Joanna Kulig knew from reading director Pawel Pawlikowski‘s script that the role of Zula offered her an “opportunity” to show off a wide range. “I dance, I sing and I act,” she explains about portraying a woman with a “destructive personality” from the age of 18 to 33. She describes the character as a “wounded bird,” a woman who is “sensitive, and at the same time wild.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Kulig above.
Set during the Cold War in 1950s Europe, this Amazon Studios release centers on a tempestuous romance between a middle-aged conductor (Tomasz Kot) and a young soloist (Kulig), who are temperamentally and politically mismatched. Their affair spans 15 years and traverses Poland, Germany, Yugoslavia, and France. The film is the official Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, a prize that was previously won by Pawlikowski’s last film, “Ida” (2013).
Pawlikowski based the story largely on his own parents, something the actress knew before accepting the part. “We talked just a little bit about them,” Kulig says, “but not a lot. I saw [his mother’s] photo: it was so cute, because the real Zula was so small, blonde, and was quite similar to me.” Kulig and Kot understood this was a “very personal story, and we knew that we played something which was very important for Pawel. But at the same time we knew that this is the script, and this is only the inspiration.”
Kulig compares “Cold War” to the classic “Casablanca” (1943) in its story of lovers being separated and brought back together during a time of war. She believes it makes the audience “feel real emotions” because they know “it was true. The couple was like that, especially in the ’50s” when Polish people had to leave their home country, never to return. “They didn’t have a place to build a real happy relationship,” she adds. “That’s why it’s so traumatic.”
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