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Introducing Joanna Kulig

Acting, singing and dancing – the Polish actress is a triple threat in ‘Cold War’. But as she reveals, she nearly jacked it all in

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Dazzling in Paweł Pawlikowski’s ‘Cold War’, Joanna Kulig is mercurial in person. During our half-hour together, she’s up and down like a jack-in-the-box: enthusing, laughing and at one point even breaking into some Stevie Wonder (‘For Once in My Life’ is her karaoke choice). It’s a toss-up whether to quiz her or try to capture her with some kind of net. Just like her character, Zula, she’s a free spirit – and she’s going places.

What drew you to this role?
‘The script was special – it’s a universal story full of real emotions. It was also a chance to show my musical side because Zula does folk dancing and singing. I spent half a year preparing, spending eight hours a week training with a folk group.’

You’ve worked with Paweł three times now. How did you first meet?
‘I’d had a huge crisis before I met him and decided that acting wasn’t for me. He emailed, telling me he had a part for me. It was for “The Woman in the Fifth” [in 2011] and it changed my mind. I thought: Maybe acting is a good idea after all!’

‘My first acting role was playing a bee. I even wore wings’

What’s the secret of your collaboration?
‘He knows that I love music and singing, and for him the rhythm of a scene is very important. On set he says to me, “Joanna, don’t think too much: think about music, think about jazz.” He inspired me to learn English too. He speaks six languages so I was like, “I have to do this!”’

Did you always want to be an actor?
‘No, I really wanted to be a jazz singer but no one wanted me [laughs], so I went to university [the Ludwik Solski State Drama School] to do drama and singing. I liked the music part but I didn’t know what acting involved. It was like being dropped in the water and having to swim.’

How did your first professional role come about?
‘My university organised a casting call for a film and I won the role. I played a character who was dying of cancer. I remember in the middle of shooting going, “Oh my God! Why did I decide to do this?” But people noticed me in it and I started getting invited to castings. I watched it again a year ago and I thought it wasn’t too bad. I threw everything at it.’

Joanna Kulig and co-star Tomasz Kot in ‘Cold War’

Did you do any acting as a kid?
‘I played a bee! It was a Polish fairy tale we performed at school when I was seven or eight. I had wings fixed to me.’

Are you getting offered English language roles now?
‘I’ve just done the TV series of “Hanna”. I play the character that Vicky Krieps from “Phantom Thread” played in the film. I also played a red-haired witch with one eye in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”. There was so much prosthetic work, I couldn’t recognise my face!’

Lastly, do you have a favourite movie?
‘I love “The Godfather”. On television, I love “The Crown”, and “The Affair” is so psychological.’ 

‘Cold War’ opens on Fri Aug 31.

Cold War review

Cold War
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

Pawel Pawlikowski has conjured a dazzling, painful, universal odyssey through the human heart and all its strange compulsions

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