Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a comedic triumph that builds upon the insanity of the first mockumentary, but takes it to a new level thanks to the heightened ridiculousness of our current political and social climate. A big part of that success comes from the surprisingly touching story that develops between Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his teenage daughter, played phenomenally by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova. But how did director Jason Woliner find such a finely tuned comedic talent who could keep up with Sacha Baron Cohen and trick unsuspecting subjects, including the bridge troll with a law degree known as Rudy Giuliani?
Collider recently sat down with Borat Subsequent Moviefilm director Jason Woliner, and they asked how they determined Maria Bakalova was the right choice to play Borat’s 15-year old daughter Tutar Sagdiyev. First of all, Jason explained how difficult it is to find someone who can do what Sacha Baron Cohen does while also fitting what they needed for the character:
“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. 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.”
Obviously there was an audition process, but how do you test actresses in their ability to not only be funny but pull of what Cohen does by playing a character in front of real people? It requires razor sharp wit, impeccable improvisational skills, but also an ability to appear as if you’re not acting. That was one of the biggest challenges in finding the right actress to play Tutar.
There was global search with casting directors looking all over the world for the right actress, and part of the process was doing test scenes with Cohen that resembled what would appear in the movie, complete with real people for them to interact with. Woliner recalled:
“We did so much shooting that will never see the light of day where we’re just trying things out. 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 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 digging through hundreds of audition videos from across the globe, Woliner was most impressed by Maria Bakalova. He described what was in her audition tape:
“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. And she also felt so real.”
From there, both Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova flew to England (since getting into the United States was more complicated), and they shot test footage in disguise with an older English couple as their guinea pigs. Woliner explained, “A lot of it was similar material to what made it in the movie of long scenes of interacting with people and being in a house for the first time and causing trouble and making mischief.”
That’s definitely footage that we’d love to see released, whether as digital extras on Amazon or on a home video release of some kind. But for now, we’ll just have to settle for enjoying Borat Subsequent Moviefilm again, available now on Amazon Prime Video.
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