Breaking Baz @ Cannes: ‘The Apprentice’ Star Maria Bakalova On Admiring Ivana Trump’s “Don’t Get Mad, Get Everything” Attitude

: Dahlings, Oscar-nominated Maria Bakalova is channeling an essence of Ivana Trump, who she praises as a “boss lady,” when we meet on a terrace at the Palais to natter about her slyly sublime portrait of Donald Trump’s first wife in filmmaker Ali Abbasi’s Cannes hit The Apprentice.

Bulgarian-born Bakalova plays Czechoslovakian-American Ivana Trump opposite Romanian-born Sebstian Stan’s astute portrayal of Donald Trump.

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They married in 1977 when, perhaps, excess and bad taste weren’t as frowned upon it is today.

Bakalova is wearing a bespoke navy blue short-sleeved jacket with white cuffs that match a white skirt created for her by London-based Han Chong’s Self-Portrait label.

“Yes, it was made as an inspiration for Ivana,” says Bakalova, “because we didn’t want it to be exactly the same, but a nod to Ivana, like a power dressing, power style.”

Ivana Trump at the 1988 Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards (Getty Images)
Ivana Trump at the 1988 Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards (Getty Images)

The gold earrings and gold chain necklace by IVI remind me of the kind of gems I used to spot Ivana wearing when I lived in New York City in the early’80s.

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I’d see her swanning about the city’s nightspots and poshest restaurants and most upscale fundraisers, squeezed into an Arnold Scaasi here or an Oscar de la Renta there.

Draped over her shoulders would be a sable, a mink or a chinchilla coat. Once in a while, on cold nights, she’d manage to combine all three types of fur.

On reflection, the opulence was obscene, but back then the idea that “greed is good” was omnipresent.

Bakalova’s Ivana, perhaps more than any other character in The Apprentice, epitomizes those times.

Ivana Trump in the 1980s in New York City (Getty Images)
Ivana Trump in the 1980s in New York City (Getty Images)

“Oh my God, she’s been such an icon with everything,” Bakalova cries. “Especially, the one part about her fashion that I love the most were her shoulders, like her — how is it called? Shoulder pads? Yes, shoulder pads. Because it’s giving you the feeling of, ‘I own this, I have the power.’ And it’s incredible. It’s beautiful. It’s feminine. It’s also out there. And being able to belong.”

I suggest that Bakalova plays her as a great survivor.

“I hope so,” she responds. “I hope I play her with respect and dignity, because learning about her made me inspired, and I am grateful that I got a chance to read about her.”

In her 1989 divorce deposition, Ivana claimed that Trump raped her once.

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Several years later in 2015, Ivana took back those words and disavowed them, stating that she did not want her words to be interpreted “in a literal or criminal sense.”

At the world-premiere screening in the Grand Théâtre Lumière on Monday night, there was a sharp intake of breath when the Donald Trump character sexually assaults Bakalova’s Ivana. It’s a brutally horrific moment.

Scrawled out in capital letters in my notebook is one word.


Forgive me for asking this, I say to Bakalova, but how would she categorize that devastating moment?

Choosing her words cautiously, Bakalova doesn’t directly answer the question, and says that scene “was not difficult to shoot.”

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She adds: ”The scene was not difficult to shoot, because we had everybody that needed to be there, there. We had an intimacy coordinator who was incredible. We had a stunt coordinator. We had Ali who, if you’ve seen his last movie, Holy Spider, has a lot of intense scenes behind him.”

She continues: ”So for me, I see it as a cinematic piece, a cinematic scene. And I think it’s important for the arc of the characters. But I have to say that I felt very safe and in good hands, because I trusted Ali and I trusted the team that it is going to be great and done safely. And Sebastian was also great.”

And did Abbasi clear the set?

“Yes, we had a clear set. It was absolutely perfectly organized,” she says. “I felt safe and excited to dive into this interesting exploration of how would you feel as a female under these circumstances and get back on your feet? And how will this — I don’t know — change the focus of your life in the future?

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Nodding, I note that in the very next scene, her Ivana is in a fur coat by Trump’s side.

“Well,” Bakalova says, “we all have moments that feel surreal, and do we want to have them in real life, or do we wish we had a nightmare or a dream? But it’s important to get back on your feet and continue, because no matter how hard it is, the sun rises again tomorrow, and you just have to find a way to continue and survive.”

And she did survive, seemingly on her own terms.

Donald and Ivana Trump on their yacht in 1988 (Getty Images)
Donald and Ivana Trump on their yacht in 1988 (Getty Images)

Bakalova nods in agreement. “I think she did. And she’s famous for that specific quote, “Don’t get mad, get everything.”

She also wants me to understand that the scene was always in Gabriel Sherman’s screenplay, it wasn’t some kind of salacious afterthought.

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“Well, the scene has always been in the script. And I think it’s again, important for the arc of my characters. And I try to look at this. This is not a biopic. I don’t see this as a biopic, because not every single detail of Trump’s life exists in this movie. And I don’t want to say this is a Trump movie. I think this is a bigger movie than just focused on one person that is not completely the same story. And it’s inspired by him, but it’s not a biopic for me.

