Diane Kruger talks teenage years as a model in Paris, The 355 and the pitfalls of playing the most beautiful woman in Ancient Greece
Photographer & Director
Ruo Bing Li/Saint Luke Artists
Conventional wisdom tells us you don’t just make it in Hollywood–you fight for your place as a gladiator. But, what if the Gods have other plans for you? What if your journey begins in the middle of the arena? Enter: Diane Kruger.
It’s likely you were introduced to this actor in the early 2000’s—with the likely intention of witnessing firsthand the finessed physiques of Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom in Troy. However, what really garnered your attention was Helen of Troy, a portraiture by Diane Kruger that elevated her into the higher echelons of Hollywood. Her stardom was imminent. Born in Algermissen, West Germany, Kruger started her journey as a model in Paris. These teenage years in a bohemian experience cultivated a je ne sais quoi that made people take notice. Up to date, Kruger has mastered the movies and the small screen with projects such as National Treasure, Inglourious Basterds, Farewell My Queen, In the Fade, and many others. If you haven’t heard of all these titles, it’s because Kruger is outside of your realm.
A commander of Hollywood that’s ahead of the narrative—Kruger affords a leverage that’s heavenly. In the new year, she’ll be starring alongside an ensemble of female accolades in The 355. This female-led spy film is striking, so be sure to watch out for the unexpected. Because you think you know—but you have no idea what kind of strength and strategy these women have cultivated. The gods have so much in store for Diane Kruger. And she much to show you. Praise be.
Hi Diane! Such a pleasure to Zoom with you. How are things on your end?
Oh okay. We were meant to go to Copenhagen, but we decided to cancel because of everything that is going on.
Absolutely, such a crazy time with COVID making a comeback with all these variants. Everyone’s been dealing with things in their own way—I have friends who have quit their jobs or have taken up baking. Personally, I bought a few acres of land in Costa Rica! The pandemic makes you do crazy things. (Laughs)
Where in Costa Rica? We have a home in Costa Rica!
It’s in Playa Negra, which is approximately 30 minutes south of Tamarindo.
And we’re in Nosara.
I lived in Nosara for a few months when I first got there. Playa Pelada? I was right on that beach. So beautiful!
Well good for you! We talk about this ALL the time, we should just move to Costa Rica, what are we doing? (Laughs)
I know, right? Have you done anything out of the ordinary during this time?
No. We’ve been doing really ordinary things, you know? Things that we never get to do when we’re at home. But the first year of COVID was very much about family, and I believe it was the first time in my adult life that I can remember being in one place for that long, together. In a way, I feel like it was a really good reset for many people to figure out what’s more important, but it just feels like a bummer right now. Because I feel like we were all eager to get back to traveling and doing other things, but we’ll get through it. And, well, whatever. It’s also nice to spend the holidays together in New York, which we haven’t done in a long time for Christmas.
“There’s no way in hell I’m going to let my daughter go to Paris by herself, at the age of 15. Our times are different, and I have to credit my mom because I think she gave me the greatest gift any parent can give a child, which is trust.”
That’s the bright side in all of this. It makes me think about all your travels in the earlier part of your life. I was fascinated by how brave you were to pursue modeling and venture out into the world. I can’t imagine what it was like for you as a teenager in Paris, you know, living without any supervision.
(Laughs) You know, when I think about it now as an adult, I feel the same way. There’s no way in hell I’m going to let my daughter go to Paris by herself, at the age of 15. Our times are different, and I have to credit my mom because I think she gave me the greatest gift any parent can give a child, which is trust, you know? She’d always say ‘if I hear anything, you would have to come back and go back to school.’ I mean, I basically took a sabbatical, right? She did, in fact, let me go and I was pretty good. And, to be honest, I love the independence and making money for myself. I come from a lower-middle-class background, we weren’t poor, but we weren’t well off either, and so, from a young age, I would send money back but the value of money that my mom taught me was really amazing, it felt like having your cake and eating it too. I got to spend my own money and live my own life, and at the same time, I got to travel the world and be this fabulous model, and it was so much fun. I mean, it was THE best school of life.
It must have been very empowering.
Yeah, and I made mistakes all the time. It was an innocent time in the 90s’. It felt different, I was different. It’s unthinkable nowadays. But I was in Paris, which isn’t all that far away from Germany, you know? Yeah. But still, I had no cell phone, and when I was going through all of those things like heartbreak, or running out of money, my mom was right there. It’s not like she was ten hours away.
It was a different world then. And then eventually, you ended up going to drama school; was there a moment when you realized that acting was your calling?
I come from a very small village of about 2000 people, and so, anything artistic was not something that was encouraged or even a possibility. It’s not like someone kept telling me, ‘oh, you should become an actor.’ So I kind of fell into modeling and traveled around the world. And I was once really lonely and bored with that world. I was thinking, ‘What can I do to fulfill my soul?’ because I don’t look like a model, I’m not six feet tall, and I don’t have that… you know… alien kinda look? (Laughs). A lot of people had said to me over the years to pursue acting, I had a boyfriend who said ‘just go to school and see if you could do it.’
I kind of discovered cinema when I first moved to Paris because I never went to the movies growing up. I came across some French films starring Romy Schneider, who is my favorite actress, and was also a German actress living in France. She was in a relationship with Alain Delon, who was this dreamy French actor of the time, and they were this glamorous couple, and she was so beloved to this day, so beloved in France, and I thought, ‘Oh, wow, people love Germans, you know, you could have a shot here,’ to be honest, America seemed so far away at that time.
