Olga Kurylenko Opens Up About Her Secret 'Black Widow' Role That Shook the MCU Faithful

·12-min read

This story contains spoilers for Black Widow. Come back and read after you've watched.

When we saw Black Widow's first teaser trailer—this was in December 2019, people, three months before all hell broke loose—we got our first look at the film's big bad: Taskmaster. Longtime Avengers villain in the comics. Typically goes by the name Tony Masters. Able to mimic anyone's fighting style. But definitely, full stop, 100 percent, a dude. So imagine how a certain, unsavoury pocket of Marvel fans felt when, in Black Widow, Taskmaster's helmet came off and it was not Tony Masters. Instead, it was Olga Kurylenko's Antonia Dreykov—the daughter of the villainous Dreykov—brainwashed into becoming a cyborg-assassin hellbent on making sure Natasha Romanoff never makes it to Avengers: Infinity War.

"It's almost metaphorical," Kurylenko told me over Zoom last week. "[Draykov is] the man who forces women to do what he wants. And I would realise that when she was a child—it's probably the whole life that she lived that way. And I just shut up and I can't say anything. It's really a character who keeps it all inside and, I think, suffers inside a lot. I think she cries inside."

Sure, you have the pocket of fans who like their characters to be exactly who they've been for 40 years. But in Antonia, who hardly speaks during the movie, Black Widow might have delivered its most powerful message. Kurylenko, who you might know from a slew of independent films over the past few years, or Camille from 2008's Bond flick, Quantum of Solace, says Antonia's story is one of abuse and manipulation—and ultimately, survival. In Black Widow's (literally) high-flying finale, Natasha rids Antonia of mind control, freeing her to escape the hold her father had on her, and even leave with the Widows. Since, of course, no one's story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever truly ends, we asked Kurylenko where Taskmaster/Antonia could go in the future, more about the real-life messages of her Black Widow arc, and if she'd ever return as Camille to the world of James Bond.

ESQUIRE: Before we get to the serious stuff, I'm curious: How heavy was Taskmaster's suit?

OK: It was very heavy. And do you know what? There's so many layers to get dressed. It would literally take 30 minutes. Obviously, underneath the [suit] is bulky and they always acted like I'm wearing those muscles. That's one layer. Then on top is all this costume. Not only was it heavy—you feel so hot in it and we're filming in summer. Oh my God. I'd literally be swimming underneath. I would take it off and there'll be water on my body. So yeah, it was heavy but cool. It's really cool.

ESQ: What did it mean for you to join Black Widow? Because I feel like in a lot of ways, it really is the first all female driven story in Marvel's movie history.

OK: Yeah. It is. Obviously one reads the script, but it's nothing like when you see it visually. Obviously there are all these female characters, but until I saw the film, I didn't realise how female driven it is... I just felt good, as a woman, to say, “Yeah, and the fight scenes are so cool and it shows that women can be strong and skilful and powerful and brave. It's very empowering.”

When I got the part, it's one of those things when you get things that are that cool and that big, it's like you can't believe it, but you're ecstatic. I love Marvel films and all these superheroes. And mostly I thought, Oh my God, my son will think it's awesome. I have a little boy. And he's now starting to wear the Spider-Man costume. I thought he'll think mommy's very cool. It's so funny because he came on set when I filmed. I never told him what the name of the movie is, what my character is called, just so he doesn't drop it because I thought, Who knows what he'll say in school? So I said, "Hey, look, mommy's a robot!" And he wore the helmet. So for him, as far as he's concerned, mommy is a robot.

Photo credit: Disney
Photo credit: Disney

ESQ: That's the sweetest thing. Can you take me back to that first moment when you learned that this role came across your desk?

OK: My agents called: "Hey, hold on. Marvel wants to offer you this part." And I was like, "Wow, it's like a straight offer?" Sometimes even for big actors, there are certain interviews, auditions. I feel like big actors also sometimes compete. And I was like, “Oh my God, I don't have to like audition for it or nothing? They just offered it?” I was very pleased. I felt grateful to the universe.

ESQ: Even Natasha and Yelena talk about Taskmaster as "he"—did the people on the set always know that the gender flip would happen?

OK: Oh yeah. Everybody had to sign the NDA and everybody knew, of course, that it will be a big secret. That it was not to be spoken about. We were shooting outside and paparazzi are all over the place. I mean, I have to dress and walk from my tent to set. They made this umbrella that had fabric hanging from it. I was underneath and I had to look through a little hole to see where I'm going. So they were really on it. They were like, "No one will see who she is." And they managed to pull it off. I mean, up until now, no one knew. Do you know what? Even my mother doesn't know. She still doesn't know. It was so funny because the trailer came out and she was like, "Oh my God, OK, I saw this trailer. Do you know the movie that's coming out? That looks so cool. I want to see it. Can we go see it?" I said, "Sure, I'll go with you.” Well, it came out yesterday. I still haven't told her. I think I can tell her today. Poor mom. I mean, she has no idea.

ESQ: The character really does have an interesting and painful backstory. In relation to Natasha, she really feels a lot of pain for what she did to Antonia. What did it mean for you to play this character, who was being abused by her father and then is freed from it?

