Siberia is the story of Lucas (Keanu Reeves), an American diamond trader who gets into a bind with a Russian mobster when he can’t deliver the product he has promised. In the midst of his business dilemma, he meets Katya (Ana Ularu), a café owner in the middle of nowhere, Russia, who is as fierce and strong-willed as she is beautiful. There is an instant connection between the two, and from that moment on they are in it together, for better or much, much worse.

ScreenPicks spoke with Ularu about what it was like to portray Katya in this drama-thriller that is truly a love story at heart.

ScreenPicks: When you first read the script, what did you think?

Ularu: What I took away from it most was the love story — which is interesting because so much of it is thrilling and quite intense — but I really liked this clash of two worlds that transforms in love. That’s what attracted me most.

ScreenPicks: How was it working with Keanu Reeves? Did you find you had natural chemistry?

Ularu: Absolutely. It was incredible because we just rolled up our sleeves and started working very intensely on the characters and their backstories and how their relationship works. We shifted a few things, discussed it a lot, and changed a bit. And then it was just magic whenever they called action. We had this immense level of trust, which I find essential in working with someone. We had that, and we had joint imagination and a very similar sense of humor and the same kind of attention to detail.

Of course, at first I was a bit overwhelmed by the stature of my partner and who he is, but I think it became so easy so soon because he is such a kind and wonderful person and so easygoing and so generous with his partners.

ScreenPicks: And how was the overall filming process?

Ularu: We had this absolutely amazing cast. Every day was a joy. It was just like making great theater … when you come off stage with this great feeling that you’ve accomplished something and you’ve told the truth. It was just wonderful.

ScreenPicks: Your character Katya is very candid, strong, and playful – do you find that you have anything in common – aside from looking identical, of course?

Ularu: I make that exact same joke when people ask what I share with my characters! [Laughs] I think though the way that I started creating Katya, her inner architecture, what makes her tick, it’s something that is very similar to me in a sense that there is this kind of love that is ineffable – it will not quit in the face of adversity … where you love your partner even when the going gets tough. I think I brought that resolute idea of loving someone into it.

She’s a lot braver than I am though I think [laughs] – but that’s what makes my job great. I get to be all these things – better than myself.

ScreenPicks: Speaking of being brave, there is a scene in which you and Reeves are threatened, and you and another woman are treated like objects. Can you talk about the intensity and feelings of that scene?

Ularu: It’s actually really interesting because we shot that on the last day of our shoot in Canada, and up until that point we had just refused to talk about it. The scene was so well written and so powerful in writing – it had this cringe quality to it – and we just didn’t talk about it. And we were going on set, and we had this moment in the car, Keanu turned to me and he said, “I know this is awful. This is an awful scene. But isn’t it beautiful that we get to play out all of these extremely strong moments without losing anything of ourselves?” And then we went into that scene, and it was so respectfully done – Pasha D. Lychnikoff is such an amazing partner and a great, great actor – and it was just a pleasure to play that scene.

So having had a great experience up until that point and trusting my partners, my director, and the crew and all of the camera operators, there was just a stillness on set and this respectful nature. Everyone was actually very touched by it – which is very interesting – our crew was actually watching the film as it was being made and there were such great moments when they actually got emotional – they wanted this couple to succeed – as we did.

ScreenPicks: Katya has had to give up a lot, she has no delusions about the world, but do you think there is a dream for her and Lucas for the future?

Ularu: Yes, the dream would be for them to have French toast together and have their banter moments and laugh and talk together as they do. I think there is a sense of hope in her and a sense of recklessness because in a way she can’t stop herself. She’s not an immoral person and she has qualms about him being married, but at the same time the love that she feels is so strong that she can’t put a hold on it or rationalize it or try to plan ahead.

Siberia opens in theaters Friday, July 13.