As one of the enigmatic characters in Xavier Giannoli’s gripping TV series “Of Money and Blood”, premiering at this year’s recently wrapped Venice Film Festival, Olga Kurylenko is our October Cover Story, with a portrayal that transcends the boundaries of a character and delves into the very essence of human passions.
In our fun and chilled chat, we both shared our viewpoints on an unprecedented show delving into the shocking real-life events of the carbon tax fraud scandal that unfolded in France between 2006 and 2009, actually unknown to both of us. Olga unraveled the complexities of her role, sharing her insights into some of the darker corners of the human psyche, contemplating how our relentless pursuit of more, driven by insatiable desires, can lead to unforeseen consequences.
While drawing parallels between the scripted drama and our own lives, I loved how she passionately got lost in a stream of thoughts on how we’d better keep in mind that true contentment lies not in the pursuit of excess but in appreciating the richness of what we already possess, albeit the simplest of joys. At the end of the day, perhaps, we should believe commonplaces a little bit more; perhaps, happiness truly is in the simplicity of appreciating life’s genuine treasures.
What’s your first cinema memory?
When I was a child, in music school studying piano, they took us to watch “Amadeus”, I think it was part of the program and I remember it terrified me a bit. It’s a strong movie.
Speaking of “D’Argent et De Sang”. What was your first thought when you read the script of the show? What drew you to this role?
What drew me the most to the role was the fact that it was based on something that really happened. I just thought, “Wow, what a crazy thing happened at our times”.
I had no idea.
Exactly, I didn’t know about it, so I had to research, I looked it up on the Internet, and it was very intriguing, as well as the fact that the show would have been a thriller set right in the middle of Paris. I mean, all those things happened in the middle of Paris and went on for several years!
Also, the most important thing that made me want to take part in the project is Xavier [Giannoli] because I had just seen his film “Les Illusions Perdues”, and I found it was a masterpiece; I thought, “Wow, this director, I would work with him for even just a day”. I knew mine would have been a supporting role, but I just wanted to work with him because he’s a genius. And that was enough to convince me.
How did you prepare for a character like this? Are there any specific challenges or aspects of the character that you’ve found particularly intriguing and stimulating?
I followed the script a lot: this is how I always work on the story along with who the character is. Speaking with Xavier, I found that what he liked about me when he casted me was that he thought that maybe I could relate to my character because my own real story has certain similarities with hers, not under every aspect, but we share something. For example, my character is a foreigner – she’s an Italian woman, originally, but she lives in France – and a survivor who probably comes from a poor background. She’s a girl who wants to make it in the world, who had nothing growing up; this is how Xavier described her to me, which is something I can actually relate to. I didn’t have much growing up either, so, yes, I could definitely relate to that part. I could also relate to her survival instinct typical of when you want to make it in the world. However, each person makes their own choices when it comes to how to make it: some people make it through using what they have, like my character, who has her beautiful body that she uses to achieve her goals; you know, sometimes survival requires using whatever you have. And she’s seen it all, she’s been with gangsters, she’s gotten in some unclean situations, but she’s not stupid, she’s very smart in the same way that survival is smart. She follows her instincts, she plays with people, she uses them to get to where she needs.
Also, she does enjoy when the fame comes because when you come from nothing, sometimes all the success and the money and the diamonds, when you suddenly get them, hit you in the head. So, my character is a bit blown away by fame, of course, because she enjoys being looked at, paparazzi follow her and she’s proud of it. She wants to show off her beautiful life, which for her is an achievement. For her, to survive is the achievement, too. Some people might have other goals they want to achieve, but hers is so basic probably because she comes from such a bad background situation that even just to survive is something she feels proud of. It’s a very big deal.
I’m not that kind of person; I want to be recognized for my work, but I can obviously relate to the fact that you do want to make it at any cost when you come from a poor background. Anyway, some people don’t make the most intellectual choices.
“to survive is the achievement”
So, it was kind of easy for you to connect with the character because you think you share a common background.
Yeah, what I share with her is basically a poor background, I guess. But you know, I’ve never wanted to achieve things in the way she does it, for example by marrying or going out with a rich guy. This is where we don’t “match” because, as you can imagine, I’ve met a lot of people in my life and if I wanted to, I would have already been with one of those men a long time ago.
That wasn’t my priority. I wanted to make it in a different way. But as I said, each person makes their own choices. For her, this is the achievement and she’s proud of her life.
So, the series is based on the carbon tax fraud scandal in France, but I think it’s also about human passions and how they can go way beyond greed when unleashed. What do you hope the viewers can take home with them after watching the episodes of the show? What kind of messages and lessons?
There’s a lot of messages behind it. The series basically shows you where greed can slowly lead you to. The goal of these people in the beginning is not to lose their soul, they just want to be rich. What they don’t realize is that even if you don’t want to lose your soul, somehow you will if you act that desperate. Money and success just eat you; they come slowly, they just creep up on you. This is how you could sum up the dynamics of the show: first thing, the characters want the money, then some other things come up, like the dirty deals, the lust, the girls they find out they can have and so on, and then it all just kind of chips away all the good qualities and nobleness out of them because they get too greedy.
