Olga Kurylenko, the model and actress who stars in the upcoming James Bond movie, began acting by playing Santa Claus` young wife in a school play in her Ukrainian hometown.
Teachers remember Kurylenko, the 28-year-old brunette who charms 007 in "Quantum of Solace," for the determination, drive and luck that turned her into a Bond Girl.
"She was such a talented girl," said her hometown piano teacher, Halina Kulchitska. "Even if she hadn`t become James Bond`s girl, she still would have gotten some big role."
Kurylenko grew up in this city of 140,000 on the Azov Sea in southeastern Ukraine, where monuments made from giant metal anchors dot the city center and middle-aged men spend their free time fishing along the main embankment, cigarettes in their mouths.
Raised by her mother, Marina, an art teacher, and her grandmother, a doctor, Kurylenko and her family lived in a three-room apartment not far from the city center. That was a luxury by Soviet standards, when many lived in communal flats, sharing the kitchen and bathroom with several families.
Today her crumbling five-story apartment building, where carpets, comforters and underpants are hung to dry in the courtyard and children play on rusting slides, is testimony to how far she`s traveled since then.
In Moscow on Monday to promote the film, Kurylenko expressed incredulity over being a Bond Girl. "I still don`t believe it and don`t think that I realize it yet," she told Associated Press Television News.
In the movie, Bond (Daniel Craig) and Kurylenko`s character, Camille, try to save Bolivia`s water supplies.
"Camille is quite a strong woman, very independent. She carries a wound which comes from her childhood," said Kurylenko. "There is something very terrible that happened to her when she was a little girl and everything she focuses on is revenge connected to this event and that is her motivation in the movie."
Kurylenko`s star began to rise at 16 when she was spotted by a model scout in the subway in Moscow, where she was on vacation. She moved to Paris to work in a modeling agency, then began a career as an actress.
Kurylenko`s drama teacher, Ina Kaminska, said her student simply got lucky.
"It`s all great, just great, we are all very happy — she became a Cinderella — but nevertheless when she was in my class I didn`t see that kind of future for her," the 70-year-old Kaminska said.
Kurylenko got one of her first main roles after she joined the school drama class in the seventh grade, playing the young wife of Grandfather Frost, the local equivalent of Santa Claus.
After she was cast for the new Bond movie, Kurylenko`s school was besieged by journalists and abuzz with all things related to her. Teachers even put her photos as a model and actress prominently on display at the school, but they were later taken down after parents of younger students complained the pictures were too revealing.
Artur Shevchenko, 16, who goes to the same school as Kuylenko did, said he has a crush on the actress.
"I`ve seen her photos online — they are not bad at all," he said with a laugh. "The girl is quite sexy — I think she will be OK for Bond. I think of all his girlfriends she will be one of the best. ... As for me, I wouldn`t mind being Bond myself."