Polish actress Joanna Kulig says Pawel Pawlikowski based her “Cold War” character Zula on his own mother. The film is loosely inspired by his parents’ relationship, and sees Zula and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) falling in love in post-war Poland. Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s, the film tells the story of a couple divided by politics, fate, and character flaws.

Pawlikowski won best director at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival for the Polish drama. Although the story has roots in reality, he was more focused on building a relationship between Zula and Wiktor, Kulig tells Peter Debruge as part of the Variety Screening Series.

She says the director was concerned that she was “not so young” enough to play Zula in the beginning of the film, and thus used her hair to punctuate the passage of time. Her character had shiny blonde hair when she was younger, and then a black wig later on to convey “something strange.”

Kulig says she rehearsed with a choreographer for a scene when Zula’s dancing while drunk, but on set, she improvised through about 20 takes to get the scene.

“I started to dance, and be free like a wild animal and feel the music. We dance all night. … I look like drunk person,” she says.