Olga Kurylenko has achieved the impossible. She has successfully established a serious acting career after achieving the mixed blessing of starring as a Bond girl in 2008’s Quantum of Solace. The question of whether the James Bond franchise can help or hinder a young actress’s career has been hotly debated. On the one hand, it provides a huge international platform; on the other, women are often typecast, and struggle to convince subsequent directors of their serious or creative intent. There have, however, been several exceptions, including the now legendary Hollywood icons Kim Basinger and Jane Seymour. Olga Kurylenko, it seems, is about to join their ranks.
She has just resurfaced from back to back shootings. First she co-starred alongside Ben Affleck for the film To the Wonder, under the direction of the widely celebrated and famously fastidious director Terrence Malick, whose films have been known to spend up to two years in post-production. Malick has also been known to film only during the “golden hour”, the two hours before dusk, in which objects and people are imbued with a golden hue. His attention to detail, though, has earned him the Midas touch, and his films have won every notable award from Oscars to the Palme d’Or. “He kept asking me to jump around more, dance more, keep jumping,” Kurylenko laughs while she speaks of the thrill of working with him, “So you will see me constantly skipping around a lot in this movie!”
Immediately following this, Kurylenko found herself on set with Tom Cruise for Sci-Fi epic Oblivion, due for release in 2013; she speaks with affection of all of her co-stars and collaborators and is clearly relishing her experiences. Kurylenko, however, is not the pampered princess you might expect. She is unassuming, humble, strikingly pretty – despite not wearing a hint of make-up – and gracious. Having grown up in Soviet-era Ukraine in a small, cramped flat which she shared with her mother, uncle and aunt, grandparents and cousin, Kurylenko is no stranger to hardship and she is endearingly grateful for opportunities she is enjoying now.
What was it like growing up in communist Ukraine?
I grew up in a small town, no culture. There were no theatres, no museums; you know, just a tiny little thing, so very simple life. It was the SSR and I think it collapsed when I was eleven. It was different, because in a way during SSR all people were equal. Because there was the equality, there were no extremely rich and poor, and when it collapsed most of the country, all the country, struggled. It was a very hard period for most people, except the ones who became very rich, but those, you can count them on fingers.
But weren’t basic amenities in scarce supply under communism? I hear that you had to queue for everything.
Yes, you’d go to the shop and the shelves were empty, there was nothing. And for bread there was a queue, for sausages there was a queue, for sugar there was a queue, and then they had, at some point – because there was such a deficit of everything – they had coupons that allowed a kilogram of sugar per family per month, and you couldn’t get more. That was your allowance and if you had used your coupon that was it. And they started having coupons for everything; for flour you had a coupon, it was insane. I remember my grandmother queuing for everything, and then I would recycle bottles because for the glass bottles they would give you money, so we’d never throw anything away.
But you were saying that things felt poorer after communism collapsed?
Yes, because things became private, nothing was government managed, you know? The idea of communism is that everybody is the same, everybody is equal. So when it collapsed, suddenly the ones that were simple people became nothing, and people at higher positions got everything to their hands, so it was hard for lots of people with normal jobs, unless you were an owner or something. If you were a doctor or a teacher or anything else, you couldn’t afford anything. It’s still the case: most people can’t afford basic things, because some prices are more than their whole salary – the price for one thing would be more than the whole monthly salary of a person, and you need to eat, dress your kids. It is very hard.
Did you grow up with aspirations of becoming an actress?
I didn’t think that it was possible, so it was out of my league; I could have never done it because I was from a small town and I knew I could never go abroad. In Russia or the capital of Ukraine it wasn’t really a good job to do at that time; it was like, “If you’re an actress you’re going to starve.” You needed a proper job. I was in a school drama class and we had a very talented girl there, one of the very talented people, and she really wanted to be an actress, but she decided not to go for it because she needed to earn money, and she started something completely different, I don’t know, engineering or something, because studying acting wasn’t considered serious.
We were just hearing stories of all these actors that went and played at theatre and now they were starving, so everyone was kind of terrified. So even if we love doing it, we are not going to go for it, because it is not a good job. And it’s funny, here it’s a different thing, maybe there now it’s a different thing too, that was years ago, at least 15 years ago, so perhaps things have changed. I don’t know what the situation is there now, but I know that here you can pursue the dream.
In the West, it can go either way, you can be a starving actor or you can be a really wealthy one.
Yes, that’s true – because I have friends that are starving actors. They are wonderful, I adore them, I just don’t understand why, because they are very talented. It’s just for some people, they are never in the right place at the right time. Here in the West, what’s great is that you can pursue your dream, pursue the hobby. You can survive being an artist, while in those countries I think it is really hard. My mum is an artist, but she could never sell anything, not because she is not good – she is great – but people don’t have money. But also, because she is in a small town – if she was in the capital maybe – but there people say, “I can’t, I need to buy bread and I need to feed my kids. I am not going to buy a painting. This painting is like three meals. I’d rather not. I don’t care about your painting.” They are not into culture and you can’t think about culture if you are starving, so that’s the problem.
It seems that fate happened to place you at just the right place at just the right moment, as you were discovered by a model agent whilst on a rare holiday in Moscow, aged 14.
Yes, I was walking around and it was only my second time out of my town – we had previously been to Saint Petersburg when I was eight, so that was once – and then, when I was 13 or 14, I went to Moscow. My mum took me there to show me all the museums and the culture because she is an artist.
Have you been able to support your family from the work that you ended up doing?
Oh yes, thank God.
I expect that has made a previously unimaginable difference to your life, because it would have been very hard to earn a living in the Ukraine.
I guess I would have been a doctor – that’s what I wanted to do. I would have just been living a normal life, I think. My mum has been to a lot of countries now. I made her travel. And each time she arrives to a new place we have to go to the art store, of course, because every country has different things and she wants to buy everything that they don’t have at home. So then she leaves with overweight luggage, full of art material. She loves it. She is lucky because now she has the opportunity to really create what she wants to create, because she has the material. They are unavailable there, there’s nothing. In 2013 there is still nothing.
Please see the latest issue of Glass for the rest of the interview.
Here is a short exclusive film of the shoot with Olga Kurylenko for Glass
by Nicola Kavanagh
Extracted from the current issue of Glass – Peace which is available now. See the website for stockists
All photographs by Anders Brogaard
Make-up artist Kenny Campbell at Premier using Chanel Spring ’13
Hair stylist Christian Wood at Premier using Bumble and Bumble
Fashion assistant Giulia Santocono
Photography assistants Alexander Meininger and Rob Walker
Colour grading Darkroom Digital
Picture 1: Arpeggia 3 line earrings with white diamonds (8.91 carats), set in white gold De Beers 5 Line ring with white diamonds (1.75 carats), set in white gold De Beers, dress Chanel
Picture 2: Tennis line bracelet in platinum set with 37 round cut diamonds (13.21 carats) Cartier, dress Christian Dior, shoes Chanel
Fleurette earrings with white diamonds (3.61 carats), set in white gold De Beers, Ceylan ring in platinum set with cushion cut sapphire (8.8 carats) and diamonds(1.7 carats)
Cartier, dress Louis Vuitton
Lea earrings with white diamonds (5.08 carats), set in platinum De Beers, Fleurette necklace with white diamonds (22.65 carats), set in white gold De Beers, watch as before, dress Burberry Prorsum, shoes Diane von Furstenberg
Fendi dress, Lea earrings with white diamonds (5.08 carats), set in platinum De Beers