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Andy Parsons Photographer

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

By Phil de Semlyen
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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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