If you don’t value higher things in life, you might end up like them: they lose all their moral sense and nothing feels sacred anymore to them. They kill for the money, they disrespect women. Greed leads them to the point of killing members of their family. I’m sure in the beginning the characters didn’t have such a plan because I feel like the whole process is almost some kind of an automatism: once you’re in it, you want more and you just keep going and you probably realize the entity of what you’ve done only afterwards, but you don’t see it coming. It’s a very subtle issue, lust, it squeaks, again, it slowly creeps up on you. I think there’s a limited amount of money that you need… I mean, how much more can you need? At some point it’s la folie, [the craziness] that triumphs when you end up thinking things like, “Okay, well, let’s buy five cars because we can afford them”. But do you actually need five cars? This is just buying things for the sake of spending money. You lose the ability of thinking consciously.
“I feel like the whole process is almost some kind of an automatism: once you’re in it, you want more and you just keep going and you probably realize the entity of what you’ve done only afterwards, but you don’t see it coming”
Yeah, you kind of get brainwashed.
Exactly, you just end up like an empty vessel. And the thing is, is it actually worth it? I think it’s a very boring way of living your life because you lose the ability to really appreciate what you have. Seriously, sometimes I feel glad that I wasn’t born rich because how boring would it have been for me? What would I have aspired to? I did all of this because I wasn’t born rich. It’s literally a plus. Obviously, I didn’t think that this would have been my life while growing up. When you’re younger, maybe not being wealthy makes you suffer and you wish you had more food, for example. Anyway, of course not everybody can make it and I’m not saying poverty isn’t horrible, but at the same time, if I did have everything from the beginning, I probably wouldn’t appreciate all that I have today. And the inability to appreciate things leads to depression. Those characters in the show are depressed at the end of the day. They don’t realize it, but they’re deeply sad. I feel like we should think more about what we’re chasing in life because the consequences can be unpleasant if we don’t. Although I understand it’s a difficult task to accomplish because, sadly, to just desperately crave for things is part of human nature. And the show, in fact, is just portraying human nature.
Greed has always existed, and it will continue to exist, as sad as it can be.
The series features a blend of emotional depth and tension-action-packed moments. How did you manage to balance these different aspects in your performance?
I just tried to feel all emotions. When I act, I get on set and I become the character, I believe in the story. You just have to be there and not pretend.
Did you make any specific research on the period and on what really happened? Like from the book it’s based on …
I didn’t read the book. The script was enough for me. I just needed to concentrate on my character, and she wasn’t in the book. But I needed to know more, of course, about this scandal. I was fascinated by it, so I read all the articles I could find about the real story besides the script. I also tried to keep in mind that it would have been a fictional rendition of the facts because we wouldn’t have made a documentary, and I focused on getting an insight on my character studying it in the way it had been written by Xavier. That was very important.
Was there anything new you learned about yourself from this project?
I learn every day something new about myself. This time in particular, I haven’t really thought about that a lot, and even if I had, I think it was probably an unconscious learning process. It’s kind of funny, but my learning process happens on an emotional level; for instance, I love reading, and when I read a book, I instantly take it all in. Sometimes, if you were to ask me what the book was about, I wouldn’t really know how to answer because I don’t remember books as words on papers, but I know when they’ve changed me and towards which new directions, specifically. The lessons learned stay on an emotional level, not on a theoretical one. I’m not very good with words, maybe or I don’t learn that way, does it make sense? It’s like I soak things in, I feel things, and words become feelings. And once they come out, they stay. I don’t let them go away.
“It’s kind of funny but my learning process happens on an emotional level”
What does it mean to you to feel comfortable in your own skin?
That’s a very good question. You know what it is? It’s to stop wanting things, it’s not wanting more than what you have, it’s not feeling greedy. It’s, I guess, the principle of Buddhism, the way to be serene is to not want, right? Of course, as human beings, how is it possible to achieve that? Maybe it not 100% attainable because we’re humans and there’s too much going on in our lives, but you could try and reach a respectable percentage.
And also, it means not to compare yourself to others. I’ve never done it, I’ve never been jealous of people. I don’t get it, why should you think, “Is this person better than me?”. I’d rather think, “Interesting, what did this person do to achieve this? Maybe I should do that, too”. Being an admirer is way better than being angry and envious, isn’t it? That’s something that makes me feel comfortable because I wouldn’t want to be like someone else. And you know, there are people who are more beautiful, more successful, and richer than me, but I don’t need more. I already have enough.
I just don’t know why we always want more. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s that greed we were talking about before. Anyway, I’m very happy with what I have. I don’t need a better nose or whatever, I know I have to say thank you to my mother and father for what I have, I haven’t done anything to deserve this, it’s just luck, you’re just born the way you’re born. But sadly, I know people who destroy themselves even though they have nothing wrong in them. I think we have to learn to appreciate what we have a bit more and, to a certain degree, again, as I said, some people are born luckier than others and a lot of people lack things and, of course, poverty is a real thing, but somehow, we should try and deal with it without surrendering to desperation. And if you’re desperately wanting something, it’s a problem, you’re failing, because desperation is never a good feeling. You have to be only 50% wanting something for it to be healthy, I think, and think, “If it doesn’t work, it’s okay” instead of destroying yourself and destroying your life.