After spending most of her professional career as a model for high-end companies like Armani, Cartier and Dior, Russian-born Eugenia Kuzmina realized she wanted to do more than pose for pictures for a living.
“After I had my first kid, I moved to Los Angeles and I was interested in expressing more of what was inside me,” Kuzmina, 26, told me during an interview this week. “Modeling and acting are completely different worlds where you need completely different skills.”
While her skills as a model were never in question, Kuzmina had never taken an acting class before. She decided to follow her agent’s advice, however, and see what a real Hollywood audition would feel like.
“The first audition I went on, I got it,” Kuzmina said about landing her first gig, a role in the short film “Likeness” directed by Rodrigo Prieto (cinematographer for films such as “Brokeback Mountain,” “21 Grams,” and “Babel”). “From then on, I knew there were more interesting things I could start doing.”
Since then, Kuzmina has landed small roles on TV shows such as “True Blood,” “New Girl” and “Castle.” She has also been trying her hand at stand-up comedy, an undertaking she considers natural for someone who has been in the spotlight her entire life.
In her new film “Fading Gigolo,” Kuzmina says, even as an extra, she was excited to be a part of a cast that included John Turturro, Woody Allen and Sharon Stone. Later this year, Kuzmina can also be seen in the WWII action/drama “Fury” starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf.
During our interview, Kuzmina and I talked about how she uses the stigmas of the modeling industry to fuel her comedy, who she looks up to in the stand-up game and what’s her take on the Woody Allen controversy over the last few months.
There are a lot of stigmas associated to the modeling industry. What would you tell someone that has a negative idea about what goes on in that world?
Yeah, there are a lot of stigmas. Most of us start our careers in modeling as teenagers. We have no idea what is happening a lot of the time. That could get some people in trouble. But there are different kinds of models. There are models who want to be scientists. There are models who are bankers. I think we’re just people like everyone else.
Do you use your past career as a model to fuel some of the comedy you do as a stand-up comedian?
Yeah, I use a lot of those stereotypes in my comedy. I do this routine at the Comedy Store once a month. Certain stereotypes are true. You just have to know how to deal with them. Photographers really do come up to young girls and make a photo shoot more than just a photo shoot. But I always tell girls to listen to their heart and do what is right and don’t go out and party too much.
Are there any other aspiring stand-up comedians out there that have come from the modeling industry? I don’t think I’ve heard of any others.
I’ve heard about a guy model who is out there, but I’ve never met him. I don’t think it’s a typical thing. I think a lot comedy comes from pain. So that comes from my life and my experiences. There’s not too much pain in modeling. All you have to do is put on clothes. I think the fashion industry is really funny. There are a lot of stories I really want to share.
Both modeling and stand-up comedy have a live aspect to them. Do you think that’s something that drove you from modeling to stand-up, too – getting the opportunity to get in front of a live audience?
Yeah, as a model everyone is always looking at you. I even grew up with that as a child. I was a child ice skater, so everyone would watch me skate during shows. So, being in front of people is a comfortable thing for me to do. A connection with a live audience is much deeper than a connection on film. I think I was looking for connections to people on an honest level. I want to share things with people and show everyone that we’re not all perfect.
What makes you laugh? What kind of comedy do you like?
I just saw Russell Simmons. He’s got his Def Jam comedy. I like that street-style comedy. It’s inspiring for me. I’m going to work with one of his writers on my next set. I like Jerry Seinfeld, of course. There are also a lot of great girls out there. I’m excited to see more of them like Amy Schumer opening the whole world to feminine women who do comedy. Of course, Sarah Silverman is a genius. Whitney [Cummings] is also amazing. There are a lot of comedians I look up to and admire.
What about at home? How do you make your kids laugh?
(Laughs) Well, they make me laugh. They’re natural actors. My son is always making up jokes. They’re really into slapstick comedy. They really love that Charlie Chaplin style of comedy. They’re like emotional bowls of fire. It’s very interesting to be around my kids.
Talk about your new film “Fading Gigolo” and being on set with someone like director/actor John Turturro.
It was my first feature film ever. It was very exciting. I didn’t know what to expect. John is an incredibly generous director. I think it must be really challenging to be a director and an actor at the same time. He was always aware of everything that was happening on the streets of New York City, but at the same time, he was always present with me. I was working on the same day as Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. Watching them work was really exciting. We shot at the Carlyle Hotel, so it was fun.
You didn’t get a chance to work with Woody Allen, but what do you think he brought to the film? He hardly ever gets in front of the camera these days.
Yeah, I met him but I didn’t get a chance to shoot with him. But he brought a whole new comedy to the story. John was really open to working with Woody and writing in new lines. Woody was always outside his trailer talking to people. I don’t think he has that reputation all the time of being so social, but that’s what I saw. He was very engaged and wanted to be part of the creative process. His comedic timing is impeccable.
What is your take on all the controversy that has surrounded Woody in the last few months?
I think with personal stories like his, no one really knows what happened. I think you can tell a story like that from so many points of views it becomes like a broken telephone. The story changes so much by the time it gets to the next person. I think Woody is a great artist. I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t there. I really don’t think I have the right to say something about things I don’t know about.
In November, we’re going to be seeing you in another film, “Fury” with Brad Pitt. What attracted you to the role of Hilda Meier?
It’s still a small role, but I think her character is very pivotal because there were not a lot of women during the war. These soldiers come to this German town that has been bombed by Americans. [Hilda] loses her family during this time. I think what attracted me to the role was working with [director] David Ayer (“End of Watch”). I love all his films. Being around actors like Brad [Pitt] and Shia [LaBeouf] and Michael Peña, I feel like I can learn so much from them. It’s a man’s story, but I wanted to be a part of it because it has such a great cast. It was really fun playing with tanks and playing war in the mud with all the guys.