'Borat' star Maria Bakalova on joining the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and sharing scenes with Pete Davidson: 'He's an incredible actor'

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 23: (L-R) James Gunn, Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Will Poulter, and Maria Bakalova speak onstage at the Marvel Cinematic Universe Mega-Panel during 2022 Comic-Con International Day 3 at San Diego Convention Center on July 23, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Will Poulter and Maria Bakalova at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. (Photo: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Talk about your out of this world experiences. At this year's San Diego Comic-Con, breakout Borat star Maria Bakalova made her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut official, joining director James Gunn and the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 onstage in Hall H as they unveiled the first trailer for their trilogy-capping space adventure. "The reason I became a fan of the MCU is because of Guardians of the Galaxy," the Oscar-nominated Bulgarian actress raves to Yahoo Entertainment a week after storming the Comic-Con stage. "It has humor, it has heart and it has moments when you can really cry. Being able to join the last installment of this franchise has been the biggest gift."

Bakalova's exact role in the film is a secret that she's been keeping since GOTG went into production in late 2021. But at last the truth can be told: She's the voice of Cosmo the Spacedog, a Soviet Space Program-era test animal who has been bouncing around the galaxy since the '60s (and who was briefly spotted in the first Guardians film). Bakalova joins an ever-evolving menagerie of digitally created space critters that includes a duck named Howard (voiced by Seth Green), a tree named Groot (Vin Diesel) and, of course, a raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper).

Cooper and Diesel famously aren't on set while the Guardians films are shot, generally recording their lines after the fact. (Instead, Gunn's brother Sean doubles as the on-set stand-in for Rocket in addition to his recurring role as the Ravager-turned-Guardian Kraglin.) But Bakalova reveals that she couldn't pass up the chance to spend some quality IRL time with the film's flesh-and-blood cast. "I couldn't resist not going to set," she says. "I've been a fan of the universe, and I wanted to see how it works."

The humor and heart that Bakalova loves about the Guardians series was certainly on display in the first trailer that Gunn screened for the SDCC crowd. Due to unfinished special effects, it has yet to premiere online, but star Chris Pratt promised that it will still give fans all the feels when it does finally drop. "Don’t do any emotional preparation, just go see it, and you’ll see why people were moved," the actor teased in interviews that followed the star-studded Marvel Studios panel.

Watching Gunn work on set gave Bakalova special insight into why the Guardians films have such a hold over audiences. "He's one of those people that knows how to create a family, not just a team," she explains. "The people in the film share the same love as the audience. At the end of the day, we're making these movies to make the people that are going to watch them feel something. It was fascinating to be able to see what was behind the curtain."

Naturally, Bakalova declines to say too much about Cosmo's role in the events of the grand Guardians finale, lest she wind up in the Collector's treasure trove of galactic artifacts. But she does call the experience of voicing the long-lost spacedog an "interesting" acting challenge. "I sometimes forget that imagination exists, and Marvel movies help us remember that because it's all about your imagination. I'm lucky to be portraying this beautiful character that's going to share in the unconditional love the rest of them do."

Bakalova found a different sort of family on the set of the new horror film, Bodies Bodies Bodies, the latest buzzy genre movie from A24 — the studio behind cult favorites like Midsommar and Men. Directed by Halina Reijn, the movie stars Bakalova and Amandla Stenberg as Bee and Sophie, a new couple who arrive for a group hang with Sophie's wealthy friends at a remote country mansion. With a hurricane closing in, the pals decide to pass the time with an after-dark party game that takes a turn for the deadly. As the body count climbs and suspicion mounts, Bee finds herself on the outs with both her girlfriend and the other freaked-out, tweaked-out Gen Zers trying to stay alive.

While Bodies Bodies Bodies is filled with scenes of things going bump in the dark (including, of course, dead bodies) screenwriter Sarah DeLappe's script has a distinctly satirical edge that often lampoons its youthful characters. There's one scene in particular where Sophie's friends — whose ranks include rising stars like Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott and Myha'la Herrold — turn on each other in spectacular fashion, unironically complaining about being "triggered" and ridiculing a podcast that's been a passion project for one of them.

"I am making fun of myself and my generation," Bakalova confirms, while also noting that, at 26, she technically falls in the gap between millennials and Generation Z. "The moment we take ourselves too seriously, you can get into trouble because things really are not that serious! At the same time, Bee is not the kind of character who brings the jokes. She's the grounded one who is like a mirror to all of these people because she has the most objective perception of them."

Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalova star in Bodies Bodies Bodies (Photo: Eric Chakeen/A24)
Amandla Stenberg and Bakalova star in Bodies Bodies Bodies. (Photo: Eric Chakeen/A24)

The Bodies Bodies Bodies cast also includes ex-Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson as David, whose parents own the house where the horror movie hijinks are going down. "He's an incredible actor and one of the nicest people in the universe," Bakalova says of Davidson, singling out his "discipline" as one of the keys to his success as an actor.

"He really listens to what you say, and isn't just like, 'I'm gonna say my line,'" she explains. "He's listening to your line and then responds with the tempo. And he completely transitioned from being one of the sweetest people to playing one of the biggest douchebags! I'd be looking at him thinking, 'How is he doing it?' I'm a fan of his work and of him as a person, so I'm just looking forward to what he does next, because it's gonna be great."

When Bodies Bodies Bodies was shot in May 2021, Davidson had yet to embark on his whirlwind romance with Kim Kardashian, whom he met that October when she hosted SNL. Asked if it's surprising to see him now as one half of a high-profile power couple, Bakalova expresses nothing but good wishes for his future. "As long as he keeps doing the beautiful art he's been doing, the rest of it is none of my business. I just want him to be happy, because he deserves to be happy."

Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson and Rachel Sennott in Bodies Bodies Bodies (Photo: Erik Chakeen/A24)
Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson and Rachel Sennott in Bodies Bodies Bodies. (Photo: Erik Chakeen/A24)

With Bodies Bodies Bodies in theaters and Guardians of the Galaxy on deck for a May 2023 launch, Bakalova is feeling very happy with where her life and career are two years removed from her major motion picture debut in Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat sequel. The actress was front and center in that movie's most notorious scene, where she sat down with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for an on-camera encounter that went to a disturbing place.

"Movies like this are showing people’s true colors," Bakalova told The New York Times in the wake of the film's release, adding that her "heart was racing" when she filmed her dramatic encounter with Giuliani while she was in character as Boart's daughter, Tutar. "I was kind of scared that something would happen. But fortunately we escaped."

Bakalova and Sacha Baron Cohen in the controversial Borat sequel. (Photo: Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Bakalova and Sacha Baron Cohen in the controversial Borat sequel. (Photo: Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Reflecting on her Borat 2 experience now, Bakalova says she'd "definitely" make the movie again, even knowing the perilous circumstances Cohen's undercover stunts would place her in. "Sacha is just brilliant: He's so freaking smart and pretty much a mirror to the world and how people treat each other. I deeply admire his work, because it's like a social experiment that points us to how we can become better people."

Cohen has said that Borat is permanently retired in the wake of the sequel, citing safety concerns as the reason for that decision. But Bakalova isn't ruling out a second adventure as Tutar. "I love my character, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's going to happen to her in the future," she teases. "Will we see that someday? I don't know — it's not under my control. But will I be excited to get back there? Absolutely. It's a one of a kind experience."

Bodies Bodies Bodies premieres Friday, Aug. 5 in theaters.