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Olga Kurylenko Dishes On Taskmaster's Unmasking In Black Widow - Exclusive Interview

Spoiler warning: This article includes major details about the plot of "Black Widow."

One of the most surprising moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's "Black Widow" comes with the revelation of the identity the Taskmaster, the deadly assassin who faces off against Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and her fellow spies in the film. True to Marvel's style, the identity of Natasha's nemesis was a closely guarded secret during the production, and an additional challenge for the keepers of the MCU since the release "Black Widow" was delayed for more than a year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now that the film has finally debuted in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access in blockbuster fashion, the actor underneath Taskmaster's mask — Olga Kurylenko — is finally able to lift the veil of secrecy and discuss her pivotal role in the film.

A prequel of sorts to the events of "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame," "Black Widow" is set after the events of "Captain America: Civil War," when Natasha reunites with a group of Russian spies from her past. Despite their dysfunctional relationships with one another, the ad-hoc family — Natasha, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), and Alexei Shostakov, aka the Red Guardian (David Harbour) — is looking to infiltrate and destroy General Dreykov's (Ray Winstone) infamous Red Room, where young females are brainwashed and trained into adulthood to become fearsome soldiers. 

But first, Natasha and company must get past the ultimate Red Room creation known as the Taskmaster, who, as Natasha discovers, is Dreykov's daughter Antonia (Kurylenko). Natasha has long carried the guilt of thinking she killed Antonia as a young girl in a bomb blast years earlier, but as it turns out, the scarred and battle-hardened daughter of the general survived to grow into her father's ultimate weapon.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Kurylenko — whose list of credits includes lead roles in "Quantum of Solace," "Oblivion," and "Hitman" — discusses the surprising revelation about the character whose gender was changed from the comic books, her work with Johansson, and thoughts on being a part of the James Bond legacy.

Olga Kurylenko says there's a lot of complexity of underneath the armor of The Taskmaster

Let's start with the whole idea of the gender identity swap for the Taskmaster. It's a genius move, because in the context of the film, it's a female-driven story as far as the creation of the Black Widows and the Red Room are concerned. Plus, Natasha has always been a badass, right? She's tough as nails, so who's to say that the villain can't be a female and be a badass, too?

Of course! Females can do anything! [Laughs] I think it's a great surprise, because we definitely don't expect that heavy killing machine to be what she is underneath all of that. It's an amazing revelation, and it's therefore far more of a surprise. And I think it's fascinating that it's such a great combination of that evil and goodness, because underneath she is just this woman or maybe even a little girl who's never grown up and who never had the chance to have a childhood — like none of them did — when we tell the story and has gone through a lot of physical and psychological trauma. She has been manipulated and probably doesn't really even know why this is all happening to her, and what she has done to deserve it. And so the contradiction is very interesting to explore.

Were you taken aback by this revelation? Because obviously the character in the comics, the origin, it's a male character.

I just went with the flow. Marvel had decided it, and I thought, "Great." I mean, they offered me the part. Obviously, I was agreeing because I'm involved, so I was excited to play the character. For me, it was like, "Wow, great. I'm going to be this badass who is strong." But at the same time, there's also this vulnerability, which I love exploring and playing with. Yeah, I mean, I didn't expect it, but then I quickly accepted it. And I was like, "Great. If that's the decision, I'll do it. I'll go along."

How empowering was it for you to put on the Taskmaster suit, helmet and mask for the first time? That must have been an incredible moment that you'll never forget.

Yes, it is. I remember, wow. It's a long process, because there are lots of different layers to the costume and a lot of people have to come and help me and there are clips that go on and forever. I couldn't wait to see what it was going to be like in the end. I remember I looked in the mirror for a long time thinking, "Wow, this is me. Well, I'm somewhere underneath there and this is so cool." Yeah, it was. I will not forget the moment, indeed. It's great — very empowering. Yeah.

Scarlett Johansson was a 'cool chick' on set, Olga Kurylenko says

How helpful was Scarlett to you on the film? Obviously, your characters are adversaries and there's a showdown ultimately. But as actors, how helpful was she on the set with you?

Oh, Scarlett is great. I love her just as a person. She's such a cool chick [laughs], and we had great chats outside of scenes. I mean, she's right there, and obviously I have lots of scenes with her, mostly chasing her. Obviously, I mean, she's there and is awesome.

You mentioned the physicality of the role. I had the recent opportunity to talk with Heidi Moneymaker, who is a stunt double for Scarlett — for all seven of her films as Black Widow. I know there were other stunt doubles involved with this film as well, but did you have an opportunity to work with Heidi? Or I would imagine if not, did you train with somebody else who was an expert in the field?

I don't think I worked with Heidi ... I think she was only there for Scarlett. I had a couple of stunt doubles as well, and there was more than one because Taskmaster has all these different skills. There wasn't even one person that could do them all, but obviously, I don't remember everyone, because it was two years ago and it was a long time ago.

How far did you take it as far as the stunts are concerned? Obviously, the stunt people must step in at some point, but I'm sure you want to get in on the fun, too.

Look, I always want to do as much as I can, and I love doing it. I just love doing stunts, which is why I do lots of action films. But with this one, it's quite complex, what Taskmaster does. So, I mean, I had to be dubbed, and I did a little bit, but not all of it. So, look, maybe it's a question of just more training. Maybe if I trained a little more I could do more, and I'd love that. I'd totally be up for it.

The door is open for Antonia for more films after "Black Widow," and you know how the Marvel Cinematic Universe works. You could be plugged in at any time in a future film or maybe even a TV series. Do you aspire to play Antonia again?

I wouldn't say no. [Laughs] I had so much fun.

Olga Kurylenko is proud to be part of the James Bond legacy

We're finally getting an opportunity to see "No Time to Die" this fall. You're one of the lucky few who's been involved in the James Bond legacy, in the lead opposite Daniel Craig in "Quantum of Solace." Do you reflect on that opportunity you had when a new James Bond films come out?

Yes, I do. I reflect on it often. It's such an amazing opportunity, and such an amazing thing that happened. And it's kind of like, these things are so rare when they happen. You really have to pinch yourself, just to come back to reality and be like, "Well, okay, it is real. I didn't dream it." It's really cool. Yeah. I'm so grateful to whatever is making it all happen that this is happening. I enjoyed the process.

And to not only have that opportunity with Daniel Craig, but then Tom Cruise, too. Again, like you said, you pinch yourself. It must be an amazing thing to think back, "Yeah, I did that movie with Tom Cruise, too. That was pretty cool."

It's true. Yeah, "Oblivion" was quite an experience as well. Oh, gosh, we went to all these other things. All that traveling was filmed in amazing places and the landscapes and the things that they built, just like what it was for "Black Widow." With all these big productions, they're always so incredible to be ... The sets look incredible. They look like big towns, because it's just so big and vast, and the talent that goes and the creation that goes into all of it, the work that goes into all of it is extraordinary. And it's done by so many people and every single person counts. It's a product of all of us doing this together. It feels good to be a part of it. It's just incredible what can be created. It's artistic and fun. Yeah. 

Congratulations again, Olga. I'm sure you're so relieved that you can finally talk about the fact that you're in "Black Widow," something you had to keep up buttoned up a long time.

I am, yes!

"Black Widow" is playing in theaters and streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access.