Diane Kruger can speak three languages fluently (and can read Latin), so it should come as no surprise her most successful ventures in film and television stem from international story lines. “National Treasure” put her on the map as a movie star before she earned some serious accolades for her role as a German actress turned American spy in “Inglourious Basterds.” Now, she’s pursuing criminals from both sides of the U.S./Mexico border in “The Bridge” on FX.
Kruger’s character suffers from Aspergers, but no one says as much in the show. Still, she says the “overwhelming support” of Autism Speaks “made me cry.” She even wrote a blog post for their website.
Kruger took a few minutes off from shooting season two of the drama series (premiering July 9th) to discuss why she’s so protective of her character, how she’s “scared” of awards attention, and what it’s like to shoot a film produced by Terrence Malick.
The first season of ” The Bridge” was dark, with some really unnerving material. Did anything get to you at all when you first read it or saw the final product?
Well, I had seen the original show, the Scandinavian show, so I knew at least what our red line was going to be throughout the season. But I was caught off guard as the show developed [as to] how much darker and grittier the show got. I think that’s sort of what’s to expect for season two as well, now that we don’t have the more classic serial killer storyline anymore. I think the writers are trying to really give us a world that is pretty dark and has lots of the characters that were introduced in episodes 11, 12, and 13 of last season. We’re really trying to base it on real life events and stories.
Did you feel the show’s darker approach fit well with the character you’d established from the beginning?
Yeah, I think we did better as we were trying to find our footing in season one, as most shows do. I think we quickly realized that in order to make the show different than any cop show you can see on television, you need to create a web of things that are seemingly unconnected but all somehow tie together and are realistic, like the real world. I think in season two as we delve more into character, rather than the procedural side, the actual cop work — of course, that continues to be in the show — but as we explore our characters’ grayer sides the show, to me, continues to become more complex and more interesting.
Sonya Cross, your character, is a strong female cop who, while not labeled as such, has a condition very similar to Aspergers. Was that role intimidating at first, and did you have any doubts about taking it?
Yes, and I still do because I feel a responsibility to that community. It’s not something I take lightly. The challenge is to create a character who is complex. She’s not defined by Aspergers. She’s a very good cop, and a very accomplished woman in her own right. Yet she has certain things she’s just incapable of addressing and dealing with. It’s always a challenge, even for the writers, to find new ways to make my character evolve because she has those limitations. How do we make that character evolve and make sure we portray her justly? So it took me a long time to learn about Aspergers because I didn’t know what that was or what it implied. I didn’t want to be a character on television who’s doing ticks. So it took me a long time for me to understand what this condition was and how people who have it live with it.
Because of the emotional limitations you mentioned, were you worried about developing Sonya through a TV show, rather than a miniseries or movie, because it can go on so much longer?
Well, actually, I think television lends itself much better to exploring a character like that because you have so much more time to do that. In a movie, it would be very one note because you don’t have the time to spend with this person. And the misunderstanding even of what you said, that they’re emotionally limited, is something we’re trying to overcome each day. It’s not that they don’t have emotions, it’s just that they’re delayed. They don’t understand what went wrong in a conversation. They don’t understand what they said that would piss somebody off, or they just don’t react to certain things the same way as we do. They will eventually have that reaction. So it was trying to find outlets for those emotions to come out.
For example, my storyline about my sister being murdered when I was a teenager, that was something the writers wrote specifically for that reason. She’s so unemotional when she sees dead people or when she sees the sick things that happen. And yet, whenever they talk about her family, it triggers this really deep emotion she hasn’t been able to overcome.
You’ve been quoted as saying you’re “fiercely protective of this character.” Do you feel she’s been unfairly judged?
She’s absolutely been judged, yeah. We made a decision very early on to never use the word Aspergers in the show, and when the show first came out, the reactions were, “What is wrong with her?” “Why is she so unlikable?” “Why is she so cold?” Or robotic. [There was] very negative backlash for the first episode. It made me very, very sad. I understood it, of course, because I saw the footage of the original show, but I realized this is a reaction a lot of people who have Aspergers suffer from because they’re socially awkward. A lot of people don’t like them because they say weird things at inappropriate moments. A lot of people find them annoying and they don’t want to deal with them. So I realized the reaction for this character I was getting is exactly what people with Aspergers go through every day. It made me really, really protective of her. However, I have to resist giving into the easy out of playing the character more “normal.”
I have to say, what made it so rewarding is once the 13 episodes [aired], just like in the Scandinavian show, once people sort of got that she was different — that she wasn’t just cold or type A or whatever you want to call it — and […] people saw the other side of her, the 180 degree change of opinion about Sonya has been really terrific. It’s really emotional for me to see that someone learned something about someone so different and came to appreciate them.
“The Bridge” won a Peabody award for its first season, and now you’re up for Emmy consideration for a very awards-friendly part. Do you think about awards at all when you look for a new role?
No, in fact it makes me scared to even think about it now because I’m kind of still scared of the character. I still struggle with finding my footing in Sonya, and I’m scared of betraying her. I feel like I’ve got a lot on my plate, not just as the lead of a show but also the complexity of this particular character. These chats allow me an opportunity to really talk about Sonya in depth, which I never really do, and the interest in this unique character is wonderful. I feel a lot of pressure on myself trying to just get that right, and the rest is just an opportunity to talk about her and the show.
Shifting gears a bit, your upcoming film “The Better Angels” — produced by Terrence Malick — premiered at Sundance in January. How involved was he with the film and what was it like going on the festival circuit?
He was shooting his own film when we were shooting, so he wasn’t very much of a daily presence on set. Obviously, A.J. Edwards was his trusted advisor and second unit director and editor for the past 10 years. I think Malick had wanted to make a movie about Lincoln. He did all this research, and A.J. was the one who worked on the script. I think they worked on the script for many years together, and obviously when you see the film it’s very much in the vein of Terrence Malick, even though the narrative is more structured than a Malick film. [Laughs.] It’s also only 90 minutes long.
To be honest, it was an unnerving experience as an actor. The way they film, there’s no structure to scenes. Meaning, you don’t put the camera here and shoot over the shoulder. It’s all fluid, so you’re in character all day and he shoots all the time.
Did you like that method of shooting as an actor?
You know, the first couple of days were difficult because I was so trained to do a scene over and over and sort of adjust it as the scene develops, and [in this] the script was just a blueprint of what the film is eventually going to look like. I thought we were going to do scene nine and it ended up being scene 76. It was different, and so it was unnerving for classically trained actors to jump into, but once you sort of give yourself over to it — because you have no choice — it becomes its own thing. You find yourself becoming like a child again, if that makes sense? Since you’re in character all day and he shoots all the time, you start doing things as your character. For me, I played Sarah, so I started cleaning the house because we were in the house all day. It becomes more real in a way. At least as real as something like this can get.