Diane Kruger hopes you don’t forget her name when the awards buzz fades
By MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN | The Washington Post | Published: January 31, 2018
Has Diane Kruger finally arrived? And what took her so long?
The 41-year-old won a best actress prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for her role in "In the Fade," delivering what many are calling the performance of a lifetime. In the movie, by German director Fatih Akin, Kruger plays a woman mourning her Turkish immigrant husband and their young son, who have been killed by neo-Nazis.
"Fade" is Kruger’s first film in her native language; as a young woman, she moved to France to study acting and now divides her time between Paris and New York. But it also feels like the first really meaty role for the model-turned-actress best known stateside for the Brad Pitt sword-and-sandal epic "Troy," the "National Treasure" action franchise, "Inglourious Basterds" and other mainstream fare. Vulture.com called Kruger’s Katja, who seeks revenge on the killers after they’re acquitted, the "bravest performance" of her career.
While still basking in the glow of "Fade’s" Golden Globes win for best foreign-language film, the 41-year-old actress spoke by phone to discuss where she’s coming from -- and where she hopes she’s headed.
The Washington Post: This movie may come as something of a surprise to American audiences, who are used to seeing you as Nic Cage’s sidekick in the "National Treasure" movies.
Kruger: I’m not sure I would have been able to play this part five years ago. When I started out, "Troy" was the second movie I ever made. I became a known actress overnight, and I’m not sure I really deserved all the attention. I was so green. Where do you go from playing Helen of Troy? I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always had a career in France, where I started out and where I went to drama school. I’ve always had amazing roles there, but here in America, I feel like I’m often cast in supporting roles. Two things happened to make "In the Fade" happen: One, growing older, and two, finding a director who’s willing to take a chance on you, to elevate you, to bring you to something you weren’t sure you even had in yourself.
Do you expect to see your career change, with all the buzz about the new movie?
Yes, word is out. But I don’t have any expectations. I’m humbled by the response the movie has gotten and that I have received, but I just want to keep working. If one performance can put the idea of casting you in front of a filmmaker, that’s great, but I don’t want to be dependent on others. That’s why I’m definitely producing my own projects. I’m hoping that a miniseries I’m producing on Hedy Lamarr will get off the ground so that we can go into production by the end of the year and have something come out in 2019.
I want to talk about "Fade," without revealing spoilers. Is it fair to say that it flips the script, in that a Muslim immigrant is the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of terrorism? Katja’s personal journey, which entails a kind of radicalization, also is quite shocking.
The ending was always the hard part. Like you, when I first read it, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there, as an actor, how to make (Katja’s transformation) believable. As I was preparing for the role -- meeting, over six months, with the victims of terrorism and their families -- I saw all sorts of things. I saw people beaten down by what happened to them, people who wished they could have taken revenge. I finally came to the conclusion that this was Katja’s way. I like that the movie leaves it open -- you’re wondering why she did what she did. Like any film, it’s a proposition to the audience: "What would you do?"
What does the final shot -- of a world upside down -- say to you? It seems key to understanding the film’s message.
I knew that the ending was going to be controversial. Fatih knew it was going to be controversial. But it’s a movie, and subject to interpretation. My favorite shot is not that one, but the one where I walk toward the trailer (where the neo-Nazis are hiding) and I’m out of focus, and I slowly come into focus. This seems to me to be the central metaphor of the film, about Katja becoming clear about what she’s about to do.
How was playing Katja more or less challenging than, say, the role of Sonya Cross, the detective with Asperger’s syndrome you played on the television series "The Bridge"?
This one required a vulnerability, a nakedness. There was nowhere to hide. It’s the first time I played something that I myself am so afraid of. I felt like I was drowning. For the first time, I felt like the border between my personal life and my work life was blurred. That’s not healthy. I don’t think I could do a role like this every year. In the case of "The Bridge," when you play someone with a medical condition, that can be equally challenging. There’s a whole community that you don’t want to offend. The danger is in mimicking tics or a behavioral patterns. But it’s more technical, less emotional.
When you say that working on the movie blurred boundaries, are you referring to the recent deaths of your stepfather and grandmother, and to the breakup of your longtime relationship with actor Joshua Jackson?
Yes, that’s part of it. But also just meeting people through my research. You get involved, on a personal level, with people’s lives. But, yes, my own personal loss, especially the death of my stepdad while we were filming. I felt like I was drowning in grief.
The Golden Globes ceremony was a great night for women’s voices and woman-centered stories, including your film. What do you make of the cultural shift we seem to be experiencing -- represented by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?
It’s such a strange conversation for me, as a woman, to have. You’re a man and a journalist: You tell me why. Why is this shift not important? Fifty percent of the world’s population is female. I don’t know when film became such a macho and male-driven industry. I don’t understand it. It’s f---ing time for real female stories to be told. We’re everything that male people on this planet are: We’re strong, we’re weak, we’re vulnerable, we’re silly, we’re stupid -- but also smart. There’s so much catching up to do. We need men to be our champions, to have our backs. I’ve had this Hedy Lamarr thing for four years. Nobody wanted to make it. It’s only in the past year that, all of a sudden, people are interested. It’s like pushing a friggin’ rock up a hill.