BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Maria Bakalova reveals why she fled the country after pranking Donald Trump’s lawyer in Borat 2
Maria Bakalova is no joke. She’s the real deal. The 24-year-old from the Black Sea coastal city of Burgas, in Bulgaria, has emerged as a rising star, thanks to her breakout performance in the movie Borat 2.
Bakalova plays Tutar, teenage daughter of Kazakhstan’s most infamous son, Borat Sagdiyev — the delicious comic creation of Sacha Baron Cohen — who pranks his way across America in a tidal wave of satire.
The film, shot in the middle of both a pandemic and a fiercely fought American presidential election, is a sequel to Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan, which came out 15 years ago.
Social satire: Maria
In Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Bakalova’s Tutar stows away in a cage, and winds up in the ‘U.S. and A’, accompanying her hapless dad on a mission to restore his ‘good’ name.
The minute I finished watching an advance copy of the movie, released on Amazon Prime last October, I wanted to check out who played Tutar.
It’s a comedic tour de force, because Borat’s daughter turns up in many guises, including a journalist who lands the now infamous one-on-one interview in a hotel room with Donald Trump’s oleaginous attorney Rudy Giuliani — who did not know he was part of the film.
Bakalova studied at Bulgaria’s state run National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia, where she focused on Kafka, Turgenev, and the teachings of Stanislavski. ‘Half of my life has been dedicated to acting,’ she said. ‘But most of the parts I’ve been playing have been heavily dramatic, from teenage pregnancy to committing suicide. So the comedy wasn’t my thing.’
Film wasn’t her thing either — until she saw two Mads Mikkelsen films (A Royal Affair and The Hunt). ‘That’s when the movie love came,’ she said. ‘I wanted to be exactly like this actor. Which was weird because usually girls say: ‘I want to be like her.’ But I wanted to be like Mads.’
Bakalova had made films in Eastern Europe; but Borat was her first western movie. She noted that for the most part, actors from Bulgaria ‘might get two or three lines playing a Mob guy or a hooker’. So she’s chuffed at the attention her performance is attracting … for herself, and for her country.
The work was demanding — not least because often ‘we only had one take’; with Cohen and his crew hightailing it out of town as soon as they called ‘Cut!’
After the scene where Giuliani allegedly tried to engage in some hanky-panky with Tutar, they actually fled the country.
‘I was able to hear my heart racing like crazy,’ she told me. ‘He was the president’s lawyer; and these people are super smart, usually.
Maria in Borat 2 with Sacha Baron Cohen as her dad
‘I’m not sure I saw it the way everybody else saw it. Sacha was hiding in the closet, trying to save his daughter — but he saved me, Maria! As a producer, and as a creator, he’s my teacher and guardian angel.’
Clearly the jurors and voters for the BAFTA, Oscar and Screen Actors Guild awards saw the layers of skill and pathos in Bakalova’s performance, because they’ve all nominated her in the best supporting actress category. (The SAG awards will be held on Monday; the BAFTAS on April 11.)
Maria knew nothing of the film’s premise, or Cohen’s involvement, at her audition. But as soon as she won the part, she and Cohen plunged into rehearsals. ‘From the beginning, there was a structure of a script about a father and a daughter and they have some crazy times together,’ she said. Tutar’s dad has brainwashed her into thinking ‘women should live in cages’ and that their sole purpose in life is ‘pleasing the men they’re going to marry’.
It’s a comedic tour de force, because Borat’s daughter turns up in many guises, including a journalist who lands the now infamous one-on-one interview in a hotel room with Donald Trump’s oleaginous attorney Rudy Giuliani, pictured above
However, Jeanise Jones, another unwitting real-life figure, (she lights up the movie) reassures the teenager she is ‘strong and beautiful, just the way she is’. ‘She is the film’s fairy godmother,’ said Maria
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, this all happens before Tutar is about to undergo plastic surgery — at the hands of a real surgeon.
‘That’s the time when you want to almost break character,’ she admitted. ‘I was having small panic attacks before every scene, for sure.’
It’s Tutar’s expert acting that shows up the sexism, misogyny and political corruption that Cohen and his team wanted to expose; and in light of the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January, Borat 2 looks positively prescient. I told her there’s a flavour of Chekhov to it all. Hard truths buried beneath the laughter. She smiled but didn’t disagree. ‘The structure is a comedy, but deep. What is the message behind these jokes?’
Her father, a retired chemist (and hard rock fan) and mother (a nurse), have been keeping close tabs on their child from afar. We spoke in London, where she has been shooting the new Judd Apatow film The Bubble.
‘It’s a comedy about a movie crew trying to finish a movie during the pandemic,’ she explained. ‘It feels completely familiar, because we were these crazy people who went out to finish Borat in the middle of a pandemic!’
Indeed, after she finished work on Borat 2, she realised she was missing something … ‘The twice a day Covid tests!’
Wonder what Chekhov would have made of it all.
Nicholas has Tsar quality
Nicholas Hoult will be donning his smart new black-velvet, double-breasted Armani tuxedo on Monday — and spending the night at home.
The actor is in the running for a Screen Actors Guild award for his masterfully wry portrait of Emperor Peter in the completely wicked TV drama The Great. Elle Fanning plays his wife: Empress of all Russia, Catherine the Great.
‘There’s a lot of fluffing about going to awards shows,’ Hoult told me recently. ‘It’s nice to be doing it at home.’
