Since breaking out as Helen of Troy, the woman beautiful enough to launch a thousand ships in the Brad Pitt-starring blockbuster "Troy," German actress Diane Kruger has proven she's not just a pretty face. She's turned in a slew of strong turns in films as varied as the Oscar-nominated "Joyeux Noel," the "National Treasure" franchise, and Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds."
In "Farewell, My Queen," Kruger takes on her most challenging and high-profile role to date as the doomed Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. The period drama, helmed by veteran filmmaker Benoit Jacquot, depicts the final tumultous days of the Antoinette's rule via the eyes of her official reader, Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), who harbors deep feelings for her queen.
Kruger, just off from wrapping her role as The Seeker in "The Host" (based on the book by "Twilight" sensation Stephenie Meyer), sat down with Indiewire in Manhattan to discuss her take on the queen, what she has in common with Antoinette and her multicultural (and multilingual) career.
So you probably get this question all the time but I have to ask it — am I right in guessing that you were no doubt terrified in taking on the iconic role?
Yeah, well sure. Out of experience, I know whenever you play a historical figure, you always set yourself up for failure because people have an opinion, and feel like they know what she looked like. So it’s always a little daunting. In this particular case, I live part-time in France and she has always been cause of much debate. Some people hate her and some people think she was unjustly, you know, beheaded. So yes, it was daunting but a great challenge. I also accepted that she’s not really the lead of the movie. It’s about her, but you see only precise moments over the course of four days. The challenge was that none of the scenes were in the same sort of mood.
Had it been written as a standard biopic, would you have been still interested in taking it on?
I’m not sure. Maybe because of Sofia Coppola's film ["Marie Antoinette"], it’s impossible for a filmmaker to not show his/her point of view about this person. Like in Sofia’s case, you can obviously tell that she thought she was unjustly done wrong by. So it’s hard to be neutral and I feel like it’s so much in the past that we cannot. I can’t confidently say, oh, she was a bad person or she was a good person. I think it’s so much grayer and I like that in this film it's neutral.
How did you approach the role given that Marie remains a mystery throughout?
I think the book that the movie is based has a very has a very clear view of what happened in those four days. We're not making a political observation about that time period. It’s really a precise moment, four days in her quarters, so it was more the emotional journey of her that I was interested in.
You're known for your love of fashion like Marie, and you both emigrated from a neighboring country to France at a young age. Do you see a bit of yourself in her?
I don’t know if I’d call it similarity because I have no clue what it would mean to be royalty, but there were coincidences when I received the script that I thought were quite extraordinary. As you pointed out, she was from Austria which in those days was the Prussian Empire and so considered Germany. I was born in Germany, and we arrived in France pretty much at the same age. My mother’s name is Maria Terese so that was kind of strange; named after her mother. And I’m born on July 15, which is the day after Bastille Day, so I’m pretty much the same age she was when she was taken from Versailles. So there was a lot of things that came together.
I think the fact that I was of German descent and I live in France so I speak fluent French. I guess that little accent was very interesting for the part. I think physically the blonde—not that I look like her—but the Germanic…
So you obviously didn’t have to fight for the role like you infamously did for “Inglourious Basterds.”
I didn’t have to audition for this because that’s not how it works in France. But definitely, when I first met Benoit, I told him that he could not hire anyone else. But this one was a challenge for the language. It's 18th-century French, which you could compare to Shakespearean English. I’ve never studied French so it was very difficult and long, long work. Tedious work to get the dialogue -- the melodies are very different, and I have long chunks of dialogue.
How much did the costumes and makeup help to inform the role? You don some amazing wigs.
Yeah, it was fun in the beginning. So this is what happened—I guess when you first sign on, you’re like -- costumes, great! You get to play dress up. They let me choose some of the fabric and design and all that is fun. But then I was really worried because some of them are very big.
You go to choose the fabrics yourself?
Well, not choose, like help, say maybe we should with this fabric over this fabric. So it’s a process which is great -- very fun, very girly. And then I was worried they were going to be hindering, too difficult to move around in. I really then came to appreciate them because it actually took each day two to three people to help me get dressed and undressed and in a way, it became my way of getting into character because that’s exactly what Marie Antoinette would have had to go through every day. So that half-hour really helped me to sort of become her.