By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Olga Kurylenko is becoming the go-to actress for Hollywood action movies.
The statuesque Ukraine-born brunette starred opposite Daniel Craig in 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” holding her own against the James Bond star as a woman focused on avenging the murder of her family. She subsequently has played formidable leading ladies opposite Mark Wahlberg in “Max Payne” and Michael Fassbender in “Centurion.”
The 33-year-old, twice-divorced actress now stars opposite Tom Cruise in the sci-fi action thriller “Oblivion.” Directed and produced by Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”) and based on his graphic novel, the film is set in 2077 after an alien invasion. Kurylenko gets to utilize her well-honed physical skills as Julia, a space traveler who returns to Earth decades after the invasion that has all but wiped out mankind.
Her arrival triggers a chain of events that forces Cruise’s Jack, a drone repairman assigned to defend the planet against alien scavengers, to question everything he knows about the war. It also disrupts the relationship between Jack and his lover/co-worker Victoria (“W.E.” star Andrea Riseborough).
Dressed in a form-fitting fuschia dress, Kurylenko spoke about keeping up with veteran action star Cruise, performing the stunts, making it in Hollywood and her starring role in Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder.”
Q: Your character in “Oblivion” is a bit of a mystery at the beginning, and then we find out more as the film goes on. Is it hard to play that sort of ambiguity?
Kurylenko: That’s what attracted me to the role and what I found very interesting, the fact that there was this mystery to Julia, and that I couldn’t reveal everything right away from the very first appearance of her on screen. The fact that she had to uncover her story during the whole film (was interesting). All that mystery was interesting to work on.
Q: Was director Joe Kosinski collaborative in letting you expand and make suggestions for your character?
Kurylenko: It’s always teamwork. If the team is effective, it works. Basically, we spoke a lot. I spoke with him and Tom. We would have meetings, the three of us, and discuss our characters’ back story. We rehearsed. I watched videos of astronauts training and some old romantic movies as preparation and inspiration. It’s a working process; you grow together.
Q: You’ve worked with some of the biggest male movie stars in the world, namely Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise. Can you compare and contrast working with each of them?
Kurylenko: (She laughs.) They’re both action heroes. They both are involved a lot in action films and they have a similar thing in that they both do their stunts themselves. They train a lot physically, and work a lot. Both are very hardworking. Tom is fascinating. I don’t know what that man doesn’t know how to do. He flies a plane, a helicopter, everything. It’s very inspiring to work with people like that, but don’t try to outshine them in the action scenes. I think there was a stunt guy trying to run faster than Tom Cruise, but Tom was faster. Stunt guys are tough, strong and fast but Tom is still stronger and faster. He’s one of a kind.
Q: Creatively, what was it like working with Tom as an acting partner?
Kurylenko: He’s very interesting, creatively. It was an unexpected thing to see how much he gives. He’s a big star and a wonderful actor. He’s also a generous partner, which is not always the case (with other actors). I’ve never seen him sit in his trailer. He was always there, even if the camera was on me and he was far away from my eye line, he would prefer to be there (on set). He would never leave the set, even if I told him “Seriously, I don’t need you.” He would still be there because he is involved 100 percent. That’s a wonderful thing. He’s very supportive, of course. He’s done all these stunt scenes before so when I came on set.
Q: You have some great scenes with Tom onboard the spacecraft called the bubbleship. What was that like?
Kurylenko: There was this gimbal that was spinning (the ship), and Tom talked me through it. He knew how it worked. It’s very reassuring to have a partner like that. He’s not just an actor who has no idea. He actually technically knows how things work and you feel safe with him.
Q: Did you get sick?
Kurylenko: I threw up in the beginning of the film when I came out of the (sleep) pod, so that was done (she laughs). I don’t get motion sickness. I can be on a boat and everything, but psychologically I don’t like being thrown around. I don’t enjoy roller coasters and that was like being in a washing machine and a roller coaster at the same time, because it was spinning the whole time. When I have a choice, I don’t like going into washing machines, but Tom told me “You have no choice.” It was funny how I slowly adjusted to that machine, but in the beginning it was tough.
Q: Were you laughing?
Kurylenko: Everybody was cracking up. We were laughing and screaming at the same time. It creates such an atmosphere on set. Those scenes usually are very exciting and it’s also intense because you’re working with machinery and buttons that have to be pushed and guys controlling it. It’s fascinating how they built that thing. It could rotate all kinds of ways.
Q: Was it more of a physical challenge to play Julia in this or Camille in “Quantum of Solace?” Did you get injured doing this?
Kurylenko: Oh, I wouldn’t tell you about that! I’m tough. I get hurt all the time but it’s okay. I like it. Actually, Julia is not the most physically intense role I’ve played. If you compare Julia to Camille in “Quantum of Solace,” Julia is a much more of a romantic figure while Camille was actually competing with Bond, trying to fight and kill him. She was pretty much the equivalent of James Bond in a female character, which also was very different. She didn’t have a romantic story with Bond, which was different from (previous) Bond girls. That also is very different from Julia. So, I’d have to say the most intense character I’ve ever been involved in action was Camille, but (Julia) probably comes in second. I’m kind of a secondary character because I don’t manipulate (the machinery). I was behind him on the motorcycle or next to him on the bubbleship. At one point, I pick up a machine gun and shoot. I would say the Bond-girl school served me well, because I arrived (on the “Oblivion” set) prepared. They asked me how I knew how to do it, and I said, “I went to Bond school.”
Q: The movie had an interesting music score. Can you talk about what it’s like when you see the finished movie with the score added? Also, an important scene for you has “A Whiter Shade of Pale” in the background. Did you know that would be the song, or was it added later?
Kurylenko: Oh, the love scene. We actually had a different song, so it was replaced. It was “Unforgettable.” Joe sent it out to me and I listened to it. It’s a beautiful song. But, yes, the music is wonderful. They’ve played it at most of (“Oblivion”’s various worldwide) premieres on the red carpet, and that music is so touching. At one point—I think I was in Dublin—the music was playing so loud I almost cried. I thought, “I can’t cry on the red carpet.” But it’s just so heartbreaking. It’s very emotional music. It shows us that music is such an important part of a movie, too, because it evokes so many feelings in us: memories, nostalgia, things that are connected to our past. This music is so fabulous. It fits the movie perfectly.
Q: You started your career doing small independent films in France. Now you’re doing big budget Hollywood movies like this. Do you approach your craft differently?
Kurylenko: I approach a small budget, artsy, independent movie and a big commercial, big-budget movie the same way. I have to get into my character and I concentrate on the story, doing the research and doing certain training if I have to be prepared physically. That’s the most important thing. Hollywood represents this big dream and fairy tale in people’s minds and, to me, it’s just hard work. Of course, we play out the fairy tale on the red carpet. That’s all Cinderella but when the clock strikes midnight, I turn into a gray mouse and I go home and take my dress off and it’s over. (She laughs.) That’s Hollywood.
Q: Speaking of smaller, independent films, you star in Terrence Malick’s “To The Wonder.” Can you compare your role in that film versus this one?
Kurylenko: They couldn’t be more different. In Malick’s film, there was no script. Here, the script was very detailed, very precise. Malick never rehearsed us. In “Oblivion,” we rehearsed many scenes, especially those technical scenes, because you have to. You can’t just step onto the set and improvise, because things are going to go wrong when you’re working with all this machinery and flying bubbleships.