The SAG citation follows a Golden Globe nomination. ‘I was surprised most voters had a clue who I am!’ he said, with genuine modesty. But I’m not.
The 31-year-old has been giving spot-on performances in everything from The Favourite (he had the best wigs) to Mad Max: Fury Road and True History Of The Kelly Gang; demonstrating an admirable ability to totally disappear into a role. That was something Tom Cruise spotted, too. Hoult was to have worked with Cruise on the latest Mission Impossible feature that’s shooting now. But the pandemic upended schedules, and Nicholas was committed to the second season of The Great (the pair ‘spoke and had a good chat’ after the unavoidable change of plans).
Russian front: Hoult and Fanning in The Great
‘The whole thing came about because I’d auditioned for Top Gun, and then Tom Cruise called me after he saw the screen test,’ he explained.
They worked together on pre-production for M:I 7. ‘At some point, we’ll hopefully figure out how we can get together, down the road,’ he said.
Hoult enjoys working with Fanning on The Great. Despite the fact that Peter and Catherine are hilariously mismatched, ‘there are some true emotions’ at play — ‘and some weirdly sweet moments’.
He finds his character ‘fairly unlikeable’, but he does enjoy the surreal side of the show — something he attributes to the scripts by Tony McNamara (who shared an Oscar nomination with Deborah Davis for their screenplay for The Favourite).
I still catch myself chuckling over one of Hoult’s lines in the programme, when the emperor decrees that he wants to change the name of the month of July to . . . Peter.
The Great is available on All4 (not all episodes), and Starz via subscription.
Emma Winnberg wants stars ‘who are passionate about the truth’ to portray her and her late husband James Le Mesurier in a television drama being developed about the couple and their work with Syria Civil Defence, better known as the White Helmets.
‘There are so many wonderful actors out there,’ Winberg told me from her home in Amsterdam. ‘What it comes down to is, who thinks it’s right for them.’
The couple had been married for just over a year when Le Mesurier, 48, was found dead in November 2019, apparently after falling from a balcony at their home in Istanbul.
His death sent shockwaves through the international community in Turkey, where he ran the Mayday Rescue Foundation, which funded, trained and equipped the White Helmet volunteers; and also in Syria, where the group rescued wounded civilians.
Le Mesurier was known for his non-political humanitarianism. But his backing of the White Helmets (so-called because of their distinctive hard hats) earned him the enmity of the Syrian and Russian governments, which mounted aggressive disinformation campaigns that tarnished his reputation.
‘That’s why I’m doing this, more than anything else,’ Winberg said about the TV drama. ‘Even though the facts are there, the truth is hard to glean.’
Apart from politics, war and the heroism of the emergency workers, the multi-part drama will be a tale of romance. ‘There is a love story — and it was huge,’ Winberg said. She allowed herself a laugh and added: ‘It’s something relatable. So much of the rest of it is unfathomable.
‘This is deeply personal to me and it’s important that James is accurately portrayed on an emotional level. Obviously it’s a drama, not a documentary, but it’s important that it’s true to who he was.’
Winberg has agreed to work closely with producer David Livingstone and a screenplay writer and director, once they are appointed.
Le Mesurier ‘always hated bullies’, she said; his sister told her he protected her when they were young. ‘That was central to why he was drawn to the White Helmets. He always stood up for the underdog.’
There will be humour, too. On their wedding day — July 7, 2018 — England just happened to be playing Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The couple were both from Swedish-English backgrounds; yet their guests all kept stoically silent about delaying the reception dinner until the game was over.
The couple made a bet that if Sweden won, Le Mesurier would take her surname. ‘If England won, I would be Le Mesurier,’ she says. ‘Luckily for him, England won.’
Livingstone, who also produced the films Judy and Pride and Sky comedy Brassic, confirmed that it was early days for the drama, which has no title yet.
Separately, Winberg has begun to write a book about her life with Le Mesurier and their work with Mayday Rescue and the White Helmets, whose heroic efforts continue in Syria.
A mouse in the house at last!
With fingers, and Lord knows what else, crossed that there won’t be a hiccup in theatre reopening on May 17, the producer Adam Spiegel told me he was feeling ‘bullish’ enough to gather a special company of actors to launch The Mousetrap back onto the boards on that very date.
Spiegel has contracted a troupe of ‘familiar names and faces’ who have appeared in classic TV dramas, popular soaps and West End hits, for a short season ‘as a symbol of its return’.
Folk such as Derek Griffiths and Susan Penhaligon, Cassidy Janson (who won an Olivier for & Juliet), Danny Mac, Charlie Clements, Paul Bradley, Louise Jameson, David Rintoul and Nicholas Bailey.
Folk such as Derek Griffiths and Susan Penhaligon (both pictured), Cassidy Janson (who won an Olivier for & Juliet), Danny Mac, Charlie Clements, Paul Bradley, Louise Jameson, David Rintoul and Nicholas Bailey
‘It’s something fun,’ he said of his starry ensemble. Agatha Christie’s whodunnit celebrates its 70th year in town in 2022.
A long time ago, one of my ancient great-aunts asked me how’s ‘your Queen . . . and The Mousetrap?’. She’d visited London once, in the 1960s, and her abiding memories were of seeing Her Maj at a Trooping the Colour — and watching the show.
The St Martin’s Lane Theatre production has staging that’s ideal for socially distanced performing. There will be two companies, in case of illness, and a regular company will take over when the ‘names’ depart. Producers are taking great financial risks in reopening in such uncertain times.
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