"I don’t think you can really distinguish love because it comes in so many different guises and you never really know what to expect ... I’ll get back to you once I’ve experienced all those things," says Q’Orianka Kilcher, the 15-year-old actress who’s poised to take the film world by storm with her portrayal of Pocahontas in The New World, director Terrence Malick’s (The Thin Red Line) latest film.

Set in 1607, World chronicles the first arrival of the English on North American shores, the lot of them ill-equipped for survival on the newly discovered continent, including Captain John Smith. As the film’s storyline (and historic documents) maintain, Smith (Colin Farrell) is selected to helm a fact-finding expedition up the shores of the Chickahominy River to barter for food with the various tribes who inhabited the region that the Britons would later christen Virginia.

The plan goes awry when the party crosses paths with the Powhatan tribe who, following the orders of their chief, slaughter everyone in Smith’s party except Smith at the behest of the chief’s beautiful young daughter, Pocahontas (Kilcher). Entrusted by her father to teach the European her tribe’s language, customs and culture, the young woman crosses the line and falls in love with the more worldly Smith, whom her father eventually releases to return to the settlement by the sea shore and the rest, as they say, is history.

Bearing the latter in mind, in preparation for her first credited feature role, the actress had to crack open the books. "When I got to Virginia they had a great research team already there and they gave me so many books to do research with – I’m still doing it to this day," she admits. "I’ve found a new love of reading books about the past and learning about the different ways that people lived, their different values and family life, etc."

Malick’s approach to this classic story takes a less Euro-centric approach and follows Pocahontas’ arc rather than John Smith’s as history books and previous films have tended to do. Clocking in at 150 minutes, Malick’s version of the historic chain of events shifted the storyteller’s focus and, at the same time, posed a producer’s dilemma: who could pull off the role of the Native American princess?

An international search was made as actors from all over the globe lined up to audition for Malick’s new project and, although Farrell’s role was secured, the part that Kilcher would ultimately play wasn’t.

"When auditioning, you have to be ready for anything," states Kilcher, who belted out a heart-wrenching rendition of a blues song during her audition. "On set, you have all of these things happening around you and you have to be able to focus – they were trying to test and see if I was able to handle all of that. The blues song was called ‘Dr. Feelgood’ [co-written by Aretha Franklin] … It was at the point when they really decided that I was going to be able to pull off [portraying] the more mature Pocahontas – they were afraid that I didn’t have the [thespian] range for it."

Once the decision was made and Kilcher was green-lit for the part, she found that there was still a lot of learning to be done on-set. According to the actress – who, before World, had a background in dance and music – some of her biggest pieces of advice came from her costar, Farrell.

"Colin was really, really wonderful and generous … like me, he’s a spur-of-the-moment kind of actor and really acted on his impulses," says Kilcher. "I tell everyone, Colin gave me the best advice I could’ve ever gotten from another actor: ‘It’s not about being perfect but really staying true to yourself and the spirit of your character, whatever character it is … and, as an actor, never take yourself too seriously to be human [because] that’s what really matters most.’"

The New World is currently in theaters.