she can do this crazy stuff with real people and do this incredible emotional stuff.' Then we just went for it."
It was soon apparent they made the right call in casting Bakalova. "Because there was so much involved in getting her to America and making sure the visa stuff was all worked out, I think she got here maybe two days before we were actually just into it and shooting. I think within the week that she got here, we were already shooting with Jeanise the babysitter. That was right in the beginning. So she dove right into the fire and she was incredible."
Once again, someone get this girl an Academy Award, stat. She clearly deserves it -- especially after dealing with the shenanigans of the famously flatulent Rudy Giuliani.