To The Wonder’s Olga Kurylenko: working with Terrence Malick was so liberating

The former Bond girl reveals her experiences shooting alongside the famously secretive filmmaker and "funny and warm" co-star Ben Affleck

Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is one of those people who exudes beauty in whatever setting she is placed, whether it be decked out in a revealing black dress flanked by Daniel Craig, or dressed in dowdy garments to portray conflicted Marina in Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder. The day I meet her is no different.


Born in the Ukraine, Kurylenko first made her name as a model when she was scouted aged 13, going on to appear on the covers of Vogue, Elle and the US edition of Maxim. She began her acting career in 2005, appearing in Hitman and Max Payne before landing her high-profile gig opposite 007 in 2008’s Quantum of Solace. But it’s her latest film – which sees her unite with acclaimed director Terrence Malick – that appears to be her passion project.

So what was the best thing about working with the notoriously secretive film visionary? “How much he trusts his actors,” she immediately enthuses. “He told me, ‘you can never do anything wrong’. That’s the best thing anybody’s ever told me – it’s so liberating.”

That isn’t to say the actors were granted unlimited creative licence. As Kurylenko is quick to point out, “We’re not just doing anything we want. It’s the story he wants, we’re the characters he wants us to be – we’re instructed by him, but he also lets you put a part of yourself in it. It’s all very controlled in a way but also very free. He combines both and I don’t know how he does it.”

Based on Malick’s unorthodox approach to filmmaking, it’s no surprise that To The Wonder was filmed without a full script. In fact, Olga signed onto the project with scant knowledge of her character, Marina’s, relation to the other cast members.

“[Malick] told me the story from Marina’s point of view, never from the other characters’. I never knew what he told them and what they thought about Marina – how they really felt. And vice versa. So when we were on set we didn’t know what to think of each other, where everyone stands, how it ends and where it’s going.”

Indeed, the movie betrays hints of this approach to filming, portraying emotionally conflicted characters experiencing the dizzying heights and crushing lows of falling in and out of love. Kurylenko’s Marina is a passionate Parisian who falls in love with quiet American Neil (Affleck) and moves with her daughter to his home in the States where their relationship slowly crumbles. When she returns home to France he reconnects with old acquaintance Jane (played by Rachel McAdams) but he sacrifices his new relationship for Marina when he hears about her struggles without him back in Paris.

“It’s a very sad story in a way,” Kurylenko reflects, “especially because every person carries so much pain from different origins and they’re all suffering but in a different way. Marina and Neil love each other but they’re incompatible because Neil is shut down and very cold. Poor Ben – for him it was hard because to play someone so shut down is very frustrating, especially as he’s not like that at all in real life. He’s a very funny and warm guy.”

Olga goes on to discuss the emotionally draining process of playing her manic depressive character. “She does a lot of silly things because she’s unstable. Dancing with a broom in a supermarket is not something everybody does, but she does because she’s mentally ill. Living that on set all the time wasn’t easy because I had to go to very dark places and you have to live them over and over because you never know when Terry is going to ask you to go back to it. She’s constantly in darkness.”

But with weekends off to explore the area’s natural beauty – To The Wonder is practically a tourism advert for rural Oklahoma – the cast bonded as they spent time in the “tiny, tiny town” where they were filming. “It was pretty much like a family,” she recalls. “Terry surrounds himself with great people.”

Mr Malick’s work is so revered by his peers that aspiring filmmakers will do just about anything to get on set. “Some people just come to do whatever. They’re ready to do anything just to be there, like wash or bring coffee – it’s astonishing how much admiration this guy gets.”

But Olga has made no secret of her own admiration for the writer and director. “I love his way of working. I’d work with him anytime, of course,” she says eagerly.

In the meantime, her next project – Tom Cruise’s post-apocalyptic action blockbuster Oblivion – is set to hit UK cinemas this April. “It was perfect because if you have two Oblivions back to back or two To The Wonders, maybe it would have become boring in the end but because it’s such a contrast and I’ve done such different things it was quite refreshing. And Tom is a fascinating guy. I learned a lot and he’s a great actor – professional. And Jo [Kosinski] is an amazing director. I think it’s going to be very nice visually – I can’t wait to see the movie.”


In the meantime, To The Wonder opens in cinemas on Friday 22 February. Watch the trailer below: