While 2020 has been a year to forget for most of us, it has been anything but for Maria Bakalova.
The Bulgarian actor has gone from being all but anonymous to being tipped for an Oscar following last month's release of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, in which she plays Borat's daughter, Tutar.
The 24-year-old fought off more than 600 actors to land the role, but initially she feared the audition might have been some kind of 'human trafficking' scheme.
Speaking to The New York Times, she said: "I heard from a friend there was an open call for the lead role in a Hollywood movie. And I was like, 'That's not possible. We are Bulgarians. Nobody can actually see us in lead roles.'
"I sent out self-tapes, then they called me for a screen test in London.
"But the project was so confidential, I was like, 'Is this actually a project?'
"I was sure it was going to be a human trafficking situation. I had no idea I was going to meet Sacha [Baron Cohen] - it was a surprise."
If you've seen the film, then you'll appreciate this is not a normal part for an actor to be cast in. The role isn't about learning lines and delivering monologues, it's about completely absorbing the character, as well as improvising and being fearless.
As such, the audition involved working with real people, who were oblivious to what was going on around them.
Bakalova recalled: "There were three days of screen tests. The first one, we had a small rehearsal; the second one, we started working with real people. They had to believe that we're real people, that we are not actors, for this to work for the movie. We had to stay undercover.
"It was at a house and there was a super-sweet, nice old couple from England. And we went at them in our crazy way. I'm not quite sure that I know how they actually did it.
"At the same time, let's not break the idea of how the magic is happening. Sacha is the person who knows how this whole machine is running."
Clearly though, the vetting process worked, as countless viewers and Baron Cohen himself have tipped Bakalova for an Oscar.
Speaking on Good Morning America, he said: "She is hilarious, she is one of the most courageous actors in history. If she doesn't get nominated for an Oscar then that's a travesty."
Writing on Instagram, Bakalova said she was 'overwhelmed' by his words, adding that he really is like a father to her.
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