Slender, elegant, young, the Israeli actresses who have broken into the American film industry in recent years all more or less fit the stereotypical model of feminine beauty -- the gorgeous Gal Gadot, for example, Alona Tal, Bar Paly.
That's what makes Israel's newest Hollywood breakthrough so surprising. At 184-centimeters tall and ripped, 42-year-old mother of two Olga Kurkulina is hardly some waif-like model. She is Mother Russia, the Russian assassin in Kick Ass 2, the superhero comedy based on the comic book series by Mark Milar and John Romita Jr. which recently opened in the United States and Israel.
More nationalistic than the heads of the Nashi political movement, more domineering than Putin, Mother Russia is a stereotype of Soviet terror seen through American eyes –a patch over her right eye, and huge muscles encased in a red leather bikini with the hammer-and-sickle symbol on each breast.
Indeed, when Mother Russia first appears onscreen, it is hard to tell if she is a woman or a man – with her strong arms and square, sullen face. She singlehandedly takes out cops, one after the other, smashing them with car doors cutting them down with lawn mowers, blowing them up with gas cylinders.
Mother Russia is so extreme, so violent, that she borders on the ridiculous. As Entertainment Weekly’s film critic Maricela Gonzalez writes, she is "enjoyably terrifying, even in her decidedly absurd bikini.”
Kurkulina, who was born in Uzbekistan, was offered the part in Kick Ass 2 -- her first in an American film -- after the director, Jeff Wadlow, saw pictures of her from a bodybuilding competition on the net while searching for a tall body builder for the part.
“I saw the character of Mother Russia and I said to myself that I have to have it. It was as if they had drawn a part of me,” says Kurkulina. “I remember saying to myself: ‘I’ll make this film for you. I’ll hold it.’ On the set we laughed all the time, and it was hard to get into the character. It’s not as if I seemed to be about to kill everybody all the time."
It looks as if you like attracting attention?
"I’m used to it," says Kurkulina, who started her career in sports and went on to earn the title of Israeli bodybuilding champion in the fitness category in 2007, became champion of Russia in 2008 and last year achieved fourth place in the world in her category (ranked by age and build.)
"I’m tall, muscular – that stands out. I don’t notice people looking. My husband is always saying, ‘do you see how they’re all looking?’ and I never notice. It’s the same in competitions: you build your body and you need to show it. The judges are subjective, so you have to know how to sell yourself."
Do you see muscle building as a masculine activity, or is it a way to empower the feminine body?
"In my category, it’s more about shaping the feminine body. That’s something I have to deal with all the time, because for most people body building is only for men, and a girl in a bikini should be thin and delicate. I was in a supermarket a while ago, and there were a couple of men there and a girl who stood next to me. She said to me, ‘don’t you mind it that you look like a man?’ I said to her: ‘Look at me, and now look at all these men around here. None of them look like me – not even close.’ The men really liked my answer. They all started saying, ‘yeah, I really should work on my stomach.’"
How would you like people to see you, as strong or as soft?
"I’m strong, but I’m very delicate. It’s not as if I’m going to be in the strongest man in the world competition. Although I did participate in the strongest woman competition and I dragged a truck. Once I would walk down the street and people would say, ‘hey, there’s the girl who does the high jump,’ then it was, ‘hey, there’s the woman who dragged a truck.’ Now it’s ‘hey, there’s that woman from Kick Ass 2.’ "
Kurkulina's two teenage kids - 17-year-old Anna and 19-year-old Danila – don't see her as the assassin or the truck-dragging bodybuilder, though. To them, “she’s a regular, annoying mom, “ Anna says. “She’s the total opposite of the movie. She’s very caring and she worries a lot.” In fact, if you close your eyes and just listen to Olga speaking in her soft and high-pitched voice with its heavy Russian accent you might think you’re talking to a sentimental Granny Russia.