Olga Kurylenko's rise is like the American dream -- except East European style.
Born and raised in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union), her parents divorced when she was 3, and Mom (an art teacher) struggled to put bread on the table during the shortages after the Soviet Union collapsed. She did scrape together enough money to take her daughter, then 13, on a vacation to Moscow -- where the pretty young thing was discovered by a modeling scout. Kurylenko was soon living in Paris, gracing runways and magazine covers, and eventually broke into film.
Now 34, she's recently hit it big -- cast as Daniel Craig's Bond girl in "Quantum of Solace," and Tom Cruise's love interest in "Oblivion." Not bad, though Kurylenko seems almost aggressively modest about it all. Perhaps a background of some hardship makes her cautious about future success.
This month, she's running with former 007 himself Pierce Brosnan and up-and-comer Luke Bracey in the gritty, action-packed spy thriller "The November Man," hitting theaters Wednesday. She plays Alice Fournier, a human rights worker swept up in a web of intrigue involving CIA spies (Brosnan, Bracey). Little do they know she's got some secrets of her own.
Kurylenko recently spoke to Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio by phone from Paris.
You're really working in this film -- you act, play piano and stay standing in those crazy-high Louboutin stilettos they had you wear.
Oh, God. They look great, but gee ... it's hard to walk.
Did you learn piano for the movie?
Actually ... to my shame, I have to say, I studied piano as a child for seven years, so I should be playing like a concert pianist. I'm always very hard on myself. But I think after seven years ... I should be playing more. But I stopped. Still, you never forget -- it's like riding a bike.
You played a piece by the French composer Erik Satie.
I'd heard his music on iTunes and CDs but never played it before. So when Roger suggested it, I said, "Yeah, I'd love to." They made sure I had a piano available in Belgrade, where we filmed, and I practiced twice or three times a week till the day I had to shoot that scene and ... voilà.
What was Pierce Brosnan like? I've been lucky enough to interview him twice, and he's always been ... so classy. And respectful.
He's very gentle. And calm, but at the same time, he's funny. He's just very ... he's chill, you know? I never saw him stressed. A real gentleman. He has this kind of velvety feeling. He's a great guy. And, of course, an amazing actor.
Did you hang out?
Not much. I flew straight from the set of "The Vampire Academy," which shot in London, the next morning to Belgrade for this. And I shot every day for like three weeks. So it was hectic. But we went to dinner a few times with the crew. There was one dinner where we were invited by, um, the minister of culture or something, and we all sang karaoke. I was so embarrassed. Actually, Luke sang amazingly well. I regretted it, regretted it right away.
What's your go-to karaoke song?
I was trying to sing a Russian song. That was very funny.
You sang in Russian? How many languages do you speak?
Oh, you know, fluently, just English, French and Russian.
Oh ... just three, huh?
And then I speak less-fluent Spanish. I'm in "The Water Diviner," which comes out later this year, directed by Russell Crowe. When he called, he said, "How fast can you learn Turkish?" I said, "Easy." Not because I think so highly of myself -- actually, it's the opposite -- but if there's one thing I know about myself, I really can learn languages. You want me to learn Chinese tomorrow? I'll learn it. I love it. I have a passion for it. "The Water Diviner" is set around World War I, and the Gallipoli campaign.
Oh, that was a brutal series of battles -- Australia, New Zealand and Turkey lost hundreds of thousands of men.
Yes, very sad. I play a Turkish hotel owner whose husband has gone to war. Learning the language ... it makes me really get under the skin of that character, then I'm really someone else. I think half the movie I'm speaking in Turkish. I got Rosetta Stone -- it was great.
Ahh, that film sounds more serious. No crazy-high stiletto heels in that one. But I guess if you had to, we know you can wear 'em, no problem.
Well, y'knooooow ... I've had some training.