Olga Kurylenko on being the latest Bond girl
Like her character in the latest Bond film, Olga Kurylenko knows all about dispatching unsuitable men - at the age of 28 she has already seen off two husbands with alarming speed. She tells Nisha Lilia Diu of The Telegraph
about her action-packed life off-screen, her rise from grinding poverty and the debt she owes her mother.
Olga Kurylenko gives me a quick wave as she leaps up the steps into her gleaming white trailer. She clicks the kettle on before returning to the door to beckon me in, looking flushed and fresh from the stunt training she's been doing all morning. We're at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, on the set of the 22nd Bond film, Quantum of Solace. It's reportedly the most violent Bond film to date and, on my long walk through the labyrinthine studio grounds, I have passed the remains of an exploded hotel, a man in a suit sporting a fake bullet hole in his cranium and a fight being filmed on a plane.
Now, finally, Kurylenko sits in front of me, wearing a very Parisian outfit of white shirt, slim black trousers and black ballet pumps, and with her hair in a high ponytail. The French capital has been the actress's home for 12 years, since she left Ukraine as a 16-year-old modelling hopeful in 1996. 'The agency invites you for a trial,' she explains in a low, languorous, Russian-accented voice, 'and if nobody likes you, you move back. There are a lot of girls who go back.' But Kurylenko stayed and racked up covers for Elle, Vogue and Marie Claire as well as advertising campaigns for Helena Rubinstein and Clarins, before eventually quitting fashion for acting. Quantum of Solace is only her second English-language film (the first was Hitman, based on a computer game) but she is perfect as Camille, a sexy, mysterious Russian-Bolivian agent and, of course, James Bond's love interest.
Quantum of Solace takes up exactly where Casino Royale left off, with Bond intent on avenging the death of his lover Vesper Lynd. Camille, who is also on a revenge mission, is very much a new-generation Bond girl: she, like Halle Berry in Die Another Day or Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough, does less hanging around in a bikini than her forebears and more looking improbably hot while remorselessly dispatching bad guys.
Tall, slim and olive-skinned with mesmerising green eyes and a confident, almost belligerent manner (she raises her voice and slams her fist down on the table when emphasising a point), Kurylenko has something of the man-eater about her. She combines an aggressive independence - 'Thank God I'm single!' she announced recently, 'I hate jealousy, I hate possessiveness. I'm nobody's possession' - with a very sexy public image. She disrobes in Hitman as well as in the French films Le Serpent and The Ring Finger. As a model, she worked on several lingerie campaigns. Is she happy about this? 'Not really, no,' she replies bluntly. 'But, you know, it was paying me money. When you come from Ukraine, and seriously I had no future whatsoever, we didn't have money to pay for big studies. So when they're wanting you to pose in lingerie for â¬5,000, you know what? I'm f-ing doing it! Because I was starving.'
Kurylenko, 28, grew up in Berdyansk, 'a small town where there is nothing happening', and stayed there until she was spotted, aged 13, on the Moscow subway by a model agent. After some initial reluctance ('A lot of girls, you know, end up not in modelling agencies but somewhere elseâ¦'), she began taking the 27-hour train ride into Moscow for assignments. She would spend alternate months in the Russian capital with her mother, Marina, as chaperone, and in her home town. Ukraine had only just declared independence from the USSR and, though her family didn't live in a communal flat, eight of them (uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins) were sharing one apartment in Berdyansk. 'I couldn't have anything, basically,' she says of her childhood. 'I couldn't have any clothes I wanted, shoes, beds, clothes for school - because my mum couldn't buy them.'
Her parents separated when she was a baby and Kurylenko has never really known her father. 'I met him at eight for the first time,' she tells me very quietly. 'We were at home and the doorbell rang and I went to open it and there was a man. And I said, "Mum, there is a man and I don't know who he is," and she said, "Oh, I introduce you, that's your father."' Did they stay in touch after that? 'A little bit, not really. I met him again when I was 13. I saw him in my life three times. At eight, at 13, and then last time three years ago.'
How was that? She looks and sounds suddenly very young. She cups her face in her hands and pulls on her earlobes. 'It was, you know, niceâ¦ We justâ¦ spoke. I mean, you know, I know he is my dad. But he didn't bring me up. He's like an acquaintance to me.'
Kurylenko is fiercely loyal to her mother. They text each other daily and talk at least once a week and, thanks to her success as a model and actress, she has bought her mother gifts that have included a house and a car. 'She deserves it because she did so much for me,' Kurylenko says. 'I maybe missed money in my childhood, but I didn't miss love, that's for sure. My dad wasn't there but I can tell you not even once did I think I was missing something. I think she gave me more love from one parent than sometimes children get from both.'
