The Water Diviner marks the directorial debut of Oscar winning actor Russell Crowe. I caught up with one of the film’s co-stars, Olga Kurylenko, to find out what went on behind the scenes. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.
Matt: When did you first get a chance to read the script for The Water Diviner? What was it that stood out for you?
Olga: I think I read it in July 2013. I liked that it was based on a historical event and also the fact it was a period film. I also liked my character which was really important. I’ve always been an admirer of Russell’s work and so it was great to be part of something that he both directed and starred in. When he offered me the part, I was very excited.
Matt: Most of us in Australia know Russell Crowe the actor but you’re one of the first people in the world to get know to Russell Crowe the director. How would you describe his approach to the film in contrast to other directors you’ve worked with?
Olga: He was a terrific director and I think a lot of that is because he has been an actor. He knows how to talk to actors and tell us exactly what we need to hear. He knows what atmosphere is required on set in order for an actor to feel great and wanting to give. He understands all of that because he has been on the other side. I remember waking up each morning and being really excited about what was going to happen that day.
Matt: Most of the film was shot here in Australia. The scenes that you were involved in… where were they shot in particular?
Olga: All of my scenes were shot in Sydney. After that, the rest of the cast and crew moved on to different locations to shoot parts of the war that didn’t involve my character. Oh, there were also a couple of days in Istanbul where we did some of the exterior work.
Matt: Did you get to do any touristy things while you were here in Australia?
Olga: Yeah, I got here well before the shoot started as part of my preparation. I got to spend a whole day at the zoo which was actually my birthday. I was feeding kangaroos and wallabies and hugging koalas and I wished that was how I could spend every birthday. While in Sydney, I was walking in parks and going to the beaches. It was a real delight.
Matt: How much preparation did you have to go through to get yourself ready for a role like this?
Olga: It took me a while. I’d never spoken Turkish before and so I wanted to make sure that the accent was right. I also wanted to understand what I was saying and not just learning phonetically. I got a Rosetta Stone for Turkish and started learning the language. I didn’t really need to but it was a big help I think. After that, I worked with language coaches who trained me how to speak for about two weeks.
I surprised myself when there was a moment on set when the character who played my Dad, who is Turkish, started improvising a scene. I knew what he was saying and so I started improvising along with him. When Russell said “cut”, everyone started applauding and were asking me how I did it. It wasn’t like I said anything complicated but I was really excited that I knew what he was saying and that I knew how to answer.
Matt: You’re son in the film is played by Dylan Georgiades who is a 12-year-old Melbourne kid with no prior acting experience. His performance was so great. What can you tell us about him?
Olga: I fell in love with him. He’s such a lovely, lovely boy with a beautiful energy. He was exciting and willing to do things. He was always talking to Russell and listening to him and I could see how he wanted to do his best. It’s surprising for a child because they can get tired. I’ve seen that. That didn’t happen here. I hope he gets more work after this because he really deserves it.
Matt: War films are often about big battles and heroic acts but here you play a widower trying to raise a curious son while facing pressure to remarry. Were there books you could read or people you could speak with to give you a clearer perspective of your character and this piece of World War I history?
Olga: I actually went to Turkey for research about a month before the shoot. I met with a Turkish woman who was in a similar position to my character except hers was a current day setting. She was being pressured to remarry following the death of her husband and she was standing up against it. It was a very rare thing for a woman to do even today. I had a long talk and really admired her because she was strong. Her choice was to not obey the rules and do what she felt in heart would be better for her and her children.
Matt: I’ll finish up by asking if you’d like to direct your own film one day like Russell?
Olga: I don’t think so but you never know. I’m much more interested in writing films which I’ve been doing. I may write my own film and then hand it over to a director who can carry it through from there.