Sacha Baron Cohen Calls Borat 2 Oscar Nominee Maria Bakalova a 'Phenomenon': She's 'Deeply Courageous'

Sacha Baron Cohen knows he got a special talent when he cast Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.

The duo starred in the sequel, with Bakalova earning an Oscar nomination for playing Borat's teenage daughter. Baron Cohen recently accepted the outstanding performer of the year award at the 36th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where he talked about getting 24-year-old Bakalova, an unknown talent, onboard the sequel.

"She is a phenomenon, she's a one-off. She's incredibly courageous, she's in real situations, sometimes dangerous situations," Baron Cohen, 49, revealed in a PEOPLE exclusive clip. "She is very very funny, hilarious. She's an incredible improvisor and fundamentally she's a deeply emotional actor. We said, if you do this scene, you're getting nominated for an Oscar."

Bakalova did in fact pick up a nomination, as did Baron Cohen, who received two for his performance in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and co-writing the Borat sequel.

The actor also talked about the process in finding the right actor to pull off the role.

"It was a challenge, we interviewed hundreds of actors around the world, many brilliant comedians in America who could speak a second language," said Baron Cohen "One of the parts of the audition process was they'd sit in a room with a real person for an hour and try and deliver some of the jokes we had written. And within a few minutes and they'd delivered the first joke, the real person would go, 'You're an actor' or 'This isn't real. '"

"We needed someone who was a brilliant actor, who could blend in these jokes seamlessly into a complete persona," Baron Cohen continued. "We went around the world and looked throughout Eastern Europe," where they found the Bulgarian actress.


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