Hers was “the face that launched a thousand ships.” Now, a decade after making her big-screen splash in the sword-and-sandals blockbuster Troy, Diane Kruger is no longer a model-turned-ingénue, but a versatile actress who can convincingly portray anyone from a German screen siren/spy (Inglourious Basterds) to a treasure hunter with a Ph.D. (the National Treasure films). But on FX’s gritty drama The Bridge, she’s taken her talent to a different level.
Kruger plays Det. Sonya Cross, a member of the El Paso Police Department who, when she’s not investigating rampant corruption and violence along the border between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico—the show’s title refers to the Bridge of the Americas border crossing—is busy managing her Asperger’s. The socially awkward Cross has found an odd ally in Det. Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), a world-weary homicide detective for the Mexican State Police of Chihuahua.
Season 1 of The Bridge, created by Elwood Reid and Meredith Stiehm, was a murder-mystery, with Cross and Ruiz piecing together the story behind a pair of dead bodies found along “the bridge”—a remake of the Danish/Swedish TV series of the same name. But Stiehm left the series to return to the writing room of Homeland, and Season 2 branches out in interesting new directions, focusing more on the various levels of corruption and violence in this shadow area, while also introducing a fascinating new killer in Eleanor Nacht, played by German actress Franka Potente.
In a wide-ranging interview, Kruger spoke to The Daily Beast about the Peabody Award-winning series, the evolution of Sonya Cross, World Cup mania, and much more.
Are you rooting hard for your native Germany in the World Cup?
Is that really a question? Is that really a question? Are you kidding me? [Laughs] We halted production because we had to watch the last 10 minutes of the match against Brazil.
I don’t think you really had to watch the last 10 minutes of that one.
[Laughs] That’s absolutely true. I was actually doing a scene with Franka, and in between takes the crew would tell us the score—now it’s 6-0—and we thought they were kidding us! It was definitely a great day on set. Did you grow up a big soccer fan? You don’t really have a choice in Germany! If you have a father around, it’s constantly on. I don’t really follow regional football, but Josh and I flew to Kiev for the Euro Cup Final a few years ago. I follow the big events. I’m a huge sports fan in general. And I’m a big L.A. Kings fan. Me and Josh went to a lot of those games.
Do you have a favorite player on the German national team?
Mats Hummels! I mean… it might have to do with the fact that he’s pretty hot, but he’s also a pretty good football player.
Do you have plans for the World Cup final?
I’m going to be in New York. Trust me—it’s all planned. I’m going to go to a German bar in the East Village, and it’s going to be insane.
Speaking of Germany, I heard a crazy story about Inglourious Basterds, in the scene where Christoph Waltz is choking you to death, those are actually Quentin Tarantino’s hands and he did it himself.
Yeah. When you think of it, from a psychological standpoint, it was pretty crazy that he wanted to kill me, but I just think he was very fond of that character. That scene was supposed to be my last day, and we went five days over on that particular scene. I just felt like he had a hard time letting go, and he felt like he needed to kill Bridget himself. I thought it was very sweet, and funny, and it definitely makes for a great story. But the vision of Tarantino hovering over me and strangling me is not one I will forget anytime soon.
Let’s talk The Bridge. It really is so timely. I’m not sure if you’ve been following the news, but President Obama recently asked Congress for $3.7 billion in funding because there are thousands and thousands of children fleeing violence and crossing the Mexican border.
Of course. I feel like Elwood would have stories for eight seasons. It’s such a volatile, difficult situation that’s happening on the borders. It’s part of the challenge of the show, and I think it’s one reason where there are so many characters and so many storylines in the first few episodes of Season 2, because the situation is so chaotic and overwhelming in a way—you don’t know where to start when it comes to trying to fix things, or just to understand the politics behind it all. One of the things that I’m most excited about this season is we’re going to tackle American involvement in what’s going on at the borders, who really profits from the drug wars, and how gray things really are. It’s not just Mexico and cartels.
What’s your take on immigration? Do you support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?
I have an opinion, but it would be very wrong of me to voice my personal opinion while participating in such a politically charged show. The whole point of the show is that we don’t point fingers, and we don’t have a very strong sense of where our personal beliefs come into play. It’s very important that the show remains neutral and portrays things as accurately as possible.
Sonya makes a pretty regrettable decision in the season premiere when she sleeps with Jim Dobbs’ brother.
You think? [Laughs] When Elwood first told me about the decision to sleep with Jim Dobbs’ brother, I was shocked. I thought, “No sane person would have an affair or fall in love with their sister’s murderer’s brother.” But now, I understand it and it’s really heartbreaking at the end of the day. It’s the first time she really opens up to a person, and I think she’s legitimately attracted to him. She’s never been able to let go of her dead sister and that tragedy that’s affected her life, and she has this strange love/hate relationship with Jim Dobbs, so now she needs this person with this shared history because it’s the closest idea of a family history that she has.
An interesting aspect of The Bridge is that many of the sex scenes—including yours with Dobbs’ brother, as well as Ray and Graciella in S1—involve a man pleasuring a woman, which is great to see. We’re so inundated with sex scenes where a woman is pleasuring a man, but here, the women are in the driver’s seat.