So I thought, ‘Okay, let’s just go to drama school.’ And I did my first improv, it just became clear to me that I love doing this. And this was like sort of my college years… I went there and it was like this community of kids my age… and you know, the luxury of not having to have a job on the side, I realized what a huge plus that was. All those years of working and saving money which is so German where you don’t spend it and you put it away for a rainy day. You know what I mean. So those were the happiest years of my life; I smoked way too many cigarettes, spent my days in school doing stage work, and then went to cafes in Paris, drinking red wine, it was so much fun.
It’s like a very bohemian kind of life.
Yeah… for a minute!
“[Some scripts] feel like they were written for you, even though they weren’t. Others appear to be so difficult that you can’t even wrap your head around them.”
It’s such a romantic experience. And then, of course, most people were introduced to your work with Troy. I know you mentioned before that having so much success early on was quite overwhelming. If you could go back in time and have a conversation with your younger self, what do you think you’d say to her?
There’s a part of me that would have said ‘Don’t do it,’ but that sounds very ungrateful, and, you know, that was my second movie ever. And I’ve never been to Hollywood before. Everything that came with it was so overwhelming and obviously what every actor hopes for in their life. But, to be honest, I was so unprepared, I was so green that it seemed like an impossible task, you know, and I didn’t realize what playing Helen of Troy would imply for my future as an actor. The worst part was that even though the movie made a pretty big amount of money, it was not the success and hit that everyone had hoped for. So there was no love left for me in a way, you know, it’s like, ‘okay, she played Helen of Troy, where’s she going from there? What else could she possibly do? So it took many years of going back to Europe and just paying my dues as any other actor should.
Your work is very much like you in that you’re able to bring a lot of depth and nuance to your characters. When you’re diving into a script, what is your process like in developing that role?
It evolves over the years. No other character demands the same implication, and for some roles, it depends on the directors. You feel like they were written for you, even though they weren’t, others appear to be so difficult that you can’t even wrap your head around them. For example, Inglourious Basterds, which is a very difficult job to get because the director refused to audition me. But, from the moment I read the script, I felt like that part was written for me; I didn’t really think about it because it was so innate to my German-ness. And then there are other roles like a German film I did, In The Fade which felt impossible to accomplish.
Have you ever taken on a role where it’s taken some time to disconnect yourself from being in that character?
Only one I would say for In The Fade. I had to spend six months listening to other people’s stories and grief and sort of really feeling that energy of grief. And that was a very difficult thing to let go of, and as it happened, a great deal of loss occurred in my personal life, so that just coincided with the film. To this day I dream about things I heard in prep for that film, other parts, you know, I do think about them, but it’s not like they left a mark on me. I’ve learned pretty early on to try and separate the two.
Definitely, especially when it’s emotionally taxing. And you have The 355 coming up—and that cast! What a wonderful ensemble of talented, female characters. Can you tell us more about this project?
So The 355 came to me when I was on my baby break, and my baby was about five months old, I was sort of starting to look out for what would be my next picture. At the same time, I was nervous about returning to work. And then Jessica (Chastain) and Simon (Kinberg) called, and they said, ‘do you want to be a part of this, and you can bring your kid, and we’ll adapt the character around you.’ And it felt like the right project to do, because it was a huge physical challenge to get my butt back into shape after a year and a half of basically sitting on a couch. And it felt like a really soft way of getting back into the game. We’re all mothers and we had like, a trailer for our kids to come with us everywhere we went. And, as a new mom, I was obviously nervous about leaving my child for the first time. It was so wonderful to be surrounded by these women who were kicking ass. Especially Jessica, who doubled as a mom, actress, and producer on this, you know, she really could have done it all. But it was an inspiration to see it’s possible and still have, like, a fulfilled home life as well. It was so empowering having to get ready for this part, and feeling like every week, I was able to lift a little bit heavier and kick a little bit higher, and just getting back to me. It was like a really great memory of just the ensemble experience of this.
“I believe that women’s roles have improved. And I think that studios are very aware of that, sometimes to a fault where the criteria is just so ‘we have to hire a woman.'”
Do you have a favorite memory with all these women and the kids? (Laughs)
So many. I have so many great moments with the girls and also with Simon, because we are five pretty headstrong women at the table, and he’s like, the only guy. It wasn’t easy I’m sure. He was, in fact, pretty gracious. It felt great getting up every morning with the girls. We’d all get up and do boxing together before going to the gym, which was weird. It sounds like we’re talking like guys because that’s what they do right? (Laughs) And, as I previously stated, I was struck by the thought, ‘Wow, look at us, we’re not 25. We’re mothers, and we’re doing it.’ We were also filming in Europe, which was great for me because my mom was able to be there, and that brought us closer together because my baby was so young. And just like that, it was great rediscovering my relationship with my mom, redefining it, seeing her as like, such a huge support, and feeling so good about not just leaving my kid with a nanny.
I got goosebumps because I can feel the joy that this experience brought you. How important, do you think, it is for the film industry to showcase the strength and complexities of women? You’ve been in this male-dominated industry for a long time, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on how this has evolved.
I just think things are shifting, and I still believe there’s a long way to go. For example, what Jessica did as a woman and as a producer by allowing us to bring our children to work—that has never happened to me since. Because our shoots are so out of the ordinary, I get up before my daughter does and return home after she has gone to bed. If I couldn’t bring her on set, I wouldn’t see her for months at a time, you know. So I believe there is still work to be done in terms of parents being able to manage that time away.
I believe that women’s roles have improved. There are also more opportunities for women. And I think that studios are very aware of that, sometimes to a fault where the criteria is just so ‘we have to hire a woman.’ And you go, ