While filming Terrence Malick’s upcoming To the Wonder, Olga Kurylenko traveled from the golden wheat fields of Oklahoma to the quicksand tidal flats of Mon Saint-Michel in France. Here, the actor shares her personal thoughts about collaborating with the iconic director and what it felt like to inhabit her character, Marina.
My memories of Oklahoma, where most of To the Wonder is set, begin with Terrence. We talk and I’m puzzled as to how he already seems to know me so completely. (“Can he read my mind? Don’t think! Don’t think! Don’t think!”)
Terry talks to me about life, about what’s important, about what’s real, and about “the Wonder.” It’s often not where we look for it because our hurried lifestyles, our rushed society, and a constant stream of media distort our understanding of it. We forget that the Wonder is older than us, it was there before us, and before we had access to all the volatility and superficiality our world is now over-packed with—our dizzying options multiplying like croissants on bakers’ tables. Our minds are so busy deciding what to chase—no, we want all of it, we want everything at once—and it’s this greed that takes us on a wrong path—away from the Wonder.
Terry takes me for a ride through a small town and talks to me about who I am: Marina. A woman ruled by a combination of candor and insolence. He says that only Russians can gracefully combine both at once. Have you read Karamazov, Karenina, The Idiot? Terry wants to know. Yes, I did my homework. A Russian soul? I was born with one. A Russian soul with a French spirit. That’s what he was looking for.
The next day our director of photography, Chivo (Emmanuel Lubezki), and I are in an expansive field and he’s following me, filming me no matter what I do: I whirl, look around, smile, and laugh. I raise my arms up and the sun is shining through my spread fingers, and I always, always, and always look for the Wonder.
Terry smiles and I jump, twirl, run, and jump again. He claps, “More, more, more, like a rabbit!” But then the Wonder suddenly goes missing. I scream and run into the house—throwing things, breaking things. It rains pretzels and cereal and there are more screams, but now they’re not mine, they’re Neil’s (Ben Affleck), and I’m laughing wildly and crying—my Marina is hysterical, unstable. I collapse on the floor and I wipe my tears from his shoes and kiss them. I ask, “Why do I do this? I want to be good, so good, but sometimes I suddenly feel possessed.” And I beg forgiveness.
I receive pages every morning, sometimes ten, sometimes more. They’re not exactly a script—whether one exists or not is a complete mystery—but the words are (excuse my poeticism) rather like a breakfast for the soul. And every morning it’s a feast! If I digest the sense of what the pages contain, the nature of Terry’s words will shine through my eyes while we’re filming, and I won’t even need to speak. Every sentence is filled with such deep knowledge of the soul.
They force me to think and reflect on my own life, to ask myself questions. Reading Terry’s words makes me realize I’m spending so much precious time on such unnecessary things. (“Why do we often look the wrong way?”) Wonderful pages. I’d like to cover my walls with them. Instead, I’m instructed to burn them.
And one day our time in Oklahoma comes to an end. We travel to France now, to Mont Saint-Michel, where lovers go—and now us. The whole place is surrounded by wet sand. I dance on the sand and suddenly it begins to move under my feet. Quicksand, Terry explains. It’s always changing. To keep from sinking we have to balance on our feet, making small, quick steps, never staying still. If we stop moving we’ll be sucked in. Life is not so dissimilar.
The Wonder is everywhere. It is simply enough to open one’s eyes and truly look and listen, truly think, and not feign to do those things, as we tend to do in our busy everyday lives. And this, I believe, is why Terry’s films should be seen: They make us see past the everyday, and they are sometimes more real than our reality.