The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm star and producer praised his 24-year-old scene-stealing costar during the pair's appearance on Good Morning America last week, saying it would be "a travesty" if she didn't secure an Academy Award nod for her performance.
"She is one of the most courageous actors in history. If she doesn't get nominated for an Oscar, then that's a travesty," said Cohen, 49.
"She's hilarious and she has the capacity to deliver a scene and make you cry, which is what finally got her the part," he continued. "We did the break-up scene in the movie, and I had to stop it 'cause I felt myself getting quite emotional."
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In the recently released sequel to 2006's Borat film, Bakalova plays Tutar, the eccentric Kazakh journalist's 15-year-old daughter who undergoes a major transformation throughout the movie. After following her father to America and participating in many of his signature hijinks along the way, Tutar comes into her own while simultaneously playing a significant role in getting Borat to realize what's really important in life.
"She's one of a kind. Imagine coming to America for the first time — she'd barely been out of Bulgaria — and suddenly she's playing a role with real people in some terrifying situations, and she got through it all," Cohen said of Bakalova. "I don't know how, but she is a revelation."
Bakalova called the audition process "scary" but "incredible," with Cohen saying she won the part after they interviewed "600 young women from all around the world."
He continued of her commitment to the role, "Maria has been staying in character since the movie, and actually recently got taken on a tour of the White House ... by people who believed that she was a real journalist."
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The follow-up mockumentary comedy film revolves around Cohen's titular character and his mission to deliver Tutar as a bride to actual U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Hilarity ensues as the father-daughter duo learn all about current American political landscape and adapt to a changing world amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In one particularly controversial scene, Tutar poses as a journalist interviewing Rudy Giuliani. After their talk, she invites the former New York mayor into a hotel bedroom for a drink, and then tries to take off his microphone. Giuliani, 76, then leans back onto a bed and appears to put his hand down the front of his pants.
While Giuliani has vehemently denied any misconduct, saying he "was tucking in [his] shirt after taking off the recording equipment" in the clip, Cohen said Friday on GMA in part, "I just urge everyone to watch the movie — it is what it is, he did what he did and make your own mind up. It was pretty clear to us."
As for Bakalova, "I always felt safe with our team, with our crew, with Sacha in my corner," she said on the show. "I actually never felt that I've been in danger. That's why I'm lucky — because I had them."
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.