‘Borat’ Star Maria Bakalova Heard About Her Oscar Nomination While Filming Judd Apatow’s Pandemic Comedy ‘The Bubble’

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Rebecca Rubin
·5 min read
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Maria Bakalova was shooting a scene opposite Pedro Pascal for “The Bubble,” an upcoming meta-comedy about actors filming a movie in the middle of a pandemic, when she found out she landed her first Oscar nomination.

“We were in the middle of a take,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, did I do something wrong?'”

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Instead, director Judd Apatow stopped the cameras to inform Bakalova that her high-wire performance as Tutar Sagdiyev in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“I think I started shaking and literally lost my mind for a second,” she says.

Pascal, who appears in “The Bubble” with Karen Gillan, Iris Apatow and Fred Armisen, shared in the celebration and praised his co-star on Twitter. “That moment when your scene partner gets nominated for her first Oscar,” he wrote.

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“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which sees the return of Sacha Baron Cohen’s famed Kazakh journalist, also received an adapted screenplay nomination. Though Baron Cohen wasn’t singled out for his portrayal of Borat Sagdiyev, the character he made famous in 2006’s mockumentary “Borat,” he received a nomination for his supporting role as the comedic provocateur Abbie Hoffman in Aaron Sorkin’s historical drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Bakalova, who had few credits to her name prior to the “Borat” sequel,” will compete in a stacked category that includes Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”), Olivia Colman (“The Father”), Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) and Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”).

Calling from London, where “The Bubble” is currently in production, an emotional Bakalova spoke to Variety about her celebrated performance — she’s also been nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Award — and the unexpected challenge of filming a movie like “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

Congratulations on your first Oscar nomination! How did you hear the news?

Oh my goodness, I don’t know where to start. I can’t believe it’s happening. It’s the best of the best of the best day of my life. I was on set because I’m working on an incredible project with Judd Apatow. In the beginning of the day, Judd asked me, “Do you want to be private? Do you want to watch the ceremony?” I said, “I’m really excited but I don’t want to be greedy.” Just the idea of people mentioning my name in the conversation about this huge recognition alongside these inspiring, amazing, great actresses has already been enough. So I was like, “Let’s just do work!” I was shooting with Pedro Pascal. We were shooting some interesting scene and Judd came into the shot and said, “You just got your nomination for the Oscars.” I said, “What?!” I think I started shaking and literally lost my mind for a second. Judd Apatow and Pedro Pascal were both so excited.

Why do you think your “Borat” character Tutar has resonated so deeply?

I believe a lot of people can recognize themselves with the character of Tutar. She has a huge heart, full of dreams. We’re living at a time when people are ready to stand up against misogyny and people are willing to support each other more and more.

It’s pretty rare that comedic performances get recognition from the Academy.

Especially in the hard times of this pandemic, people needed some love. People needed some jokes more than ever. It’s been dark. I’m really honored people recognize comedy and all the hard work and heart we invested in the movie. Behind all of the jokes, there are important messages that Sacha and all the creators of the movie put there. It is a comedy, but it takes a lot of discipline. A lot of people think when you are doing funny scenes, you are probably having the best time of your life because it’s fun. But it’s about the timing. With our movie, we literally never had a second take. It was now or never. You’re either going to go with the flow or we won’t have it again.

Were you disappointed Sacha didn’t get a lead actor nomination for “Borat”?

I think Sacha deserves all the awards in the world. He is a hero. I can see more similarities with Abbie Hoffman and Sacha Baron Cohen because they are both willing to sacrifices their lives for the revolution. My nomination is a nomination for him. He guided me through the entire process, and I wouldn’t be doing anything if he wasn’t there with his unwavering support and his trust in me.

“The Bubble” is your first post-“Borat” movie. What has it been like filming in London?

The difference is we’re not finishing scenes with police. It’s been great. I’ve been surrounded by people who are nice human beings — incredibly talented actors, all of them ready to improvise in the moment, which is something I’m still learning. Sacha is forever going to be my biggest teacher and mentor. But I’ve never been trained to do it. And now being surrounded by all of these actors who can do it professionally, it’s extremely inspiring and interesting. It’s such a lovely environment. I’m like, “Can I stay on set and live here forever?”

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