HEAT VISION

How Olga Kurylenko Won 'Bond' and Narrowly Lost 'Wonder Woman'

The 'Courier’ star reflects on the intense training that led her to work alongside Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise, and what it was like being the runner-up to Gal Gadot for the DC hero: "Every big audition like that is nerve-racking."
Olga Kurylenko   |   Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images
The 'Courier’ star reflects on the intense training that led her to work alongside Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise, and what it was like being the runner-up to Gal Gadot for the DC hero: "Every big audition like that is nerve-racking."

Olga Kurylenko has been in contention for some of Hollywood’s most coveted action roles the past decade-plus. Kurylenko’s characters have given Daniel Craig’s James Bond and Tom Cruise a run for their money, and she nearly did the same to Ben Affleck’s Batman, also finishing runner-up to Gal Gadot for the role of Wonder Woman. Oddly enough, Gadot was runner-up to Kurylenko for Quantum of Solace’s Camille Montes. Both the James Bond and Wonder Woman franchises are as vibrant as ever, with Craig’s final installment, No Time to Die, getting its first trailer within a week of Gadot’s Wonder Woman 1984 debuting its first look.

After discovering her niche via 2008’s Quantum, Kurylenko continues to thrive in action roles. Her latest film, The Courier, has her playing an ex-soldier-turned-courier who’s forced to utilize her combat skills once a delivery goes awry. After 12 years of off-and-on stunt training, Kurylenko recognizes the benefits of all her action roles.

“I do learn quicker. Certain moves I kind of know, as well as their starting point and stance,” Kurylenko tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It makes it easier for the stunt team to explain it to me, and based on their comments, they’ll notice that I’ve done it before.”

Kurylenko credits the intense training experience she had in 2007 while preparing for Quantum of Solace.

“I remember coming home, collapsing on my bed and falling asleep. It was a big shock for my body,” Kurylenko recalls. “Quantum was the start of all these physical action films that I did after, but it was the very first one for which I had to train so hard and so much. It was six months and so intense. For the first month, I trained literally every day — from morning till evening. I went from doing nothing to suddenly doing everything that’s super intense.”

Kurylenko also found herself on the shortlist of three actors who were vying for the role of Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman. Since she had just worked with Ben Affleck on Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder, Kurylenko had doubts about the two of them working together again when she went in to audition — a process that had her wear “a bathing suit and some leather boots.”

“I like Ben as a guy, but I was worried because we had already worked together. Maybe he wouldn’t want to work with someone again,” she recalls. “Maybe he’d want to have someone he’s never worked with before. People don’t usually play couples over and over in different films… I thought, ‘I’ve already been in a movie with him. What are the chances of being with him in another movie?’”

In a recent conversation with THR, Kurylenko also reflects on Tom Cruise’s need for speed on the set of Oblivion and the valuable piece of advice Terrence Malick gave her.

Since your character, The Courier, is quite skilled, what kind of physical preparation went into this role?

I think I trained with the stunt team and stunt coordinator for like eight weeks prior. They were amazing, and it was actually a lot of fun. I trained with this guy who’s a six-time world champion in kickboxing; his name is Lee Charles, and he’s amazing. Training with those guys just makes you so much stronger in real life, and each time I train, I realize that I love it. I always think, “Why don’t I just do it every single day?” (Laughs.) I guess that’s what people call endorphins — except I never got that endorphin thing at the gym. When I do martial arts or sparring, that gives me endorphins. I think that’s the best workout in the world.

At this point, do you learn or re-learn things quicker since you've trained for numerous action roles the past 12 years?

I do learn quicker. That’s true. Certain moves I kind of know, as well as their starting point and stance. It makes it easier for the stunt team to explain it to me, and based on their comments, they’ll notice that I’ve done it before.

What was the toughest fight to shoot?

All those fight scenes were pretty tough. The one where I throw a guy down the stairs, the one in the dark where it starts raining,and also the one where I’m about to get hit by a car. Even though I was strapped to the chair, it was actually really hard because it was freezing cold and I was covered in blood. You feel like you’re wet in a cold space the whole day. They were obviously hitting me, too. You end up getting hit for real at some point. (Laughs.) It’s not the best place to be in real life, but for the movie, it’s fun.