There have been articles claiming that her father left his family, I say. Kurylenko bridles. 'My dad didn't leave my mum,' she retorts. 'It's the opposite. My mum didn't want him! Nobody left my mum.' She lets out a bark of affronted laughter. 'Her whole life, men wanted to marry my mum but she always said no. You know it was very hard and we struggled, we had nothing to eat, but she said she would never go with a man for the ease of life. She said if she didn't love the man, then no way. She would rather be alone. That I have from her, totally.'
Kurylenko's mother was an art teacher at her school. At the time, all children were obliged to wear pins bearing Lenin's likeness, 'then we became Pioneers so we wore triangular red scarves with the special mark'. In 1991, though, Ukraine declared independence 'and they said, "Now you can come and wear whatever you want." Some of the kids were very happy, they were, like, "Oh, finally - we don't have to wear these red scarves!" But I remember one girl got told off for saying that. The teacher got really mad and she put her in front of everybody and she said, "Don't speak like that." People were still very scared.'
Five years later and freshly arrived in Paris, Kurylenko was suffering quite different wardrobe issues. For her first model casting, she wore 'a yellow T-shirt and orange pants printed with yellow flowers' only to find everyone staring at her in horror. 'In Paris everybody is in black!' she exclaims. 'But you know in Ukraine everyone wears bright colours. I don't know if you notice, but even in London the Ukrainians dress very flashy. When I arrived at the model agency they said to me, "Here's some money. Go buy yourself some jeans and a black top."'
One of the first people Kurylenko met when she arrived in Paris was the photographer CÃ©dric Van Mol, whom she went on to marry. At the mention of his name, Kurylenko's face flushes with warmth and affection. 'I met him in my first week in Paris,' she says, smiling. Van Mol, who is nine years older than her, had a girlfriend at the time - Kurylenko is hazy on exactly when and how that ceased to be - but, four years later, the two were married. It didn't last, though. They split up in 2003. What happened? She is clearly still very fond of Van Mol. 'Oh, he's like my brother. We love each other very much, but I just wanted to be free. I saw all these people that were my age and they did whatever they wanted to do. He was a very good friend so we never fought, but you know how it is - at some point it just gets so comfortable that the person becomes more of your brother.' She laughs. 'Do you know what I mean? And today he's my brother. He's still my brother.'
Kurylenko has been keeping a diary since she was 11 and she tells me about some of the entries she wrote during her engagement to Van Mol. 'I wrote that "he's the one" and "I'll never touch anyone else",' she says laughing, 'which, of course, is not true. But, you know, in the moment, when you marry a person you think it's for ever.'
She goes on to rail against the various inaccuracies she's read about herself in newspapers and on the internet, so it's with some trepidation that I broach my next subject. It's been only four years since her divorce from Van Mol, but I've heard that she's since also married and divorced the American entrepreneur Damien Gabrielle. 'Oh, yeah, that's true,' she replies very sweetly. 'I did, yeah.' She goes on, laughing, 'It's funny for me, for someone who doesn't want to marry! Someone asked me, "So why did you marry him?" and I said, "Because he kept asking. I just didn't want to hurt him." But I did say to Damien - because by that time I was already married once - I did say, "Look, I don't want to."' The wedding was a lavish affair in Spain. 'It was great,' Kurylenko remembers. 'It was the best wedding in the world, actually. You know, I'm very happy to have done it because my first wedding was very small. I think it's a very American thing to have a huge wedding and I'm thinking now, it's great, I've done it - and it was the best party of my life!' How old was she then? 'I don't know. I don't even remember when I married Damien. It wasâ¦ 2006? No.' There's a long pause. 'Yeah, 2006.'
The two divorced exactly a year later. 'We just didn't click at all,' she explains, plucking grapes from the fruit bowl in front of her. 'And he was very jealous and I can't stand jealousy. So I just had to go.'
Kurylenko is alarmingly breezy when talking about her romantic entanglements. It could be off-putting but she is so frank and warm and unpretentious that it's impossible not to like her. So many actresses claim not to need a man in their lives and you can hear the years of therapy behind the words. But when Kurylenko tells me, 'To me, it's not required,' I think she might be just telling the truth.
Growing up with such a self-sufficient mother has clearly had a profound effect on her. Despite their closeness, though, they didn't agree on everything. She encouraged her daughter's ballet and piano lessons, but when Kurylenko announced that she wanted to learn karate her mother said, 'What?! This is not for girls. You're going to injure yourself. There's no way.' She can't have approved of the notoriously dangerous stunts performed by the cast of Quantum of Solace, then. Daniel Craig had to have stitches in his face after one and lost the top of his finger in another, and one of the stunt drivers suffered such bad head injuries during a car chase in Italy that he's still recovering. Kurylenko herself filmed a high-speed boat chase in which, she says, she was fighting just to stay on board. 'It was exciting,' she enthuses.
Kurylenko seems to be made of extraordinarily strong stuff. She appears unfazed by the unlikely arc of her life so far and speaks with the perfect confidence of one who is certain of who she is and what she wants. Her mother, back in Berdyansk, must be very proud indeed.
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