OK: My character carries a lot of pain. Not only you realise that, as you say, well before the accident or the explosion. Let's say seeing later who her father is as a man, the way he treated women, in general. And also the fact that he is willing to manipulate. He just uses her as a tool has her do whatever he wants. It's almost metaphorical. He's the man who forces women to do what he wants. And I would realise that when she was a child—it's probably the whole life that she lived that way. And I just shut up and I can't say anything. It's really a character who keeps it all inside and, I think, suffers inside a lot. I think she cries inside.

Some people, if that's all they've known, they don't even realise they're abused. If you've known abuse since you're a child, you think it's normal. You don't really know that it's abuse. You just don't know why you're in pain all the time, but you think everyone is like that. And suddenly when you do see outside, you think, Well, wait a second? I haven't been treated properly. So I think that's a pure representation of someone that could be growing up with parents like that, maltreated and abused. So yeah, and for a little girl or for little boys, it's not an easy thing. But the thing is she was good—and in the end, she's just so strong and she's a fighter. She doesn't crumble underneath. It's almost like that pain makes her stronger and she's damaged. But she is not a victim. She is strong.

ESQ: After the fight, when Black Widow de-mind-controls her, you capture that first moment where she's freed of it. And she realises that it wasn't normal.

OK: That was a cool moment to go from blank, cut off from emotions—back to human. I thought it was a touching scene because we were fighting each other and the moment the spell is gone, two heads come close, and it's just so beautiful. It's very tender because we're from the same team where we should be fighting together. It's the recognition that I'm the same as you.

ESQ: And she immediately finds a community in the other Widows.

OK: In the end, it's really nice how all the women come together. It's almost the reflection of what we are experiencing nowadays, I think. There's something happening in female community that women are accepting each other more, getting together, helping each other. There's this beautiful belonging to each other, which I think we didn't have that developed before.

ESQ: Given that she does go off with all these other trained assassins and has this moment of freedom, can you say what you see in the future for the character?

OK: It's for the studio. Look, they only decide. They could do whatever they want. Right? They could make her appear or disappear, so I wouldn't be able to confirm. I mean, obviously the thing is, to me, I enjoy playing that character. There's so much background story. There was no time to show it all in this film because the story went into the other direction. But there's so much that, of course, it could be developed.

ESQ: Would you like to, if the opportunity came up?

OK: Imagine I'd say, "No, I wouldn't." Would that be weird? Would you even believe me? Of course, I would. It'd be really cool. I'd love to.

ESQ: Obviously you're no stranger to franchise filmmaking. I was just wondering how your experience with the big Marvel machine was compared to filming Quantum of Solace.

OK: Well, big-machine-wise, it is similar. Now, my characters are very different, but yeah, it is. When you're on set of those, you feel you're on a huge set. I mean, there's tons of people involved and they're very complicated to make. They're not simple because there's so many different points, and there's the CGI, and the characters, and the makeup is complicated. And all these people to dress me up there's like, four people or something. It's just a big machine, but it works really well. It's exciting.

ESQ: If I had to guess, the stuntwork that you had to do on that Bond film, from what I've read, was slightly more intense than whatever you had to do for Taskmaster.

OK: It was a big shock for my body. It literally was. I remember my body was in shock for the first couple of weeks. And then, you get used to it. But yeah, I think before Bond, I had never worked out in such an intense way. And obviously after that, I started receiving these other parts for action films. And of course it wasn't anything new anymore after Bond. So I already knew the intensity and what was expected. But yeah, Bond was the first. But I love it. And I love what [Taskmaster/Antonia] does. And likewise, it's really cool. Everything he, she can do. It's kind of cool. I love it. That we don't know that it's a woman. This is a cool side to his strengths too, she or he can be both in a way.

Photo credit: United Artists
Photo credit: United Artists

ESQ: Your Bond character is technically out there somewhere, I think.

OK: Yeah, somewhere. With 10 kids in Bolivia.

ESQ: Obviously Daniel Craig's time as Bond is coming to an end, but is there any part of you that would like to see the character return? I feel like people would want to see it.

OK: Really? Well, thank you. Do you know what? I think it'd be hilarious because obviously my character is one of the very few that didn't die. So yeah, that would be hilarious. But you know, again, I would—I'd do it, because it's just funny. It's just fun because it's something that is never done. So things that are different and original are always welcome. But yeah, I don't know if it's in the plans.

ESQ: You never know.

OK: You never know.

ESQ: Just in everything we're talking about, is there anything you wish I would have asked?

OK: What's important is, I think, that this character is this strong, unbeatable, almost assassin. And yet, what I like about her is that it's all a mask— and literally a mask, but it's a mask also in a metaphorical way. It's a person who hides that way. She's extremely vulnerable. She's not the straightforward villain. She was made that way. And actually she still keeps her humanity vulnerability, which you can see because there was a glimpse of it when the spell goes away. And I liked this duality about her. These are the most interesting parts to play when the character's not one-sided, and she could be both. And I guess she could switch back and forth depending on if she's under that spell or she's not. It could be a fight maybe in her whole life, whether she's human or she's this machine. And it's a character that fights for her identity, but probably can't get out of it—and all these battles, and all this psychological torturing that is happening to her is interesting. It leaves the imprint in her inside.

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