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Diane Kruger hopes you don't forget her name when the awards buzz fades

By: Michael O'Sullivan The Washington Post
February 7, 2018 Updated: February 7, 2018 at 9:26 am
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Diane Kruger, with Rafael Santana, plays a woman whose grief turns to thoughts of vengeance in the German drama "In the Fade." MUST CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

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 and other mainstream fare.

While still basking in the glow of "Fade's" Golden Globes win for best foreign-language film, she spoke by phone on where she's coming from and where she hopes she's headed.

Question: This movie may come as a surprise to American audiences, who are used to seeing you as Nic Cage's sidekick in the "National Treasure" movies.

Answer: 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.

Q: I want to talk about "Fade" without revealing spoilers. Is it fair to say 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.

A: 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?

Q: 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"?

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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 (expletive) time for real female stories to be told.

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