Maria Bakalova on The Honeymoon, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and Crazy Vacations
Dec 30, 2022
Written and directed by Dean Craig (Death as a Funeral, Love Wedding Repeat), the new rom-com The Honeymoon, which is being released today, December 16th, follows newlyweds Sarah (Maria Bakalova) and Adam (Pico Alexander) as they head to Venice for a romantic getaway. Things get complicated, however, when Adam’s best friend Bav (Asim Chaudhry) tags along, getting them wrapped up in a hilariously wild scheme that will test all of their relationships.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider’s Taylor Gates, star Maria Bakalova discusses what it was like to both star in and produce the film. She also reveals which of her characters she would most want to third-wheel on a romantic getaway, how she hopes this role will open more doors for Eastern European actors, her most chaotic vacation horror story, and more.
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COLLIDER: I’m so excited to talk to you about this. I know in the past, you’ve spoken about some really crazy auditions that you’ve had – with Borat, I know the smell was a big thing for you, and there was the blind audition for Women Do Cry. I was curious how you came to be involved in this project and if it was anywhere near as crazy as those.
MARIA BAKALOVA: Thank god it was not. [Laughs] I mean, it was kind of a crazy situation as well because the approach of this one came when I was shooting Bodies Bodies Bodies, which was a time of my life when I was almost 24/7 covered in blood, mud, and pounds of cold water. So it was, in another way, traumatizing. So I saw this beautiful script – a romantic comedy about friendship and love – with the great Dean Craig, who is an exceptional writer and director as well. I think he just directed Love Wedding Repeat at that time around COVID. It was one of those movies that brought hope back to life because we all needed a moment of escaping reality and escaping these pandemic circumstances we were living in, oppressing us. I was like, “Gosh, we need that more than ever.” I personally miss 90s rom-coms and romantic dramas, so I was like, “Let’s try to do it.” The stakes are high, but it was important to make it realistic, grounded, yet hilarious. Because we had people like Dean Craig, Guglielmo Marchetti, and Pier Tempest who brought artists like Pico Alexander, Asim Chaudhry, and Lucas Bravo, I think we achieved our goal: to create something that feels timeless, not pretentious, but really heartwarming and exciting.
Image via Lionsgate
Yeah, I think you definitely succeeded in that, too. I know beyond acting in this project, you were a producer. If I did my homework right, this is your first producing credit. What was that experience like?
BAKALOVA: Everything started, for me, with wondering what happens behind the screen. It started when I met Monica Levinson, one of the producers of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. She’s one of my idols because she’s a badass woman, and I want to be like her – she’s exceptional. Ever since then, I was like, “It’s so freaking important to have a female voice behind the screen to make creative decisions.” About the financing part, I’m not there yet. [Laughs] There’s a long way to go to get to know that part. But about the voice and about the idea of having an opinion, creating a safe environment, bringing the right people together. I’m watching any type of movie all the time. Pretty much that’s my life, either shooting them or watching them, so I’m always excited to see who’s been the editor of the movie, the DP of the movie, hair and makeup department. Seeing which other person will collaborate and how are they going to help each other. Because the movie takes such a long time. You have pre-development, development, post-production, promotion, so you have to be around good people, and for us, as actors, to have the privilege to step on the set, you have to respect every single person involved there. And if you’ve chosen the right people, it feels like a holiday. It doesn’t feel like working. It feels exciting and pleasant, and it’s important. And I want to keep learning about it because I’m pretty sure that there are a lot more things to learn and a lot more lessons to be taught to me, so I’m excited that I have Piers Tempest and Guglielmo Marchetti as my first teachers. They took my hand and showed me everything I could accept at this point, so I want to keep exploring more and more and more and more.
Absolutely. I was wondering if, since you seem very excited about producing, is there a part of you that wants to branch out and do writing or directing or any other roles as well?
BAKALOVA: Of course. I believe that most of the artists that are working in any spectrum of the art world have thought about another career also including another part of an art. I’ve been writing since the age of 12, but do I really think something that’s going to be universally exciting? Not quite sure. And I believe that to be able to write dialogue for a movie, you need to be more objectively accepted. With directing, I feel like you have more space to be more subjective about your opinions and your decisions. When you’re writing, it has to be exceptional. It has to be something that works for most people. And then you get a director who might change the focus of it and tell the story in a different way. I’m excited to someday maybe direct. Writing in front of people, for people, creating a dialogue especially? Not so sure. But maybe someday I do want to try to direct something.