We were shooting in this garage; we never saw the sunlight, and we were always in the dark. So, yeah, it’s hard for the body to never see the sun. By the time we would finish, it was already dark outside because it was winter. For three weeks, you’re basically in the dark. It was quite a crazy and dangerous place at night.

The character’s motorcycle helmet was rather cool. Did you help pick it out, or was it already decided?

There were conversations about it, and they really wanted it to be super cool. In the beginning, we tried other ones, but I didn’t like the very first one they picked. It just felt too big. In the end, they picked the one I wore in the film, and I loved it. I was like, “Yeah, this is the one,” and everybody agreed. It was definitely teamwork to find that beautiful helmet.

Did they let you do any of the motorcycle work?

No, it was done by a stunt person. I can’t ride a heavy bike at that speed. I took motorcycle lessons a long time ago, but I can only use my skills for starting it and coming to a stop. Also, for insurance reasons, I don’t think they would allow me or any actor — even if they knew how to do it.

Only one actor can get away with that, and you happen to know him.

(Laughs.) Yeah, Mr. Cruise…

Speaking of Mr. Cruise, what do you remember most from the set of Oblivion?

There are a lot of memories. It was one of the most important films in my career. I was working with Tom, and Tom is obviously so amazing at what he does. To be the lead alongside him was an amazing thing. I just remember how happy I was to train and to learn all kinds of things. I remember how precise the costume fittings were. The precision was just insane. I remember the sand dunes and getting dehydrated after working there for a couple days. It was so hot, and I had to get an IV in the morning because I was having cramps in my leg. It was just really intense; I guess I didn’t drink enough water that day. I remember being so concentrated and really working on my character and her backstory in my apartment. I was really into it. I also liked the result. I don’t always love the movies that I do. Sometimes, I’ll watch something and say, “Okay, it’s not as good as I thought it would be.” But Oblivion is so beautifully made and shot. I remember riding the bike with Tom, and I was like, “Oh my God, how fast is he gonna go?” (Laughs.) Obviously, when you’re a passenger, you have to trust the person. Those bikes can go pretty fast, and there were some intense scenes.

I love how you actually shot those very brief flashback sequences in New York. Most productions would manufacture that environment, but with Tom, you get the real thing.

I know! (Laughs.) That’s true. How crazy is that? We were in New York for just a couple of days to film those Empire State Building flashbacks. It was so great working with him.

Given his unconventional way of working, what’s the strangest piece of direction you received from Terrence Malick on the set of To The Wonder?

Most importantly, I love strange. So if something is strange, it immediately attracts and interests me. So, obviously, I just loved the way he speaks and the things he says. He would just talk to me while filming me. He’d say, “Turn around and tell him how much you love him!” He would tell me what to do, but it was like improvisation with direction. He would basically tell me to turn around and shout that you love him, but I would have to say “I love you” how I would say it. I’d be improvising and doing my thing, but under his supervision. He did give me some advice that I’ll never forget. He said, “Olga always follow your instinct because your instincts are right.” Working with him is all an instinct; you can’t prepare anything because it’s very spontaneous. He also said, “You have a great instinct. Don’t ever let anybody take it away from you.” I’ll never forget that. Terry is such a lovely person and a special human being.

What comes to mind when you think back to the Quantum of Solace set in 2007?

Once again, my biggest memories are the intense training. I remember coming home, collapsing on my bed and falling asleep. It was a big shock for my body; I had never trained like that before. Quantum was the start of all these physical action films that I did after, but it was the very first one for which I had to train so hard and so much. I think my muscle memory starts at Quantum. (Laughs.) It was six months and so intense. For the first month, I trained literally every day — from morning till evening. If I was someone who went to the gym regularly and is used it, that’s one thing, but I’m not. I went from doing nothing to suddenly doing everything that’s super intense. My body — the first two weeks — collapsed and didn’t understand what was happening. After the first two weeks, I suddenly got this energy and endurance. My body got into it, and I had a huge leap forward. I remember feeling that change and thinking, “Wow, I went from super weak to this superhero who can swim for hours.” I could swim for a long time, and I’m not even a swimmer. I swam from the shore to a yacht on the sea. Usually, you would take a dinghy, but I swam by myself. I was like, “Oh my God, how did I do this?” and it was the training. I’m so grateful for that experience because it put me in this really physical work mode and gave me all these skills. It was such a great experience.

