Olga Kurylenko in an interview with tabloid! at Mina A’Salam during Dubai International Film Festival. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, The Water Diviner, is a film that trudges bleakly through the aftermath of WWI’s Battle of Gallipoli, a fight that took few prisoners but left thousands dead in its wake.

Four years after the battle’s end, we meet Crowe’s world-weary character, Joshua Connor, a simple Australian man with a strong connection to the earth as witnessed by his capability to sense water underground. His wife is haunted by the loss of her three sons to war, unable to move on or forgive her husband for allowing them to sacrifice their lives for the love of God, man and country.

Tragedy strikes once more in Connor’s life, and it spurs him to become a man on a mission. He travels to Constantinople and seeks a way into Gallipoli where he hopes to find his children’s dead bodies and give them a proper homecoming — a final burial.

Underlying the hopeless narrative is a love story between Connor and a Turkish widow, Ayshe, played by Ukranian actress Olga Kurylenko. Connor meets Ayshe when he stays at her hotel, where she lives with her sweetly naive ten-year-old son and her husband’s overbearing brother who wishes to marry her.

Speaking to tabloid! at Diff on Friday, Kurylekno said the biggest challenges of tackling the traditional and conservative role of Ayshe was mastering the language and learning about the women of that time period.

“Russell sent me the script — he said, ‘Read it, see what female part you like,’ and I read it, I said it’s wonderful, I loved the character [Ayshe]. The next question was, ‘Well, how fast can you learn Turkish?’ So of course I said, ‘Oh, very fast!’ and then I thought, ‘I’ll think about it later’,” she said, laughing.

With the help of the language-teaching app Rosetta Stone, Kurylekno was able to master a basic understanding fairly quickly, and was even capable of improvising during the film outside of her script. She spoke specifically of a scene in the film where her onscreen father is rambling in Turkish and she must stop him.

“I knew how to answer [him] because I understood what he was saying, and I even knew the words. It was very simple. I think I said, ‘Dad, you have to go to bed, you have to go to bed,’ and everybody clapped, so I was like, ‘Okay, I got that!’,” she said.

In preparation for the role, Kurylenko immersed herself in documentaries on the history of Turkey, Gallipoli and WWI.

“It was very hard to find material and information about women. There’s a lot of military stuff, and war stuff, but not a lot about women,” she said.

In the film, Ayshe tells Connor the story of how she went against cultural expectations to marry her late husband for love. In present time, she is faced with another hard decision — marry her husband’s brother to preserve her honour and, in society’s eye, protect her son, or go with her gut and heart once again and pursue romance with Connor.

Kurylenko met with a woman in Turkey who was in a similar situation as Ayshe’s. She was a widower with children, who was dealing with external demands.

“Really, talking to her helped me understand what the society was expecting from her, the pressure she was getting. And she’s living nowadays, not a hundred years ago. So it was still the same thing. It helped me understand what kind of pressure Ayshe would’ve been going through,” Kurylenko said.

Kurylenko was also raised by a single mother and was thus able to connect with Ayshe on a more intimate level.

“Just the love and the connection, the strong connection with your only child, I know what it is. So, maybe unconsciously, I knew what it was like — but I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s something unconscious. I wouldn’t really know how to tell you exactly how it happens, it’s just the feeling that I know,” she said.

Speaking of Crowe’s presence on set as a first-time director, Kurylenko said he was enthusiastic and full of energy.

“He’s lovely. He’s great. Because he’s an actor himself, he really knows the language to [say] an actor. He just always provided the right circumstances for us on set to be comfortable with. He knows how the environment, and everything around an actor, is important,” she said.

Kurylenko’s first major role was Bond girl Camille Montes in the 2008 film Quantum of Solace, starring opposite Daniel Craig. She said that the popular role didn’t pigeonhole her in Hollywood, and that it’s up to actors to continue to reinvent themselves.

“I don’t think it was restrictive at all. It taught me a lot. It basically prepared me for action films… because they trained me really, really hard,” she said.

“I try to refuse the parts that are too similar to that, and kind of juggle with genres and not do the same thing all the time.”