How many Bond girls write letters to Lars von Trier? Only one. Only the best one, apparently. “Oh, I’ve been tracking him,” laughs Olga Kurylenko, mischievously. And what exactly did she write to the bad-boy Danish depressive? “I can’t say… But I did get an answer,” she smiles. Von Trier sent her a photo of himself. He’d signed it, ‘To the best Bond babe.’ “That picture is on my wall,” says Kurylenko. “He must work with me. He doesn’t know what he missing out on…”
Or maybe he does. People, finally, are starting to catch on that the 30-year-old Ukrainian has a lot to more say for herself than most of 007’s former squeezes. Ironic, given that Kurylenko doesn’t say a single word in Neil Marshall’s frosty Roman hack-‘em-up Centurion. She plays a cold-blooded huntress whose tongue was cut out as a child, embarking on a mission of silent vengeance against rogue Romans Michael Fassbender and Dominic West. Talk about playing dumb.
“Not having any dialogue was difficult, but that’s why I went for it,” she explains. “I thought a lot about body movement, how she is like an animal. Everything is in the eyes and in this tension, this excitement of tracking people, hunting, hating and killing them. It’s a good exercise. These are types of things you do to develop yourself. When you have no text, you have to use everything else.”
Like spears, axes, knifes, fists… Hard to think of another recent female action role that’s as brutally violent as Kurylenko’s in Centurion. “I do quite horrible stuff,” she nods. “Like cutting heads off and fighting with a spear and two little axes. I know my fighting. It’s a physical performance. But it’s all fun. Even if I get hit, I don’t really feel it because I’m in some kind of trance.”
Even having overcome her nervousness around horses (“I’d never touched a horse before, so I was quite… reticent”) to play a galloping, decapitating, muted she-wolf, Kurylenko doesn’t count Centurion as the toughest movie of her career. “No… I still think Bond was the toughest,” she says. “Even though the character in Centurion seemed more mean, it’s not comparable. On Bond, they trained me for six months instead of two. My whole body transformed. I got covered in muscles. If I had to do it again, I would. I learned so much. How to fight, how to shoot, how to take a gun apart.” She smiles. “Which is not really useful…”
Mention the “Bond girl curse” to Kurylenko and you’ll get a derisive look. “Oh yeah, I hear that all the time,” she sighs, dismissively. “I think it’s bullshit! You can appear in any film and then disappear. If you’re not good, you’re going to disappear. If you’re still here, it means you’re wanted and you’re capable. That’s it. That’s the situation. I want it. I’m up to it. And that’s all I need.”
Quite obviously, Olga Kurylenko’s tongue was not cut out as a child. Born poor in the Ukraine, Kurlyenko trained as a ballerina before being discovered by a female model scout in Moscow when she was 13. In the years that followed, she became the face of Clarins and the body of Victoria’s Secret. No wonder von Trier wrote back to her.
After making her big-screen acting debut in French indie L’annulaire, it was her casting as embattled beauty Camille – the first post-Soviet Bond girl – in Quantum Of Solace that blasted her into the spotlight as Hollywood’s new bad-girl heroine. Most actresses get rom-coms thrown at them, not axe-swinging actioners. “Well, that’s because I’m getting them all!” she laughs. “They keep coming for me. I’m thinking, ‘Why me?’ But I guess once people have seen you in a part, they think, okay, she did it once, she can do this part.”
Which, to be honest, was not Kurylenko’s game plan. Tomb Raider III is not an ambition. “Oh, you see, as much as it’s fun, I like to watch psychological films like Breaking The Waves and Eraserhead,” she says. “David Lynch, Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke. Those are the directors I’d like to work with. I’m quite attracted to movies where you really go into the character very deeply and I have to build this whole pyramid in my head. I just like… a bit of brain-game, you know what I mean?” The screwed-up ones? “I like it,” she smiles. “Maybe it’s a bit sick, but… I like it. The more things scare me, the more I tend to want to do them.”