How was the air tunnel you guys used to shoot the skydiving sequence?

Ooh! I loved it. At first I was a bit worried because it’s scary, but then you couldn’t get me out of there. I’d love to go back there [Bodyflight], but I haven’t had much time. It’s so much fun.

Did you feel like the role of Camille was yours once you completed your screen test?

Once I did the screen test, I had no idea. I didn’t know who I was going against, but I knew I wasn’t the only one. There were so many chances where I could’ve been told no. You just don’t know. You walk out of the room, and you have no idea. You look at their faces and you try to read them, but obviously, they never really gave away anything. They were always very polite and said, “Thank you very much. Bye-bye.” So, I thought I wasn’t getting it. I guess they all have really good poker faces. They don’t let any emotion pass, which is the right thing, because they don’t want to offend anybody. So I had no idea, and then I got a call out of nowhere that said I got the part. That was it.

In the upcoming No Time to Die, Daniel’s final Bond film, a woman (Lashana Lynch) has the 007 designation since James is retired at the start of the movie. Did you ever think this day would come?

Wow, I’m just learning this now. No, I didn’t expect this day to come. Obviously, the decades and decades of films have been very male-oriented; however, I’m not surprised knowing what times we live in now and what’s happening. Let’s put it this way: It’s a good time to be a woman. (Laughs.) It’s never been better. It’s great for us; it’s true. I now get parts that were originally written for a man, and suddenly, they’ll switch it to a woman. So, I can’t complain. It’s amazing. So, this is great for [Lashana]. It’s true that we’re getting more opportunities because of all the fights for women’s rights. So, as a woman, I can’t complain.

Is it true that you were on the final shortlist for the role of Wonder Woman?

Yes, it’s true. Every big audition like that is nerve-racking. The Quantum of Solace one was nerve-racking. The one for Oblivion with Tom was a nerve-racking one. Every audition that you really want is always nerve-racking. Although, I already knew Ben Affleck because my audition was after I shot To The Wonder with him. So at least I kind of knew the actor. At the same time, it made it kind of bizarre because we already worked together on something so different and so bizarre. It was not a classical movie experience. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing after that. I like Ben as a guy, but I was worried because we had already worked together. Maybe he wouldn’t want to work with someone again. Maybe he’d want to have someone he’s never worked with before. People don’t usually play couples over and over in different films because actors change. You’re not gonna play couples in ten films together. I thought, “I’ve already been in a movie with him. What are the chances of being with him in another movie?” (Laughs.) So, that was bizarre.

The audition went like all of them. I had no idea, and anything could’ve happened. This time, it wasn’t a yes, but it’s fine because you can’t get everything in your life. It’s fine; I got Oblivion and Quantum of Solace. I can’t get everything, and it’s absolutely normal.

Did you get to test in the actual Wonder Woman costume?

I remember wearing a bathing suit and some leather boots. They’re always surreal experiences. It’s funny. I loved the film just so you know. I don’t like every action film, but I liked Wonder Woman. I really enjoyed it.

When you consider the thousands of actors who can’t even get in the room, are you able to take pride in the fact that you finished runner-up?

I guess. Maybe. I have a hard time being proud of myself. This is a big flaw that I have. When other people tell me that I should be proud, I realize that it’s true, but in a minute, I’ll forget about it. (Laughs.)

When you were sixteen, you moved from the Ukraine to Paris. How long did it take you to learn French?

Six months. French was quite easy. I was young, and I had nothing else to do. I was working as a model, and I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have friends; I was lonely. I had nowhere to go, and I was just stuck in my apartment doing exercises from a French book that I had bought. When you have nothing else to do, it becomes your passion. So, French became my passion. I had no parties to go to, so I was studying. I learned pretty fast. When you want to do something, it’s not that difficult. Things are difficult when you’re forcing yourself.

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The Courier is now available on digital.

  • Brian Davids
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