Cold War, hot of­fer

Drama de­liv­ers star-mak­ing role for Pol­ish ac­tress


LOS AN­GE­LES — The name Joanna Kulig might not ring a bell for the ma­jor­ity of movie­go­ers, but that could all change in the com­ing weeks with the the­atri­cal ex­pan­sion of Cold War. The Pol­ish drama from Ida direc­tor Pawel Paw­likowski about a singer, Zula (Kulig) and a mu­si­cian, Wik­tor (To­masz Kot), “doomed” to love one an­other has made Kulig some­one to watch on the in­ter­na­tional stage. With a time­less movie star qual­ity that comes along only ev­ery so of­ten, Kulig has been com­pared to ev­ery­one from Jen­nifer Lawrence to Jules and Jim-era Jeanne Moreau.

Kulig, 36, had en­joyed rel­a­tive suc­cess work­ing in film and tele­vi­sion in Poland, in projects in­clud­ing Elles with Juli­ette Binoche, and in Ida, where she played a pop star. But when Cold War pre­miered at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val ear­lier this year (and an “eight-minute stand­ing ova­tion”), Kulig found her­self in a spot­light that has yet to dim.

“For me it’s very ex­cit­ing. I’m very happy about Pol­ish films and more and more peo­ple from the (U.S.) can learn about Pol­ish film, Pol­ish cul­ture — this is one thing — but an­other, this is very new sit­u­a­tion and very new for me how film works,” Kulig said re­cently in Los An­ge­les.

“We did Cannes, it was some­thing very big. There was a big stand­ing ova­tion and Ju­lianne Moore and Beni­cio del Toro, they cried and they said, ‘Thank you for this.’ I was sur­prised, you know? I’d never been in a sit­u­a­tion like that.”

Cold War has struck a chord around the world. Achingly beau­ti­ful, tan­ta­liz­ingly brief (at 88 min­utes), the film is a mu­si­cal odyssey as Zula, an am­bi­tious and tal­ented girl from the wrong side of the tracks in­tent on sur­vival, and Wik­tor, an ur­bane mu­si­cian who is taken by Zula’s feral charisma, chase one an­other across the eastern bloc through the decades.

Kulig likened their ro­mance to that of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and Arthur Miller, and its univer­sal ap­peal to Casablanca.

“He was intellectual, more ed­u­cated, very warm and calm, and Zula was quite like Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, like a wounded bird, like sensitive and emo­tional but at the same time dis­tracted be­cause of her difficult child­hood,” she said.

Paw­likowski said he made Kulig watch Lau­ren Ba­call to get the “tim­ing and de­liv­ery down.”

“The Zula char­ac­ter is quite nasty at times and quite sar­cas­tic and Joanna doesn’t have that in her char­ac­ter,” he said.

And he’s not sur­prised that she’s get­ting such wide­spread at­ten­tion for the role, in which her feisty and un­for­get­table char­ac­ter also gets to sing ev­ery­thing from folk to jazz and dance, al­though some have ex­pressed a mi­nor gripe with his choices.

“Joanna won the award for the best ac­tress at the Cairo Film Fes­ti­val. The lo­cal au­di­ences adored her, but they were fu­ri­ous at me for hav­ing made the film in black and white,” Paw­likowski said. “They said, ‘She’s so beau­ti­ful! Why would you have made the film in black and white?’”

The film proved so emo­tion­ally tax­ing on Kulig that once it was com­plete she and her hus­band es­caped to Cal­i­for­nia for a month, ex­plor­ing the coast and the na­tional parks in a rented car.

“It was great. You travel, it’s empty, you can be in your own world,” she said. “Be­cause when you’re an ac­tor, it’s this won­der­ful job, but like you are in one sub­ject for a long time. It’s a very big psy­cho­log­i­cal process ... You have to find your own place and come back to your own life.”

And, im­por­tantly, she said, ev­ery­one is asleep in Poland when it’s day­time in Cal­i­for­nia.

Now she’s back on the West Coast again, al­though this time it’s hardly a va­ca­tion. She’s bounc­ing around be­tween press en­gage­ments, Cold War screen­ings and awards events and in­dus­try meet­ings. She’s met Brad Pitt, Ti­mothee Cha­la­met, Quincy Jones and Lady Gaga at var­i­ous awards events. Steven Spiel­berg wanted to meet with her. And she’s al­ready filmed a part in the Ama­zon adap­ta­tion of Hanna.

“I’m open,” Kulig said of her plans go­ing for­ward. “I like new ex­pe­ri­ences in life and new cul­tures.”

Paw­likowski thinks she could be des­tined for big­ger roles in Hol­ly­wood films too, pro­vided she has the right ma­te­rial and direc­tor. (“It’s not like ac­tors just turn up and do some­thing,” he said.)

“The good thing is she’s got her head screwed on the right way. She’s not a young girl just start­ing. I think she’ll make the right choices. She’s got po­ten­tial. She has a unique per­son­al­ity. It’s rare to come across some­one so orig­i­nal and gen­uine,” he said. “She’s a very truth­ful, spon­ta­neous and in the mo­ment per­son. She lights up. And she doesn’t lie, which is strange for an ac­tor.”

The fu­ture is bright for Kulig, and awards and a higher pro­file aren’t the only thing she has to look for­ward to in 2019. She’s ex­pect­ing her first child in March as well.

“This year, I will re­mem­ber all of my life,” she said.


Joanna Kulig, a cast mem­ber in the Pol­ish film Cold War, poses for a por­trait at the The Lon­don West Hol­ly­wood ho­tel in West Hol­ly­wood, Calif.

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