Borat's Daughter Is Sacha Baron Cohen's Secret Weapon

Matt Miller
·4 min read
Photo credit: Elaine Chung
Photo credit: Elaine Chung

From Esquire

The thought of pulling off a Borat movie in 2020 seems impossible. How could Sacha Baron Cohen play the most recognizable comedy character of the last 15 years without any of the people he's pranking taking notice? There are people out there who still, with absolutely no irony, still quote "MY WIFE," and "VERY NICE." How could he avoid getting exposed when everyone is filming everything at all times? I thought it couldn't be done. No one, absolutely no one, I thought, would be fooled by Cohen in his famous mustache with his famous voice.

But the genius of Cohen's Borat sequel is that they're not getting pranked by Borat—not exactly anyway.

The premise of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is that Borat, having been imprisoned for embarrassing his beloved nation of Kazakhstan, gets a second chance to redeem himself. He must bring a gift to Vice Premiere Mikhal Pence. However, when he arrives in America, Borat realizes two things: His daughter stowed herself in the cage that held the gift he intended to bring to Pence—a monkey—and ate it. And that Borat is too famous to go anywhere in America. Cohen illustrates this second point with a genius moment where he's just walking around in character as Borat attempting to evade all the people who recognize him.

Borat solves the problem in the most perfect way. He decides that he must navigate America in disguise, and he's also going to bring his daughter along on his adventure.

In the real world, this concept provides Cohen with a brilliant way to pull off a Borat sequel. Throughout the movie, Cohen is playing Borat in disguise. Cohen also has a second actor undercover with him, Borat's daughter Tutar (who appears in the closing credits as "Introducing Maria Bakalova as Tutar"). This is important. Tutar proves to be the perfect distraction for Cohen's marks. And she also proves to be one of the most brilliant stunt comedy actors since, well, Sacha Baron Cohen himself.

Before we go any further, I want to run through a paranoid episode I had before writing this piece. The actor playing Tutar is a newly discovered talent. As I noted before, she's listed in the closing credits as Maria Bakalova. However, in the Amazon notes for the film she's credited as Irina Nowak. This seemed strange, especially for a film that goes through insane lengths to prove the legitimacy of its own fake characters. Something seemed fishy. Maria Bakalova has a few other credits on IMDB Pro, but nothing that I could immediately confirm. Confused, and desperately not wanting to fall for an insanely meta prank, I sent a rather unhinged email to Cohen's publicist in which I noted that I was having trouble identifying the actress and I didn't want to be pranked myself. And, to be fair, some other publications have been highly suspicious, which comes with Cohen's territory. Both Bakalova's and Cohen's publicist confirmed she is a real actress. Bakalova's publicist also offered an interview with the newcomer actress, but after days of back and forth it has still not come through.

So, yes, she is real, and she is indeed a phenomenal improv comedian and not an incredible improv comedian credited to a character devised for the movie. So far, she's only done one public interview after the release of Borat. On Friday, she appeared on Good Morning America as herself, where she discussed the now-infamous Rudy Giuliani scene.

But, other than that, we don't know much about Bakalova outside of her IMDB page description:

Maria Bakalova was born on June 4, 1996 in Burgas, Bulgaria. At the age of six she started singing and flute lessons. She studied at the National School of Arts in Burgas, majoring in acting for drama theater and a second major in flute. After that she studied at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia. In 2019 she successfully graduated.

Along with Borat, she's listed as appearing in Transgression (The trailer for this 2018 film is below), Last Call (2020) and The Father (2019). She also has an Instagram, which has now been verified.

But back to Bakalova's performance. It is the key to making this movie work for a couple of reasons. Most importantly it throws off any sort of suspicion on Cohen as Borat in disguise. They are a perfect team. Never breaking character even in the most extreme of situations. Throughout the film, Bakalova's character is able to expose the inherent sexism, misogyny, and luridness of American culture (the Rudy scene is just one example). She handles all of it with truly incredible bravery. But she's also the heart of the movie. Bakalova is placed in one particular situation where she actually exposes the goodness in at least one woman in the film (I won't go into detail because I don't want to ruin it). But, in every occasion, no matter the result, Bakalova's performance requires astounding courage.

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