Actress Maria Bakalova: I want to help the underprivileged

We must do our best to fill our time on earth with love and goodness

Photo: Urban Media Maria Bakalova in Last Call

I do not know the way to success or whether I am there yet. I try not to think about the result, but to enjoy the process and the journey instead. What happens after that is none of my concern, says actress Maria Bakalova in an interview for BTA.

Where are you at the time of our conversation? I know that you are shooting the new Judd Apatow project, The Bubble.

That is right. I am currently in London, filming with Judd and an amazing ensemble of actors. It is a comedy centred on the things that the entire actors' guild has had to confront in trying to keep making films at a time of a pandemic. The things that all of us, as people, have gone through, cooped up at home, alone. The questions we are likely to ask ourselves. What do I really want? Is this the path I have chosen for myself? Am I making a mistake? What would I change? What kind of people do I want to surround myself with in the future? What are we going to be like on the other side of the pandemic?

Everyone is in awe of not only your talent but your discipline, preparedness and professionalism. Are these the qualities that pave the way towards success?

I do not know the way to success or whether I am there yet. I try not to think about the result, but to enjoy the process and the journey instead. What happens after that is none of my concern. My job as an actress is to relish this extremely short process. Even if it is a two-year production, time goes by in a flash. As for discipline, it has been important to me from a very young age. It is important to want more, because you can always be more, to keep learning and working, to be responsible, but also find joy, because this career is what you have chosen. You are being given a chance!

When does the hard part come?

I do not know if it ever gets that hard, more like a big responsibility. You stumble upon hardships when you choose not to learn your lines for the next day or to get drunk the night before and be in no condition to do your job properly the next morning. If you are disciplined, you have a destination in mind and you trust the team you are working with, the director, the cinematographer, the screenplay writer, all those people who built the project before you got on board.

You have grabbed BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominations… What has been your response emotionally? After all, these are often turning points in the life of an actor.

As an actor, what you do is strive to play your role as best you can. When it is all over, you have a finished product that is presented to the world and the viewers' reception is your first reward. If the film is well received, this means you have done something right. After that, nominations and awards are merely a bonus. You cannot focus on those and be driven by the idea of getting nominated or awarded. If you so happen to get this recognition, I believe your natural reaction should be one of gratitude. Of course, with that comes greater responsibility. More people know who you are and keep an eye on you. Maybe a little kid somewhere in the world is looking up to you now, wanting perhaps to be you one day, or even better than you. So you have to be careful how you behave, how you interact with people.

Would you go back and live in Bulgaria one day?

Of course. At this stage of my life, however, work comes first. This is my priority. Who knows, I may get offered a role in Australia and accept it. It may be for a month or two or it may be for six years. So, where I live depends on the projects I work on. And it will stay this way until I start a family of my own and settle down somewhere. I would go back to live in Bulgaria, I would also live in the US. I also like the UK, where I am now, although I cannot have the full local experience because of the restrictions in place. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, I try to enjoy today.

Would you like to do theatre work?

I started out in theatre, when I was 12-13 years old and attending the music and stage arts school in Burgas. Theatre is my first love. I would go back to it, but it is the same as in love - sometimes you are not sure if the interest is mutual. With films, the mutual interest has definitely been there.

You say that the new Borat film is as much a story about love as it is a social experiment. What conclusions were you able to draw from this social experiment and from this film about love?

I think of it as a film that tries to unite people, to bring us closer together by showing us how different we are. The more colourful a painting is, the more beautiful it is. Variety in colour makes life.

This film is also about love, about how we need to love and support each other every step of the way. We are all people, we are all equal, we are all born the same way, and we will all die eventually. That is why we must strive to do our best with our time on earth, make it about love and goodness, filled with love. We all felt the lack of social interactions during the pandemic. We cannot survive on our own. Yes, a break is welcome, but in time you realise that you need to hug someone, to hold someone's hand, to meet them in person instead of virtually.  

You are on the cover of UK's Glass Magazine. Have you started feeling irritated with the attention of the media worldwide yet? It is sure to only grow from now on.

I do not think it will ever irritate me. That is not something I fixate on. My job, by training and by choice, is to be an actress. I have no desire or capacity to be an influencer, a photo model or a fashion model or any of it. What I can do is carry myself a certain way, represent a brand or a cause I support. I have no problem being in the spotlight and I will try to use my platform in the best way possible - to help people, not so much myself. There are still places in this world where women are not appreciated for what they are and are not given the same opportunities as men. There are still places where people are rejected for their religious beliefs, sex, sexual orientation or country of origin. I want to help put an end to so many stigmas, to stand up for people who are underprivileged and do not have access to equal opportunities, for children who have had their share of living in misery just because they were born under unfavourable conditions. There are many causes that must be supported. If I feel good, maybe you will feel good too when you communicate with me. I will feel good too because there will be light in you. We are all connected and form the energy fabric of this world.

You love music. What rock star would you like to play on the big screen?

My love for music dates back to my childhood and predates my love for theatre. I was never good enough to be a rock star, but I would want to play one. I applied to study journalism at university and I was pretty torn between following that path and trying out for the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts. Fortunately, I got the chance to play something of a journalist later on. I hope I have the opportunity to portray a rock star in the future as well.

As a kid, you took rhythmic gymnastics, solfeggio, flute, contemporary dance, and folk singing lessons. Do you miss any of these passions of yours now?

I have no time for any of them. Music is the one I miss most of all. I can only afford to listen to it now. Sacha Baron Cohen plays the cello and I can play the flute so we thought about incorporating musical instruments, especially when promoting the film.

Some time ago you said that you owe most of your film credits to the recommendations and enthusiastic encouragement of friends. What do friends mean to you?

Friends are just as important as the family we are born into. I am not one of those ambitious types who would do anything to achieve their goals. I have never jumped to answer a casting call and I do not think I ever will. So I need someone to encourage me, I need an objective outside perspective.  

Are more people trying to be your friends now? Do you let people in easily?

Of course there are more people now. My heart is open. I would like to believe that life puts the right people on our path. I read somewhere that we all tangle up with likeminded people and form knots. And those knots are no accident, every meeting has its meaning. I am happy that I can call friends the majority of people I work with. (abridged)

The interview was originally published by BTA.

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Maria Bakalova was born on 4 June 1996 in Burgas. As a child, she took singing and flute lessons. Later on, she studied acting. In 2019 she graduated from the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia. She made her silver screen debut in 2017. Her performance in Transgression earned her the Best Actress award at the 2018 Alt FF (Alternative Film Festival) in Toronto.

Bakalova gained worldwide recognition as Tutar Sagdiyev in Sacha Baron Cohen's new Borat film (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm). She has already nabbed Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, SAG, and US National Society of Film Critics Awards nominations for that role. 

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