Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko on working with Russell Crowe in his directional debut

The actress was in the UAE earlier this month for the premiere of The Water Diviner at the Dubai International Film Festival.

Olga Kurylenko, the French-Ukranian actress who starring in The Water Diviner. Sarah Dea / The National
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Olga Kurylenko didn't have to audition for Russell Crowe's directional debut, The Water Diviner.

The former Bond girl clearly must have caught the Gladiator star's eye on screen – they had never met before, but Crowe sent her the script and asked which character she wanted to play.

“I think it was a joke, because there’s not many female characters in the film,” says the actress, who was in the UAE earlier this month for the film’s premiere at Dubai International Film Festival.

And that was how the former catwalk model came to play ­Ayshe, Crowe’s love interest in an epic story of a grief-stricken father’s journey to bury the sons he lost in Gallipoli, while fighting for the Allies against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

However, there were still a few more obstacles to clear.

“He said, ‘Do you speak Turkish?’, and I was like ‘I can learn’,” adds Kurylenko with another laugh. “It was a lot of responsibility for me, and a big challenge. I was thinking mainly about Turkish people, because I knew for everyone else it would sound great.”

Best known for her roles in action movies such as Oblivion and Hitman, as well as the 007 adventure Quantum of Solace, Kurylenko sank her teeth into the more dramatic role of a widow working at an Istanbul hotel that acts as the base for Crowe's character, Joshua Connor. Naturally, her young, fatherless son is drawn to the grieving father.

Her preparation included lots of research and a trip to Turkey.

“I met and spoke with Turkish women, and that really helped,” says Kurylenko. “It’s hard to find information on women in those times – you have the wars and battles on record but on women, there’s really nothing.

“I found the pressures they’re facing today are the same as 100 years back. I met a widow who said that her family and friends expected that she would marry the brother of her husband – ­exactly the same thing that happens to my character – but this is nowadays.”

Having performed alongside two of the biggest stars in the movies, Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise (in Quantum of Solace and Oblivion, respectively), how did Crowe measure up?

“It’s so hard because I don’t want to offend anybody – they’re all so different,” says Kurylenko, 35. “But I think because Russell was also my director, not just partner, I was probably the ­closest to him.”

OK, so who was the funniest?

“Jokes-wise all three of them were quite good,” says the actress. “Actually, you made me just realise – one is English, one American and one Australian, so completely different humour.”

Born in Ukraine, Kurylenko moved to Paris at the age of 16 to pursue a career in modelling. By 18 she had appeared on the covers of Vogue and Elle magazines. But it wasn't until the second half of her 20s that she began acting professionally, a delay she ­regrets.

“It was about confidence,” she says. “I was so young. I was a foreigner everywhere. It took me time to work out how society works, the country works – I was learning to live first.”

Everything changed when Kurylenko found herself in the media spotlight as Quantum of Solace's Bond girl, Camille.

When the conversation inevitably turns to 007, she lets out an understandable, and very ­audible, groan.

“Sometimes I feel I hope that’s not the only film people will remember or watch, because there’s been tonnes since,” she says. “But I am very grateful for that film, it did a lot for me.

“That put me on the map, and my job then was to learn what I needed to learn, to enjoy the moment, and then deviate from that and try not to get stuck in that image – which I tried to do, I’m not sure if I succeeded, but I tried.

“And I still try – it’s not because I don’t like [Bond], I just want to do different things, it’s a normal feeling.”

The Water Diviner is in cinemas now