Image via Lionsgate
That’s so exciting. You’ve also mentioned shooting in Venice, which is gorgeous to watch on the screen. Can you talk a little about what it was like to be in that environment? I was very jealous that I was not in that environment as I was watching.
BAKALOVA: I hope you at least felt like you were! Because we had such an incredible director of photography called Mike Stern, and I hope he really managed to capture – I think he did – the feeling of Venice and Italy in general. It was exceptional. It was incredible. It’s the most romantic city in the world, and we got to work there, we got to live there, we got to experience it to the point where it’s like, “Gosh, can this movie never end?” And the people who were working were also incredible. I’m with my family, I’m with my friends, we’re all doing something here, we’re hoping it’s going to make people smile and make people happy for just a moment – for just one and a half hours – and make them dream about the moment we can start traveling again. Because that was last year with COVID scarier than right now, and traveling was still a dreamy place to be, so at least having it onscreen…we can all relate one way or another, the escape during the pandemic happened throughout the power of art, cinema, because it’s like, for a moment, you’re kind of there. It’s been special, and it’s been exciting, and it’s a place that everybody should visit definitely. It’s this archetype you somehow know. It’s kind of like the collective known that’s something that brings the loving feelings and emotions. I have chills talking about it.
It’s beautiful. I’ve been there once, and I feel like I need to book my ticket to go back because it’s so pretty. This movie is so funny. It sees your honeymoon interrupted by a, let’s say, high-maintenance friend. You’ve played some interesting roles. Of all the characters you’ve played, who would you most and least want to third-wheel a romantic getaway?
BAKALOVA: Oh my gosh. I’m not sure how to answer this question. I’ve gotten to play a lot of weird, different characters. Imagining Tutar being married – I’m not sure I want to be the third wheel there, to be completely honest. On another hand, I do want to see what actually happens there because this marriage has been dreamed such a long time. Do I want to be Sarah’s third wheel? Probably not, because I see how she’s feeling about that. Do I want to be Bee, my character in Bodies Bodies Bodies, third wheel? Probably not, because they all end up…kind of dead in Bodies Bodies Bodies. [Laughs] For the future films that are coming out next year, maybe it’s too early to talk, but I don’t want to be a third wheel, to be honest. Maybe there is going to be a character that is going to be more open-minded and accepting of other people. As for right now, I don’t think there’s a character I want to be around when they’re having their honeymoon, no matter how much I love them. I think that’s special, and they should have it for themselves and their loved one, otherwise, you end up in a situation like Sarah and Adam having Bav.
Image via Lionsgate
That’s fair enough. We’ll stay away from that. Speaking of your character – this movie is so fun because you get to play different facets of her. In the beginning, she’s kind of trying to hold it together, then understandably snaps a bit, and then she gets to be an action-hero type. What was it like getting to play all those different sides of her?
BAKALOVA: I have to say, I’m extremely grateful for the script that Dean Craig has written because you so rarely are able to see characters like Sarah portrayed by actors from my region of the world. Usually, if there is a character in a romantic comedy – not that there are many romantic comedies these days – but usually, if there’s an Eastern European actress, she will never be given the chance to play a romantic character, so having the chance to work on that has been an exceptional chance for me and all my fellow Eastern Europeans. I hope that opens more opportunities and doors for everybody besides just me. It’s been interesting because she’s serious, she’s concentrated, yet she’s impulsive. She’s not mean, but she can say things so directly that they might be taken as a mean comment. She’s proper, yet she also has some thoughts about, “Maybe I should explore that person because my husband just dropped me here and went to do weird things with his buddy.” So it’s been interesting because she has these layers – these ups and downs and ups and downs – and you cannot predict what she’s going to do in the future to the point where you’re like, “Oh my gosh. Is she actually going for him? For real?” And then, of course, she will do something unexpected where she might get into action – physical action. It’s been interesting, and thank god we had Dean, and thank god I had these amazing people – Pico Alexander, Asim Chaudhry, Lucas Bravo – who helped me believe in her. Because your character is just as good as the people you’re playing with. If they’re giving you the right lines and performance, you can build a great character. Otherwise, what are you actually building? It’s teamwork. It’s important to be around a great team, and I have a great team in this one.
