Kulig, 36, has spent a busy five months promoting Cold War since Cannes, and nearly as much time preparing for the arrival of her first child, with her director husband, Maciej Bochniak. On a brisk October afternoon in New York City, she had just returned from a five-mile walk around Central Park. Though her English is excellent, she was relieved to sit down for a conversation in her native Polish. “Jesus! Wonderful! This is fantastic—we can talk in our language!” she squeals after I introduce myself.
Like her character Zula, Kulig comes from a small Polish town, Muszynka, a place of approximately 400 people nestled in the mountains, where she was one of five siblings and countless cousins. “I like being in groups rather than alone—I’m very open to people,” she says. “Being from the countryside gave me a spine, and it’s why I’m so accepting—I don’t judge people for how they look or how they talk . . . I just accept everyone.” A graduate of the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Krakow, Kulig got her start in Polish television—including a singing-competition series when she was 15—before making her film debut in 2007’s Wednesday, Thursday Morning.
Cold War is Kulig’s third time working with Pawlikowski. They first met in a restaurant in Warsaw in 2010, when she was trying for the lead in Ida, a role she readily admits she wasn’t suited for. “She sang me a mountain song over dessert—something from her part of the world,” says Pawlikowski, chuckling. The meeting led to a small role in The Woman in the Fifth, in which Kulig plays a Polish barmaid who tries to seduce the film’s main character (Ethan Hawke), and another role as a nightclub singer in Ida.
But Pawlikowski had plans for “Joasia,” the diminutive form of her name that he uses. “She has an aura and light—not starry, not actress-y, but genuine and charming,” he says. He wrote Cold War with her in mind, and Kulig and Kot both worked with him to fine-tune the script. Born in 1982, Kulig doesn’t remember Communism well. “But I think about my grandmother or mother and how hard it was for them,” she says with a clear tone of lament. “Poland is a country of strong women.” That includes Zula, who comes from the wrong side of the tracks and fights to improve her circumstances, even at the sacrifice of her own desires. Asked if Zula and Wiktor’s love story could happen today, Kulig says, “They loved each other deeply but just couldn’t catch each other at the same moment. That’s real in any period—something could be right, but the time is wrong and people can just miss each other.”
For Kulig, the timing has proved exquisitely right. With a baby on the way and other projects now or soon to be in release—including Wojciech Smarzowski’s Clergy,which broke opening-weekend box-office records in Poland—she is open to whatever else comes next. “I’m living in the now and so happy with the success of this film, but I don’t think about the future too much. . . . You can’t really plan with acting!” When I inquire if she holds Hollywood ambitions, Kulig plays it cool. “I’m still getting to know America and it would be great if I could do more here, and I’m open because I like new things.”
In reviews of Cold War, Kulig has been compared to everyone from the French star Jeanne Moreau to American sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence. Though she’s still relatively unknown internationally, comparing her to anyone else already feels like a disservice. “She’s unique. She’s original,” as Pawlikowski puts it. “I don’t think there’s anyone like her.” And now we can see her full potential.
Source: Vanity Fair
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