Joanna Kulig Discusses the Differences Between European and US Cinema

Feb 24, 2023

Despite having a brilliant career in Europe, with dozens of well-deserved awards granted due to her impressive acting skills, Joanna Kulig was fairly unknown to the American public until Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film. Thanks to Cold War, the whole world could witness the incredible range Kulig has as an actress, and as a result, she’s now involved in multiple US-based projects. Her first US production, Rebecca Miller’s She Came to Me, just had its world premiere at the 73rd Berlin Film Festival. And while we were on-site to cover 2023’s Berlinale, Kulig agreed to give Collider an exclusive interview.

During our talk, Kulig discussed her involvement with She Came to Me, giving her unique perspective as a European actress on the specificities of US cinema. She also spoke at length about her breakout after Cold War, and how Pawlikowski’s successful film brought her new opportunities and challenges. Above all, during our interview, Kulig talked passionately about acting, showing us how linguistic barriers dissolve for someone who’s genuinely in love with her craft.

As Kulig told us, she feels fortunate to have been invited by Miller to be part of She Came to Me, which couldn’t have happened without Cold War international success. As she puts it, “Of course, ‘Cold War’ opened for me a lot of new doors as a European actress. So, Rebecca Miller saw ‘Cold War’ and my Zula, and she really liked what Paweł did. So she proposed me this character.” Having seen several of Miller’s movie’s before, like Maggie’s Plan and The Ballad of Jack and Rose, Kulig was excited to immediately jump onboard She Came to Me. Talking about Miller, Kulig says, “I love her sense of humor. And you know, and I love comedy. And I don’t have a lot of propositions for comedy. But I really like that [Miller’s work] is comedy, but it’s very smart comedy.”

Image via Berlinale

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Kulig confesses that she had some doubts about her She Came to Me role, after the initial excitement of the invitation wore off. In Miller’s latest movie, Kulig plays the part of Magdalena, a Polish immigrant who works as a cleaning lady to support her daughter, Tereza (Harlow Jane). But while the character might seem simple at first glance, Miller’s script gives Magdalena enough layers to push her into her personal journey for growth. As Kulig told us:

“I was just at the beginning [of the script], thinking ‘cleaning lady?’ But then when I read [the script], I said, ‘No, no, no, it’s nice, it’s all of the characters together.’ They are different at the beginning and at the end, they have a progress. And Magdalena, she fights for freedom. And at the same time, I said, ‘Well, this script is nice, wonderful director.’ And what was funny too, like, we had a conversation on Skype, and I felt that we had a connection. We are from different countries, but we have a connection. So I knew that it would be such a nice experience to be with Rebecca Miller, and all of this cast. They are great, and I really loved doing my research on my character.”

In She Came to Me, Kulig’s Magdalena is forced to rethink her marriage with an authoritarian man after her daughter gets involved in a dangerous situation in the name of love. According to Kulig, one of the things that drew her to Magdalena was how Miller’s script subverts expectations regarding family roles. After all, for Magdalena:

“Her daughter helps her to find out how to be independent, which is really nice. Like, sometimes, kids, they can show you something. Which was nice. And working with Harlow [Jane]… I was impressed about how the young teenagers, how the young actors, they act, and how they were very strong, and know their roles on the set. So it was, it was nice for me to observe them, because for me, it was new land too. So we were together. I was like a beginner, just in New York for the first time.”

Image via Berlinale

It’s not only Magdalena who keeps the audience mesmerized in She Came to Me, as Miller has created a whole cast of layered and quirky characters. Each cast member seems to have been perfectly chosen to play their part too, and according to Kulig, this could only happen because Miller has a unique talent both as a writer and director. Speaking about the She Came to Me filmmaker, Kulig said:

“There is something very specific which Rebecca have in her heart. And all her characters, they have something familiar with her. I don’t know how to explain you, because I’m very intuitional person and English is not my native language, not the language of my feelings. But I feel something, there’s, like, some sense of humor about how she builds the characters, and how she loves to be with actors. And this is something which is always in her movies. So I really like her, and all of her movies.”