It’s something that I really push for, which sounds so weird, because it’s not the most fun thing to do, and as an actress, I’ve never done such explicit sex scenes. But I feel Sonya is a character that has so many limitations and is so timid when it comes to being touched by strangers in real life, so when she has “women’s needs,” she’s able to put all that aside and lose herself in the moment. It’s important for her that we show her sexually enjoying who she is. She’s very matter-of-fact—she feels lust, or she feels desire, and she satisfies that itch.
How would you characterize Sonya and Marco’s relationship in Season 2?
We pick up with the aftermath of Marco losing his son, so he’s in a bad place and his marriage has fallen apart. Sonya has a certain amount of sympathy because she was there when it all happened, but at the same time, it’s difficult for her to understand why he doesn’t get on with things, and also his half-assedness when it comes to good guys and bad guys. In Season 2, their relationship gets tested quite a bit because she has reasons to believe he’s been compromised, and may have drifted too far into the gray zone.
Your fellow countrywoman, Franka Potente, has joined the show as a very strange killer. Did you recruit her?
[Laughs] I remember when Elwood was talking about her possibly coming onto the show, and honestly, when I was growing up in Germany she was the coolest thing ever. Run Lola Run was the coolest movie ever when I was a teenager, so I was so thrilled. Plus, I’ve never been on a movie in America where we’ve had another German, you know?
Are you two going to face off in a big way this season?
Oh yeah. In a way, those two characters have a lot more in common than you’d think. When you see the season come together, you realize that Sonya is more capable of understanding Eleanor’s mindset, and once they meet, Eleanor also becomes strangely fascinated with Sonya. It’s very interesting when we meet.
I grew up with your partner Joshua Jackson’s movies and TV shows—The Mighty Ducks, Dawson’s Creek, etc. Have you ever seen Dawson’s Creek?
I’ve not seen Dawson’s Creek, but I recently saw 15 minutes of The Mighty Ducks—I think it was the second one? I couldn’t believe how sweet and innocent he looked. I took a picture of it and sent it to him. It’s very weird to see your partner as a young child before his voice had broken in, and crying in a diner. It was very cute.
Was he like, “Thanks a lot for that!”
[Laughs] No, he was thrilled. He holds those movies very dear to his heart.
Back to The Bridge. In the first season, you were somewhat constrained by the trappings of the original Scandinavian series—the hunt for the serial killer—but now, you’re free of that. Is it liberating?
For sure, and I’m sure it is for the writers, as well. I feel like now we’re able to really explore the characters more, as opposed to finding the serial killer. The biggest challenge for everyone was how to follow the original show but also create our own world, and now that we’re done with that storyline we can branch out. The story is much more complex, which makes for a greater challenge. The first few episodes, you try to figure out how this all fits together, and in the second half of the season, everything will come together.
It’s a bit like The Wire, as far as exploring all the different levels of bureaucracy is concerned.
I think that’s the idea. That’s Elwood Reid’s favorite show, and he’s also a novelist, so he’s really drawn to fleshing out characters, introducing lots of characters, and then bringing it together by tying up the loose ends.
Elwood sent a note out to critics that came off as apologetic for Season 1, admitting that the serial killer through-line was limiting, and explaining how Season 2 is about the more interesting aspect of the show— “exploring the ‘shadow world of the border between El Paso and Juarez.’”
Well, the reality of all of these stories, especially when it comes to the Lost Girls of Juarez, is that we can’t really solve the mystery because no one fully knows what’s going on. On our show, most of our storylines are based on real-life events and real-life people, so we’re trying to shine a light on the situation that’s happening the best way that we can.
The Bridge’s co-showrunner, Meredith Stiehm, left to go back to Homeland. How did her absence affect the show in Season 2?
As far as us actors are concerned, now it’s more one voice, and there’s one person you can approach to get answers from. I think the show benefits generally from a clear vision. As with anything, if you have multiple opinions or multiple tastes, the show goes one direction and then is pulled in another, so we benefit. There’s more coherence in what our characters are.
What do you find to be the inherent difficulties in portraying a character with Asperger’s? It must be tough for you, as an actor, to play socially awkward but also maintain the gravity of the performance.
It’s a challenge on many levels because nobody gets “cured” per se of Asperger’s, but it’s a condition that can improve because people can learn social cues and get better at what they have difficulties with. It remains a challenge for me, as well as the writers, to give me storylines that show more nuance, and allow me, as a character, to grow. In Season 1, we had Sonya make it clear what her condition is, and now, we don’t have to do that, and everyone’s more comfortable with and knows more about Asperger’s—including myself—so we can allow Sonya to grow, and her arc this season is very exciting.
There’s a funny connection with you and your Bridge co-star Matthew Lillard, since you both starred in Wicker Park together a decade ago.
I know! It’s come full-circle. That was my first movie, so I was totally green, and he was at the height of his Scooby Doo craziness. I didn’t know they were going to cast him until they already did, so we had this crazy moment at the first table read of, “Really? Here we are 10 years later?”