SANTA ANA, Calif. — Olga Kurylenko is racking up the frequent flier miles these days.
With two new movies in theaters — director Terrence Malick’s “To The Wonder” and the Tom Cruise post-apocalyptic thriller “Oblivion” — the Ukrainian-born, Parisian-trained and London-based actress has been flying from one premiere to another.
In fact, when the former Bond girl (“Quantum of Solace”) picked up the phone to call the Orange County Register, she was on her way to the airport after attending the Moscow premiere of “Oblivion.” From there, she was headed to premieres in Taipei, Vienna, London, Dublin, Buenos Aries, Rio de Janeiro and Toronto.
Judging by her travel schedule, the one-time model apparently has overcome the typecasting and subsequent career disappearance that follows many actresses who appear opposite 007.
In “To The Wonder,” Kurylenko plays a French woman who meets and falls in love with an American (Ben Affleck) vacationing in Paris. The couple and her young daughter move into the man’s Oklahoma home, where the glow of new romance begins to dim.
The 33-year-old actress plays an endangered crew member aboard a space vehicle who is rescued by Cruise in the futuristic “Oblivion.” The science fiction movie, directed by Joseph Kosinski and based on his unpublished graphic novel, takes place years after an invasion of Earth by an alien race bent on stripping the planet of its natural resources.
Raised by her mother and grandmother, Kurylenko was discovered at 14 on a Moscow subway by a modeling agent who was so intrigued by the tall teen (she now stands 5-foot-9) that he handed her mother his business card. The youngster signed a contract with a modeling agency the next day, and moved to Paris when she was 16. Two years later, she was on the covers of Vogue, Glamour and Elle. She speaks five languages, and her first English-speaking movie role was in the 2007 film “Hitman.” Last year, Kurylenko appeared opposite Colin Farrell in “Seven Psychopaths,” and she recently completed her second season on the Starz cable series “Magic City,” in which she plays Vera Evans.
Q. I’ve already seen photos of you and Tom Cruise posing together on the red carpet in Moscow just an hour ago. It must have been nice to be back in Mother Russia?
A. Not in this little dress (laughs). It was very cold.
Q. You were born there; you should be used to it.
A. This was cold for April, and I was dressed for Hollywood.
Q. Well, you and Tom seemed to work well together. How was he on the set?
A. Tom is so professional and generous. He takes cares of everybody on the set. You feel like you’re in good hands because he’s on top of everything. It’s a pleasure to work with someone who is so invested in everything he does. He never left the set to sit alone in his trailer. Even if someone else was working, he’d always be there for the other actor.
Q. I can’t think of two more different movies than “Oblivion” and “To The Wonder.” Does it seem that way to you?
A. They are so different. When I watch the two movies, it’s like I’m looking at two different people. I don’t recognize myself. Even my hair color is different. In “Oblivion,” my hair is dark brown. It looks almost black. In “To the Wonder,” I’m almost blond. The hair styles are so different that I look like completely different nationalities.
Q. How did you get the role in “To The Wonder?”
A. I was in Paris and a casting director came from London to audition French actresses. My agent rang me and asked if I’d like to go by and talk to the casting director. There wasn’t a script or dialogue. But it was a Terrence Malick movie so I said, “Sure.”
Q. If there was no script, what was the audition like?
A. It was silent. They were filming how I moved, and my basic facial expressions. Then I flew to Austin to meet with Terry.
Q. . I’ve never met Terrence Malick, but he remains pretty much a mystery to the world. Can you unravel some of the mystery for us?
A. I don’t think so. When I flew to Austin to meet him, he wasn’t in the room. There was just the producer and the cameraman. They said they were going to start without Terry. I said, “Isn’t that why I came here — to meet Terry?” They told me not to worry, and they started filming. A couple of minutes later, I was in the middle of improvising a scene when the door opened and a man in a wide-brimmed hat that covered his whole face walked in and quietly sat down on the couch. He kept watching what I was doing. I thought, “This must be Terrence Malick.” It was all so mysterious.
Q. Did he say anything?
A. Every once in a while, I would hear this voice say, “Move to the left” or “Look out the window.” Finally, he started directing me. He was talking from inside that big hat. I couldn’t see his face, but it was magical.
Q. There is not a lot of dialogue in this movie. I don’t understand how he was directing you when you don’t have lines to recite?
A. The funny thing is that we spoke a lot during the filming, but most of it was cut out. I had pages to memorize each day, but you don’t hear the words in the movie. I think Terry has us speak as an exercise, but the words weren’t important to what he is trying to say in his movie. I had to convey my thoughts with my face, my body and my being.
Q. Did a lot of scenes end up on the cutting room floor?
A. If he used everything he shot, it would be a 10-hour movie. He shoots so much. He never stops. I’ll bet he shoots more in one day than a normal production does in a week. Most productions move so slowly because they’re always setting up and getting ready. Terry walked in one morning and said to me, “We don’t need any hair and makeup; you look good just like that.” The poor make-up and hair people were so upset. They didn’t know if they still had a job (laughs).
Q. What does he have against hair and makeup?
A. Terry likes natural. He likes things as they are. In the scenes, we just walked around and he filmed us. No set-up. No long instructions.
Q. Did you understand this movie?
A. Because I knew my character from what Terry told me and from what I read, I kind of understood what was going on. Don’t forget, I did voice-over narration for the character for almost a year after we stopped filming. I probably read 400 pages of voice-over dialogue. I really got to know this character.
Q. That sounds like a time-consuming project?
A. I did voice-over in Ukraine. I did it in Miami. I did it in Paris. I did it in London. I did it in L.A. Terry would call me and ask where I was, and he would send me the new pages. I would read for three hours and then wait until the next call.
Q. Is all that effort worth it to you as an actress?
A. I admire Terrence Malick. I admire his movies, and I admire him as a person. He is a very special person. There is something about him — about the way he speaks, the way he thinks and his vision of the world. His movies are special, and to be part of one of his movies makes it worth it. Yes, a lot of work was cut out, but we knew it would. You don’t do a Terrence Malick movie for commercial reasons. You do it for the heart. You do it for the soul. You do it out of respect for the filmmaker. I consider myself lucky to have been a part of this movie.
Q. Your character is a single mom, and I know you were raised by a single mom. Did that connection resonate with you at all?
A. Oh, it absolutely did. My mom’s name is Marie and my character’s name is Marie. I felt so much closer to my mom after this movie. In fact, she came to Moscow to be with me for the premiere. That’s where she is right now — watching “Oblivion” at the premiere (laughs).
Q. You seem to have beaten the Bond-girl curse. Was there ever a time when you worried that there might not be life after Bond?
A. Although I come off as confident sometimes, one can never really be confident in this business. Nobody knows the future, but I did have excitement and enthusiasm about my career. I wanted to try many different roles. I didn’t want to be just the girl who did Bond. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew that I would try. And that’s all you really can do.
Q. Has it been difficult?
A. To be honest, it has been difficult. It has been very difficult. It’s always a struggle, and I still don’t feel that I won the fight. I think I’m always going to have to fight to be taken seriously. It’s something I’m going to have to live with.