Svelte Stands Up:
An Interview With Eugenia Kuzmina
By Mende Smith
Few ﬁgures epitomize the iconic Russian Super Model more than Eugenia Kuzmina. Blonde hair, blue eyes, designer wardrobe, and a svelte smile are not the common physique for a funny girl. Not many of us can say that we know how it feels to miss opportunities for the first years of her professional life for being ‘too pretty.’ If Kuzmina had only possessed the girl-next-door sort of beauty common on the American stage, perhaps her funny girl persona would have brought her more success than the Vogue cover opportunity, Armani photo shoot, and Versace gift bags. But for the outlandish beauty, near perfect body, and her admitted longtime love for American films, the svelte stands up.
Kuzmina, the Moscow-born, model-turned stand-up comedian, has been making a name for herself as a would-be American beauty for more than twenty years. Growing up in a reforming country, the daughter of a homemaker and a developmental scientist, Kuzmina retells the story of standing in lines for hours with her mother to get a bag of sugar or a loaf of bread. Kuzmina’s neighborhood compares to that of an eastern European ghetto - and she says, perhaps that is where her sense of humor came from, and perhaps was her saving grace. Moscow, in the 1980s, was a serious place. Kuzmina was barely thirteen when a leading designer approached her to model for him in Paris. At fifteen, she moved there - then given contracts for Dior, L’Oreal, and Hermes. Travel from Tokyo, London to New York.
At 26, she is still young, glamorous, feisty and prone to her latest obsession – Instagram. Kuzmina continues to exhibit the kind of sparkly eccentricity that made her a standout in glossy magazines and high-fashion commercials. Reap Mediazine caught up with her about her changing career, and her view of life beyond Russia.
Tell us what it was like growing up in Moscow as a young girl. Was it like a fairy tale, or like living in a Franz Kafka story?
When I was coming up, it was really the end of communism, so waiting in lines and all of that for food was still happening during the reformations. My dad was working and my mom was always home - provisions were few, and we would have just one bag of cereal and one bag of sugar. It’s not because we did not have the money; it was just because there was no food in the stores.
You've lived through so many social and political changes as a child of Russia; in fact, you've been a part of them, growing up in this serious environment, one that is perceived to be the harshest in the world. Has all of this seriousness made your work harder?
I don't think so. Even though I have played so many tough Russian girls in films, people can already see that I have a lighter side, and if they know me they expect that so it is different from when I started. It was really not hard to change the perception of myself as an actor once I took different roles. A lot of life stories I can share, from growing up there and modeling and family, are pretty funny. So, that helps with stand-up material too.
It seems like for any kid from Russia to want to make people laugh for a living would be absurd. When did you decide to take your career from the runway to the microphone?
I had no idea I was going to act in movies. When I was modeling, there were so many travel days and hours of make up and lots of lights. Sometimes, I would wake up in the planes flying from place to place and have no idea where I was. It was the time when I felt like I was a gypsy.
Now you live in LA and make big movies - how do you have time to be a mom too? Do you miss living in Europe, or are you just a California girl now?
I have three children. We have my husband’s son, and we have two smaller children now. It is really great being a mom, and I love it! My baby girl is just now two years old, and she is really moving around a lot. She is busy, so it can be pretty crazy around the house sometimes. I grew up very far away and very different from this place. We like the sunshine in California.
Has your perception of American movie stardom changed since you have acted in so many American films now? What is the best thing about comedy?
I would have to say yes. Living an American life and being a mom has probably done that to me more than anything, and I like my life very much now. My kids are typical American kids, and they are very funny too.
It's clear from the clips on your blog; you have an obsession with, a bit surprisingly, stand-up comedy. You look like you are really having fun, and it seems like second nature to you. What makes a super model turn funny girl?
Yeah, I love it. You know, I just kind of fell into that. It’s been really a lot of fun to try. I thought of doing sci-fi films and a lot of action films ‘cause my dad is a scientist, and I know how to do roles like that. I was doing Krav Maga and all of that, and then things sort of re-adjusted and I started doing comedy. I got that Woody Allen film, and then the spot on New Girl, and so I started to go a new direction.
Speaking of being a comedian, one of the notable things to how you make your living without a net, just kind of talking in front of an audience and seeing what comes of it. Why do you choose that approach?
It is really exciting and I still get nervous, but I really love stand-up. Just being in a room with total strangers, sharing life at its most unexpected moments, brings a lot of joy to me. I am so excited to see where my life will take me next. I am open to all types of roles now, even if it [is] drama or comedy. But, I would really like to do a strong female film with an actress like Cameron Diaz someday.
Earlier this year, when you did the episode of New Girl and met Zooey Deschanel - she is the popular funny girl who has that girl-next-door look - what was that like?
It was a lot of fun, and I sometimes play the [quintessential] Russian hot girl. It is a fun role and though stereotyped, it is in good fun. I have found a way to work it into my act as well.
In Fading Gigolo, the latest John Turturro film, you played a cameo role. Was it magic working with him and what did you learn about the creative process, and did you find a newfound passion for stand-up comedy there?
Working with John was amazing. He was so much more professional and practical toward his writing and directing. I learned a lot, and it was fun to watch. I did not get to work too much with Woody Allen on this project, but he was there and was also incredibly funny.
Comedians are often not stunningly beautiful in American films; traditionally, both girls and guys are a little shy or ‘square.’ Do you feel that having natural beauty presents challenges to becoming a stand-up comedian?
I actually have been asked to shy a little bit and sort of ‘dumb down’ my character in some of these roles. When I try to think and act a little nervous, it is really more like myself. I was always very shy, and in some ways I still am. Being a comic is a man’s business. It really is. Every place you go, there are always thirty guys standing there and then me; that is actually pretty funny too, and that too is inspiring.