Interview: Olga Kurylenko on 'Oblivion' and Working with Terrence Malick


Ukrainian-born actress and model Olga Kurylenko seems to be able to find a home anywhere, and that's not just referring to her globe-crawling tendencies. On film, she fits comfortably into both Terrence Malick's artsy "To the Wonder" as well as Joseph Kosinski's "Oblivion," in theaters today. She swung from leading Malick's ethereal love story to co-starring in the effects-heavy Tom Cruise vehicle "Oblivion" with apparent effortlessness.

We caught up with Kurylenko ahead of the release of "Oblivion" and chatted about the new movie, Malick's unusual directorial methods and the dangers of typecasting.

Congratulations on "Oblivion." Have you gotten to watch it with an audience yet?

Oh yeah, I saw it twice, because I watched it at the L.A. premiere, and this is the second time I've gone. It's amazing when you see it the second time how you see it differently. You start picking out other things that you didn't see because the movie is so full of different things and it's so packed with stuff that the second time is actually a very interesting time.

And seeing the finished effects must have been cool.

I think, like, wow, that's what it looks like! It's all the action scenes have changed, because we shot everything on real sets and locations. There was no green screen apart from the bubble ship chase with the drones, when we have that battle with the drones, that was the only one that we shot on a green screen. The rest, for me, in my case, was all real. Everything was built, constructed. Even the clouds around the skytower, they were real. They were projected on the walls around the studio, they weren't added later. They were real. Everything was around, it was pretty stunning. I think these were the most stunning sets I've ever been on. A lot of work has been done, and large things have been built, it's quite astonishing.

There are also a bunch of plot twists in the movie — were you surprised?

Oh yeah, of course. That's what was interesting about that movie. We can't predict! When people will watch the movie, they won't be able to already say, oh, I know what's going to happen. It's so rare. And definitely I had no idea what was going to happen. The script kept me on the edge, just as the movie did. Even when I saw the movie all finished, I kept jumping up and grabbing the arm of my publicist who was watching that movie with me. I mean, I was in that movie, but everything is so unexpected when it's all put together, it's yet another experience that I was totally, totally taken by. I didn't even know what was going to happen next, because I was just pulled into the story and everything was so unexpected and sudden. It definitely keeps you on the edge. You won't fall asleep, I guess. Not in that one.

So this is one that's hard to talk about without spoilers. Do you like being spoiled for movies?

Oh, no, I'm always the first, I'm like don't tell me! I don't want to know. You don't want to know what's going to happen. Then what's the point of watching it? It keeps it interesting. I would just go and discover. I don't want to know, not in the movie. I want to know in life, but not in the movie.

You were also in Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder." Malick is infamous for cutting people out of his movies after shooting. Were you worried about that at all?

It could always happen, but Terrence told me that the story of this movie was about Marina and Marina's life, and that's the character I played, so I thought, I knew that my character wasn't a secondary one. That was all I knew. I didn't know before to what extent I was in that movie, because I'm there quite a lot, but I did know that at least some scenes will end up there, because Terry said that Marina's story was very important, that it was about her. But, you know, he's very famous for surprises and that could've still happened, I guess. I was kinda calm, like if that's going to happen, then what can I do? The only thing I know is that if he told me, when the next movie comes, to work with him, then he cut me out, I'd still go. I'd still go.

You obviously had a really positive experience.

When you're on set with him, you have no idea. It's so liberating, it's like meditation. It's so enriching. It's so wonderful. It's a wonderful feeling. I would totally go, like yeah, doesn't matter. I'd do it for the process.

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Going from filming "To the Wonder" to shooting "Oblivion" must have been kind of...different.

Totally different. You kinda do a different thing. In a way it's exciting, what a difference it is, because it's not like you're doing the same thing over and over, you know, it's quite the opposite, so it definitely had, they couldn't be further away from each other. The main difference is the structure. Terrence's structure wasn't as defined as "Oblivion" because we didn't have a script on a Terrence Malick movie, and on "Oblivion" the script was quite precise and detailed. We met and we talked over each scene and we discussed what we could bring in and how we should do it. They were all very well thought through, while with Terrence there was never that teamwork. We never all met and spoke about the story. Terrence would just whisper our stories in our ears, which means basically he was always one on one, never with other people, and would only tell us precise stories that concerned only our characters. We didn't know what he told other people, so everyone received I think a different story. They were different processes, and that was amazing, because it's so much fun. It's so fun to have a different structure and work and try to find different ways to play them, and it's also fun not to know how to play a scene and rely on your instinct, just saying whatever will happen is what my mind or body will do.

And in "Oblivion" you're co-starring with Tom Cruise. Was that intimidating?

No, it wasn't intimidating because Tom makes everybody feels comfortable. First of all, he's very professional. That explains everything, from there. He was very excited about his job. He comes in and not only -- the best professional thing is to have fun on set. If you're having fun, you're doing good work and that's exactly what the atmosphere should be on set, because that's what makes people happy to work. Tom provides that.

I read an interview where you referred to "Seven Psychopaths" as a "boy movie." You do a lot of action and sci-fi, lots of those so-called boy movies. Is that on purpose?

Not at all! Actually, all I want to do is a rom-com, but you know, people see me as an action person because the first movie that was seen by a lot of the public would be "Hitman." But my first movies weren't action at all. I started in France and I did psychological art films, which was my first, and that's how I saw myself, how I saw my career going. And then suddenly, one thing happened, and then the second thing happened, and more than one people think "oh, well, I guess the next action movie that comes, then how about Olga?" People, it's just hard to jump and see someone differently. I've been quite clear with what I do and how I construct my career because I don't want to do the same thing all the time. I love making action movies, especially this one was so fun, so if it's this kind of action movie, then I'm very happy to do those because they're just as interesting, as smart, as entertaining. But also I'm juggling with other genres like artsy movies, philosophical movies like Terrence Malick's. The less commercial movies. If I can manage to keep juggling like that and do the varied parts, that would be great.

Did anyone ever tell you to change your name to sound more generic, less European?

You want me to change my name? Well, I can't change my name now, so. The thing is, I prefer for people to call me by my first name, because it's hard for them to pronounce, but I don't mind.

I'm not saying you should change your name! I'm just wondering if you ever considered it when you were starting out.

I did, but the thing is, I started in France, and in French, apparently, it's really beautiful. That's what they said, in every language it's different. And it's really interesting, they said no way, your name is so cool! And because I was starting out, nobody even allowed me to think about it, they said no, your name is great. But in America people have a hard time trying to pronounce it. But the French like it!