Which does beg the question. Seems a little odd that a former Bond girl who writes letters to Lars von Trier is taking bimbo roles in videogame actioners (Hitman, Max Payne) that were never, ever going to be good. “The thing is…” she begins, before faltering. “How to say?” She thinks. “No, I can’t say that…” Then shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter.”
It does matter. It’s interesting. “You want to go into it?” Let’s do it. “Everything has a meaning, everything is a necessary step,” she explains. “That Hitman thing, whatever it was, it did what it had to do. For me. I started acting in France. Being in France, how do you catch a part in a Hollywood film? It’s impossible. I was just getting French films, which never get out there. So to me, Hitman was an opportunity to do a Hollywood film and get seen worldwide. Before that film, I went with my independent film – it’s beautiful, it’s still my favourite film that I did – to New York to get an agent. I said, ‘Look, here are my French movies.’ And they said, ‘We don’t care. You have to do something in America.’ How do I do something in America when I don’t have agent? They said, ‘Well, first you have to do it and then you get an agent.’ Well, I can’t know about the castings! It’s like a circle, you know! So I just went back to Paris. It was impossible. So when Hitman landed on my table, I said, ‘Okay, this is my opportunity, because an American film never comes to France.”
Turns out, starring in a bad videogame movie isn’t so bad for business. “The moment that movie came out, I had all the agents from LA calling me on my cell,” continues Kurylenko. “They were the biggest agents in Hollywood and I chose who I wanted. I didn’t go begging, like I did before, when they said, ‘Sorry girl, you’re French, we don’t care about French films.’ They called me. That’s exactly what I wanted that film to do for me. I had to go through it to do Malick today.”
That’s right. Next up for Kurylenko is a movie with one of world cinema’s most revered visionaries. The New World director Terence Malick usually makes about one film per decade. Olga’s in his next one, alongside Christian Bale, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams. “So exciting,” she beams. How did she get a role that hundreds of actresses auditioned for? Well, there was something particularly interesting about that audition. “It was mute,” reveals Kurylenko. “I spent an hour doing five different scenes that he had described. I had to say nothing. It was all in the eyes. Can you believe that? And that was difficult, believe me. First of all, it was improvisation. When it’s words, you can start blabbering. But when there’s nothing to say, you better say someting without speaking or it doesn’t work. So that was hard.”
Fortunately, Kurylenko wasn’t phased. Her audition came right after playing a certain wordless she-wolf in Centurion. Funny how these things work out. “Exactly,” she smiles. “Interesting, isn’t it? Every movie does its own thing.”
Kurylenko won’t spill about Malick’s as-yet-untitled epic (“Oh…. I can really say. You know how it is. But it’s going to be cool”) and she’s being just as careful about The Cross, her upcoming movie directed by Lord Of War’s Andrew Niccol and co-starring comeback kid Orlando Bloom and Euro icon Vincent Cassel. “It’s sci-fi and it’s about a woman who lives in this bizarre world,” she offers, cautiously. “And basically, it’s this world people want to escape from. There’s a guy who… no, I can’t really.” She stops and screws her face into another smile. “Basically, there’s a love story with someone who really, really wants to escape. I’m the woman who gives him shelter. You’ve got to wait and see.”
That’s the mantra for Kurylenko, too: wait and see. But with her, you never have to wait too long. It’s been two years since her Bond breakout and just five since her big-screen debut. She’s moved fast – but success hasn’t just been handed to her. Hollywood stardom is still a long game and she knows it. “I’ve been through tons of auditions for movies and I know that I was chosen but for other reasons somebody else did them. That happens all the time.” For example? “No, I can’t say, because they’re quite big examples.” And those other reasons? “It’s all about hierarchy,” she shrugs. “Box-office and people that bring it. I’m not… at the top. I’m somewhere in the middle.” But like we said, with Kurylenko, you never have to wait too long.
Publication: Total Film