When it comes to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, there’s much to discuss. The teenage debutantes and their lecherous fathers, high on Bud Light Seltzers, minueting in Macon. The unflappable salesperson in Enumclaw, Washington, who looks almost bored when he sells Borat a woman-size cage. The strip-mall, pro-life counseling center in South Carolina, where a beatific pastor declares that a fetus conceived through incest is “a gift from God.”

All of these moments have one scene-stealer in common: the Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, who stars as Tutar Sagdiyev, the 15-year-old daughter to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat. Equal parts merry prankster and skilled comedienne, Bakalova beat out 600 other actresses for the role. “She’s hilarious and has the capacity to deliver a scene and make you cry,” Baron Cohen recently said during an interview with Bakalova last week on Good Morning America. “That’s what finally got her the part. When we did the breakup scene in the movie, I had to stop it because I felt myself getting quite emotional.”

Bakalova as Tutar and Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.

Bakalova, 24, attended the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, in Sofia, and has won regional awards for her work in small films, but she had never visited the United States until Borat filming began, secretly, in early 2020. By February, Bakalova and Baron Cohen were crashing the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, and eight months later, a campaign is underway to nominate Bakalova for an Oscar. (According to Baron Cohen, who is generally private but on this matter is unexpectedly vocal, a snub by the Academy would be “a travesty.”)

To be fair, Bakalova’s most fearsome stunts are performed alongside Baron Cohen, and what actor would willingly disappoint one of our greatest clowns? “I always felt safe with our team, with our crew, with Sacha in my corner,” Bakalova said. But whether she’s playing an impoverished peasant or a talking head in the tradition of Kayleigh McEnany, her performances are remarkably convincing. Rudy Giuliani couldn’t resist. Why should we?

Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for air mail