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Olga Kurylenko on being an invincible Pict Warrior in Roman Britain

05 August 2010

Olga Kurylenko, 31, has come up the hard way. She was born in the small Ukrainian town of Berdyansk, and was spotted by a talent scout for a model agency on her first trip to Moscow, aged 14, marking the start of a successful modelling career.  She made her film debut in the French film L’Annulaire, in 2005, and has since found fame as the female lead in the last James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, opposite Daniel Craig.  She recently starred in the film Centurion, about to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on 16 August, as an invincible Pict warrior in Roman Britain.

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Are you naturally fit and physical?

I am and it is in my nature, even if I do not live well.  Believe me, I do not look after myself or exercise.  I did ballet and some karate as a kid and I think that has given me a classic base and you can move in to anything. Ballet is really important.  


Can you describe your character?

She is a Pict warrior leader, who is mute.  So she takes action, like a wild, silent dog – hitting out, using a knife or spear.  I am dressed in leather and fur for most of the film.  The filming was so physical, every day.   By comparison, being in a Bond film was easy.


Any injuries?

Cuts and bruises, mostly. I have a some scars on my arm and leg, but that is like a trophy for the hard work I have put in being in action on a film. I don’t think actors should ever complain about the cold, the tiredness, the aches and pains, the injuries. We are living a very good life.


What would do you think life would have been like, 2,000 years ago?

I am sure I would have hated it.  I am 31 and doubt whether I would have lived past 30.  They were such tough people and we are so soft-skinned these days.  If I could go back in time, it would be to have a meeting with Oscar Wilde in the 1880’s. He was homosexual, but had wit and intelligence. Those are the two sexiest elements, to me, in a man.


How did your career start?

I was stopped in subway in Moscow by a model scout, when I was with my mum. I was 14.  The scout wanted me to work for a modelling agency.  I thought: ‘This can not be happening to me.  I see movies about people like that and read books, but now it has happened to me. Is this a fairy tale?’ My mum …she was unbelieving. It was a turning point in my life.  You have no idea of what my life was like before.


So what was your life like in those days?

I come from a small town on the seaside, in the Ukraine.

We were very poor and my mother had put some money away for a year, so we could go and see the capital of Russia together. I am the only child.  I do not think we would have survived had there been one more person.  There was already enough difficulty and we could not have eaten if there was none more mouth. My mum was a teacher and she had always worked. At that time she was teacher, but the pay was terrible.



What about your father?

I did not have one.  My mum chose to bring me up on her own. It was not dad who left us – she chose it for herself, not to have him in her life. She felt she was better off by herself.  


What was your working life like, as a young model?

I started travelling between my town and Moscow. I took a 26 hour train journey. I would leave around 7 a.m. on one day and get to Moscow at 12.30 p.m the next day. I would sleep on the train. I would spend the day, night and half another day to get to Moscow, work for two or three days and then return by the same journey. I did that for a year.   


Was it worth it?

The moment I earned my first 30 dollars, I thought it was worth it. They gave me an advance on my income to stay in Moscow.  After that, I was told that an agency in Paris was interested in me.  A scout bought me tickets, arranged visa, advanced money and I started working.  I did my best to work and paid back everything I owed.  I moved in to a little studio apartment in Paris and thought: ‘I am not leaving. I am staying here.’  


Were you lonely?

I was lonely and prepared to live with that loneliness.

I realised it was a very important part part of my life. I learned French and English, read a lot, studied every night and taught myself to stand on my own two feet. I was just 16 and a half.  Paris is a dream city – particularly if you are from a tiny village in the Ukraine – and I was determined to live my dream.


Has that determination helped you to become an actress?

I think you have to be single minded to succeed and survive in acting. Many people told me I should do it and, in 2004, I took a small part in a French movie. You need to live by yourself, take the knocks to confidence, be prepared for rejection and deal with some strange people. 


How did you career take off?

I worked a lot at small things and hoped that the big things would come along. My friends used to say:’Get a life. Stop working.’  But I can’t. I had never been on vacation. My first was after Bond, in December of 2008. I went to Thailand – Phuket and then Bangkok. I took my mum.  We had a nice time.  


So what is your life like now?

I own my own very nice apartment in Paris and live between there and places like London and Los Angeles, for work. I also go back to my own small town once a year, where they treat me very well. I have e mails from people saying how proud they are of me. They say it gives them something to aim for and realise that anything is possible.


And what did you think of James Bond?

I loved it.  Great people and great locations and I learned a lot. Before, everyone was saying that they liked me but had to hire someone famous in a Bond film. The director took a chance and everything worked out well. It is like a calling card, to be the female lead in a Bond film.  


Have you learned to relax yet?

I have relaxed, in love. My love life did not start until I was in my twenties. I was not a teenager who liked boys. It never interested me. When my friends were looking at boys and saying: ‘He looks cute,’ I had no idea of what they were talking about. I first found love in Paris, which is the city of love.



You have been married…twice?

I have been married, but I am now single again. It is something I do not want to discuss. I am used to being on my own and that is what works for me best. I want to take a script writing class and study some more, before looking for another part.  


You talk about your very poor upbringing. Does that make you feel different to others in the acting business?

Absolutely. I can remember being hungry. There was not enough food. Clothes? Just what I had, the one sweater. My mum made clothes…sewed me clothes. She was sewing coats.  Winter coats. She even cut back one of her own for me to make it warm for me. When faced with hunger, cold and lack of possessions, it does something to you.


So are you now an actress who never complains?

There is no such thing in the acting business! But I will only complain about big things, not small, stupid things. I like to get on with life.


Do you drive?

I have a Mini One, in dark cherry colour.  


How about musical tastes? 

I am really bad with that. I am not that person who is in to music. I forget to turn it on. I do not think about it. When I do listen, I like classical, hip hop, pop, trad’, country. I have artists, like Dolly Parton or Gwen Stefani. It depends on my mood.


Your favourite DVD’s?  

Breaking the Waves. I have seen it 11 times and it is the most beautiful feminine part I have ever seen. I love Emily Watson, who is amazing. I also love films by directors like Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar.


What would you never throw away?  

I throw everything away. What do I need? Food, water, a roof over my head. I do not need anything else.


Centurion is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 16 August from Pathe Productions Ltd