I love to hear that so much. Speaking of the relationship at the core of this movie, it’s such a sweet relationship, and I found myself wanting to see more and more of it. Did you talk with Dean or Pico about their background or history for yourself going into it? I’d be so curious to know.
BAKALOVA: Yeah. We talked a lot. We actually had a long time rehearsing. We had two or three weeks of table readings and rehearsals, so it wasn’t just jumping into the movie. And before even getting to Italy, we were Zooming and talking and developing background stories and history and biographies of the characters to the point of like, “His grandpa could have been from there.” Pico, for example, is Polish-American. He is from Poland. We don’t really explore that on-screen, but we have that in the background, and we use that. Asim is also a mixture of genes in his body, so it’s important to develop the rules of these people and how they are all related. I think one of the most important things we achieved in this movie is bringing an international cast – we have a British actor, we have a French actor, we have a Polish-American actor, and we have an Eastern European actor as well. At the end of the day, we’re all mixed all around the world, and the more we talk about it, the safer the world is going to be and the happier the world is going to be because we hopefully will be nicer human beings and treat each other nicer. So, yeah, we established the relationship and how long Bav and Sarah could have known each other – have they actually tried to bond before? Or they really couldn’t? But it was really hard because Asim – I love him tremendously. I feel like he is my brother for years – not just for the last months. I felt so freaking safe being around him – like my big brother is watching over me trying to make me feel safe and appreciated and happy and make me laugh. So it was hard to be like, “Ugh, you’re driving me crazy right now.” But we had to just for a moment. I felt, in moments, that Sarah is actually the third wheel and she should be the third wheel because their connection is so strong. And we explain it later, and you kind of root for them continuing to be together – Bav and Adam. At the end of the day, friendship is also extremely important. It’s as deeply important as love. It’s your chosen family.
Image via Lionsgate
100%. And I love how this explores that in the most chaotic and funny way. This year, a theme with your movies seems to be vacations going awry with this and Bodies Bodies Bodies. Do you have any personal vacation stories you’ll always remember? Probably not to this level, one would hope.
BAKALOVA: [Laughs] Probably, yeah, not to this level. Oh my gosh. I wish I had a vacation any time recently, but I haven’t in the last five years. But me and my best friend Mila, in our first year in university, we decided to backpack, and we ended up completely broken living in the woods right next to the seaside. I needed to go back to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, because I was filming something. And for two days, I just escaped, and I went like that [holds up hitchhiking thumb] with random people in cars. We ended up with two friends of ours, two boys, who couldn’t bring wood and they couldn’t light a fire, so we ended up doing all the work. We were so freaking scared because it was in the middle of nowhere in the wild. It was pretty weird. I have to remember that story because now, when I’m thinking about weird vacations, that one for sure has been weird. And that was the reason we actually became friends. We didn’t really know each other before that, but we ended up in a situation where we had to take care of our lives because it was crazy as hell. But yeah. It’s been a weird one, definitely.
Those circumstances seem to bond people in terms of friendship.
BAKALOVA: Trauma bonding.
Absolutely. The last question I have for you: I definitely got some We’re the Millers vibes, You, Me, and Dupree. If you had to pair this movie with another film for a double feature, what do you think would be a good choice and why?
BAKALOVA: Hmm. I was thinking because Dean did Death at a Funeral and he also did Love Wedding Repeat, you can pair it with some of these movies. Huh. The possibilities of pairing movies together are so large. There are so many. For example, right now, I’m thinking about how Lucas is a part of Ticket to Paradise. Both are romantic comedies. Maybe that could be a good combination between one character and the rest of the cast that can get together. I don’t know! Maybe we should think about that and try to make it happen.
I’m here for it. I would definitely be in attendance.
The Honeymoon is now available to watch in select theaters, on-demand, and digital.
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