“So we used bullet points of real people as inspiration. Same with the script in general. I think the events in the script are important for the story that we’re sharing. We as artists are there to share the story and to make an influential cinematic piece that will make you feel something, make you move. You might criticize it, you might sympathize, but as long as you feel something, it’s important.”

Her Ivana seemingly dispenses with the misogynistic myth of a dumb blonde.

Bakalova leaps  on that one  pretty darn fast.

Maria Bakalova in Cannes (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)
Maria Bakalova in Cannes (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

“Yeah. Well, she’s not naturally a blonde,” she states.

The star, who garnered a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for 2020s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, tells me she learned a lot of things about Ivana.

“And I’m happy that I got a chance to read the script, get a chance to compete for this role, and then play the role,” she says. “To be able to prepare, to play her with respect and dignity. There’s not a lot of footage from the ’70s, but there is ’80s and ’90s. And she’s been so outspoken about everything. And thinking about the fact that it’s been in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, where women have been even more subjugated by the society somehow. And she still went out there and was outspoken, and everything that she wanted to say is inspiring. She’s been, I feel, way ahead of her time, and such a great boss lady doing it all. Like growing up in communistic Czechoslovakia, pursuing the dream of being a competitive skier. Then moving to Canada to pursue a better life. And going to New York, meeting the love of her life at the beginning, probably the first love, because we might have a lot of loves.”

But Trump was not her first love though, I say.

“It was not. Well, what can I say? I think Ivana didn’t shy away from the fact that she wanted to share her love,” Bakalova says.

“She wanted to live life. So learning about her, and learning the fact that she, for example, loved to live, loved to dance, loved to eat, loved to have experiences. Something that I feel like we — especially my generation — forget a lot, being stuck with phones, computers, iPads, stuck in social media and a lot of channels. We forget the fact that we are here, we’re alive, we have this privilege to enjoy every single minute. And she was all about that,” she argues.

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She says Ivana, who died in 2022 at 73, was a “boss lady” very much driven by “dreams, ambitions” while also being such a “great dedicated mother I feel like, because she ran the casino, she ran all the properties. She’s been a great figure behind the scenes of building this empire that they built together, but also raising her kids with love and respect.”

Bakalova, who studied theatre at Bulgaria’s top acting school, takes on roles and thoroughly explores every aspect of them. And then, just as the best actors do, that research is ditched so that only the essence of a character remains, and she then assumes and inhabits that character. The result is that her best performances are effortless. She’s not at all weighed down by the roles she plays, at least not outwardly.

She didn’t know much about Ivana Trump when her agents, back in 2022, emailed her the screenplay for The Apprentice.

“But I saw Ali Abbasi directing. And I knew about him, because he’s such a great director, one of the best ones out there,” she says.

“And I started reading it, and I was like, “OK, hold a minute. The role that I’ll be reading for, it’s going to be Ivana Trump. It sounds familiar again. I don’t know a lot about her. Only that she’s Eastern European. She’s been an athlete. And you recognize the last name, but not a lot of information. So I read this quickly. I love the story. I was proven wrong that I should not be judging just by the title. And I fell in love with the story, the way that it’s developed, that it’s such a timeless, universal dive into the underbelly of the American empire, the American system. It’s the American dream that we all know about.”

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Inspired by Ivana, Bakalova put on a little bit of a makeup, did up her hair and sent an improv video to Abbasi.

“Everybody says that she had all this hair, and I just put a lot of volume in it. And I asked the hairdresser that was doing my hair for the movie that I was shooting, ‘Can we please do something that is more ’80s, ’70s, early ’90s?'”‘ And we did it.“

Her hard work won her a meeting with Abbasi, and several months later she was informed she had the part.

The movie suggests, as have various biographies of Ivana and of Donald, that she helped him move uptown just as much as evil empire lawyer Roy Cohn did, played by an unbelievably fabulous Jeremy Strong.

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“I think she’s been very smart and knew how to get where she wanted to get, and had a lot to offer,” Bakalova says. “It was very interesting, because she’s this larger-than-life character. It’s not a flat character. We did a lot of scenes. A lot of the scenes currently are not in the movie,” she lamented.

“But we got a chance to play with her and try different things — even the way she used her voice, because I was watching a lot of interviews. Sometimes she’s speaking with a lower tone, sometimes she’s speaking very feminine. And I feel like that’s how she tried to express on another level.

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So we were thinking about building her layer so she can be feminine, she can be demanding, she can be outspoken yet soft-spoken and not be scared to say no to things and being a tough cookie, as Trump described her. And also standing up for herself, standing up for the people that she loves and cares about. So Ali always talked to me about, ‘Think about her, think about her. She’s not just a regular person. She’s this larger-than-life character. She’s that woman. So play her with love and respect.’ And I hope I did, because I fell in love with her.”

It’s a terrific performance, as are the ones by Stan and Strong.

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