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How Diane Kruger Went to a Dark Place to Find the Brightest Point in Her Career

IndieWire Honors: The actress tells us why "In the Fade" was a turning point in her unorthodox, three-language acting career.

Diane Kruger in “In the Fade”

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Diane Kruger is one of the six names in entertainment being celebrated at the inaugural IndieWire Honors on Nov. 2. Her leading role in Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade” won her best actress at the Cannes Film Festival.

There is a scene in “In the Fade” when Diane Kruger, playing a woman whose husband and son are killed in a suicide bombing, completely melts down. She doesn’t remember it. “It was such an out-of-body experience,” said Kruger, who won best actress at Cannes for role in the German-language production. “There are scenes in the movie where I feel like I’m not acting; I’m reacting to what’s happening in front of me. I was desperately searching for the truth.”

Kruger spent six months preparing for the role, meeting with nearly 30 relatives of murder victims to get inside the headspace, and the trauma stayed with her months after shooting was completed. “It was definitely a very dark time in my life, where the border between what is my life and what is reality was really blurred,” she said. “There was nothing I could do about it.”

For American audiences, the former fashion model risked being mistaken for blockbusters’ window dressing in films like “National Treasure” and its sequel, not to mention “Troy.” That’s a mistake; over a 20-year acting career, Kruger juggled gigs in English and French with ease. While she left a memorable impression as the menacing German spy in Quentin Tarantino’s stylishly violent “Inglorious Basterds,” she also carried Benoit Jacob’s elegant period piece “Farewell, My Queen,” in which she played Marie Antoinette.

She was a series regular on the FX crime drama “The Bridge,” and earlier this year surfaced in a Funny or Die video playing Kellyanne Conway. “In the Fade” found her returning to her native Germany for the first time in 25 years. She’s willing to try a lot of stuff, and that mentality allowed her to build toward her first German-language performance. “I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to play this part five years ago,” she said. “I wasn’t ready.”

“In the Fade”

Kruger is at the center of every scene of “In the Fade” as a woman devastated by having her family taken away and driven by the conviction that she must take justice into her own hands. It’s an astonishing accomplishment, made all the more impressive considering how few lead roles she has tackled in the past. “I gravitate to great supporting roles over mediocre leads,” Kruger said. whose next French-language film is “Everything Separates Us” (“Tout nous sépare”), a drama starring Catherine Deneuve. “There’s no preference. It is really great to be the lead in a movie like ‘In the Fade,’ but those parts don’t happen all the time.”

While the German-born Kruger lives in America, she finds French productions the most satisfying. “France gives beautiful parts to women of all ages, and it’s such a beautiful language,” she said. “I feel like I could have a really long career there. In America, it’s a desperate search for parts, a whole different ball of wax. The movies I love often don’t get made. I feel like it’s slim pickings, but I’m hoping this might change that.”

Kruger has plenty of boundaries — she won’t do horror movies, or action movies in France — but she recently wrapped Robert Zemeckis’ “The Women of Marwen,” a motion-capture feature in which she plays a witch. “There’s a comfort and a luxury to being on a big set and working with so many people on a Hollywood lot,” she said. “That remains something beyond what I’d dreamed of being able to do.”

Nevertheless, she is keen on singling out “In the Fade,” and the attention it has received since its Cannes premiere, as a template. “There is something personally satisfying about making something in which you’ve invested so much of yourself, given so much of your soul and heart,” she said. “The joy of something like this happening where a movie that wouldn’t necessarily have been seen in America — in German, with a difficult subject matter — all of a sudden, there’s a different perception that hopefully people are responding to.”

Her next starring role is in Yuval Adler’s psychological thriller “The Operative,” based on the best-selling Israeli novel “The English Teacher” about a young British woman recruited by the Mossad to go undercover in Tehran. She also has supporting roles in “The Butterfly in the Typewriter,” a drama about “A Confederacy of Dunces” author John Kennedy Toole; and in  “JT Leroy,” the story of the infamous literary hoax.

In the meantime, she’s still reflecting on “In the Fade,” and hoping that it helps clarify her acting proclivities even as she casts a wide net. “I’m curious as to what the film might incite other filmmakers to offer me,” she said. “For me, it’s a turning point in my life, if not my career. I definitely look at this as the most important work I’ve done.”

IndieWire Honors is presented by Vizio and DTS with premier support from Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City.

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