Meeting Rebecca has also allowed Kulig to close a cycle in her career, as the couple at the center of Cold War’s story was inspired by the true chaotic romance Miller’s father, Arthur Miler, had before meeting her mother. As Kulig reveals, “Zula and Wiktor [from Cold War], the couple, was just a bit inspired by Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. So it was nice to talk with her [Rebecca Miller] about this too. I said ‘I did Cold War, and now I can meet you, it’s a privilege.’” Kulig also says she’s grateful for her first US project being an independent film. As she explains it:

“And it’s a nice experience too, to have this possibility with American arthouse for me, for an European actresses. I spoke to Anne Hathaway, she’s also a producer […] and she said, ‘Oh, we don’t have in the United States something like a public financing, like the British’. It’s not so easy to do, you know, independence cinema [in the US]. I’m so glad that my first movie [in the US] is with this kind of project, which I’m so proud and happy about. Especially after the pandemic, it wasn’t easy to put all of these elements together and find the financing for this kind of project.”

Image via Berlinale

Now that she has more experience working both in Europe and in the US, Kulig can understand the differences between filmmaking in both regions. Surprisingly, during She Came to Me’s production, she felt at home, due to Miller’s proximity to the European tradition of authorial cinema. As Kulig puts it:

“This was a specific movie. I felt like in Europe with Rebecca. I felt like in Kraków, in theater, I felt like in Warsaw because the process was important. The rehearsals. The set was not huge. We felt this intimacy between us. So it was quite like… And you know, personally, I love opera. I studied piano and opera singing too. And I remember I was in ‘Madame Butterfly.’ And generally, you know, I’m connected with this world. So I think it was something that was more European. It was quite similar.”

She Came to Me is not the only US project on Kulig’s calendar, though. She is currently involved in Apple TV+ Masters of the Air miniseries, developed by Cary Fukunaga. And when we spoke to her, she had already finished shooting Knox Goes Away, an upcoming action movie directed by Michael Keaton. While speaking about her experience with these projects, Kulig underlined how they were closer to what she expected a US production would be. About Knox Goes Away:

“It was a more American experience on the set, which means like it was bigger production and it was a lot of stands [stand-in] there. They have some scenes like that. But at the same time, Michael Keaton and ‘Birdman,’ oh my god! When he proposed, and he directs, when he asked I said of course yes. Because it’s another wonderful experience. And when I was in LA, and the costume designer said, ‘you are okay, we’ll check your customer tomorrow’ I said ‘oh my god, another wonderful experience after ‘Cold War.’’ So I think after ‘Cold War,’ I’m so happy that I can meet icons, you know. And be with them, and upset them.”

All these wonderful experiences wouldn’t be possible without Cold War, Kulig says, and she’s ready to take on new challenges in the future. That doesn’t mean she’s always comfortable tackling US productions, as the fear of failing is always there, even for someone so talented as the actress. That’s why she tries to focus on the fact that:

“This is something which I really love about what’s happened after ‘Cold War,’ to share cultures and meet people all over the world. Which for me is quite… sometimes you feel scared. There is something new. I have to cross the ocean once again. And maybe it’s more safe to be at home. And then you like it, because it brings you new experiences and you can prove yourself.”

Image via Berlinale

Of course, She Came to Me was not the first experience in Kulig’s career where she shared a set with American stars. In 2011, she was cast opposing Ethan Hawke for Pawlikowski’s The Woman in the Fifth. However, that experience was less scary because the language barrier was not so pronounced. As Kulig remembers:

“The first experience playing with an American actor was with Ethan Hawke, in ‘The Woman in the Fifth.’ But we played in French. So he didn’t know French, me neither…. I knew more. So it was specific. Like French was foreign language for Ethan Hawke and French was foreign language for me. His native language was English, mine Polish, and [director] Pawel [Pawlikowski] speaks five languages, so I felt safer.”

That’s why, when she first appeared on She Came to Me’s set, Kulig would usually joke around pretending to be younger. To her, getting involved with cinema in the US is somehow close to restarting her career all over again, as she doesn’t feel totally comfortable with English yet. Thinking about her time on the set, Kulig told us:

“I was joking like, ‘I’m fourteen, and this is my debut too.’ And she [Harlow] is always ‘You’re an icon, I love your ‘Cold War.’ And I said ‘Yes. But you know, it’s different, you project your feelings in a different language, it’s not the same.’ I feel very free [with Polish]. I know how to build all of the feelings inside me in Polish. But now you have to try to cry, and laugh in English. It’s a different story.”

Still, despite the challenges, Kulig only has good things to say about her new colleagues. Especially because, during She Came to Me’s shooting, she was greeted with nothing but support. Kulig told us the cast and crew of Miller’s latest film “were so nice, they were always like ‘Playing in Polish? How do you do it?’ So they always supported me, they were right for me. And I felt very comfortable in New York, you know, on the set with them.”

She Came to Me had its world premiere at 2023’s Berlin Film Festival. Unfortunately, the movie still doesn’t have a release date in the United States.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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