The latest, much-anticipated film from Terrence Malick, of Badlands and The Tree of Life fame, To the Wonder is a tale of tumultuous love, told in fragmented, memory-like snapshots typical of the director’s poetic and improvisational approach. The story centres on Neil, an American environmental inspector played by Ben Affleck, and his passionate encounter with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a vivacious but troubled single mother, whom he meets while living in Paris. From Paris to Neil’s hometown in Oklahoma (cue stunning wide-angle shots of sun-kissed wheat fields and roaming buffalo), we watch as the couple struggle desperately to maintain their relationship, against a number of odds. Throw into the melting pot Javier Bardem as a catholic priest undergoing a crisis of faith, and Rachel McAdams, as the sweet and uncomplicated Jane who presents Neil with an appealing alternative to his chosen path, and the film becomes a wider consideration of love in its various forms and the complications it can present to those who seek it.
For Ukrainian-born Kurylenko, working with Malick was a dream come true. The model turned actress shot to fame in 2008 – in the lauded role of Bond girl to Daniel Craig’s 007 in Quantum of Solace – but as a self-confessed David Lynch fan, she was determined to try her hand at more experimental roles. “With Terry, no matter what he was going to do, I was going to say yes," she declares, " I just wanted to work with him.” Today, the day of the film’s release, AnOther catches up with Kurylenko to find out more about the filming experience and her secret desire to be in a musical…
Your character moved from Ukraine to Paris when she was young, which exactly mirrors your own story. Was the part written for you?
I know, one could think that it was but no, from what I know, Terry was looking for a French woman. And it happens that I speak French – because of course I am a French national now, having lived there for so long – so I went to the audition in Paris. And then, because he chose me, he adapted the character, giving her Slavic roots.
So to what degree can you relate to your character?
Well, I guess the fact that she’s so spontaneous and not very self-conscious – she’s very natural. I think I have a tendency of being like that: I never really prepare the way I’m going to be. But with that said, my character is mentally unstable. She constantly goes up and down – through the manic stages and then down into the darkness and that of course was very difficult to adapt to because I had to go into very dark places.
"It was difficult because you had to live the part 24/7, because you’d never know when Terry would ask you to do certain scenes again"
How did you find having to go from one extreme to the other?
It was difficult because you had to live the part 24/7, because you’d never know when Terry would ask you to do certain scenes again – as there was no script and no plan. He kept revisiting the same things on different days, at any given time. And, for me, it was either manic dancing with the broom in the supermarket, which a normal person wouldn’t do, or it would be breaking plates. I totally trashed one house; I just broke everything. Packs of cereal were flying, and nuts and everything, on poor Ben’s head.
So was it quite a challenging experience overall?
Challenging? Yes, of course, but it was challenging in a very positive way. I got such a thrill out of it. Never ever did I think, I don’t like this way of shooting. I would shoot like that any time because I like the spontaneity and the mystery of not knowing, of just jumping into something with your eyes closed.
What preparation did you do for this role? Did any characters from film or literature inspire you?
Terry asked me to read The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina – these huge Russian novels. And I was like, oh wow, that’s some homework. But it was great. When I was on set, I realised why he wanted me to read them. There was so much to be inspired by and that was my script in a way, I didn’t need a script after that. He would just refer to something [from one of the books] and I would understand him right away. I could go back and I knew what he meant.
What’s your dream project?
You know what I would like to do – something I haven’t done? I would like to do a musical. As you saw [in To The Wonder], I like dancing – but it was required by Terry, of course. But I’d like to do something like a Broadway play, or a comedy.
Do you have a motto for life?
I guess there are so many things, like believe in your dream, believe in yourself. I think that if one doesn’t believe in oneself, then no one is going to believe in you. And it doesn’t mean being over-confident, actually – one can believe in oneself without being obnoxious or arrogant. I think it’s more about having the good faith that things are going to happen because they’re meant to.
To The Wonder is in cinemas now.
Text by Daisy Woodward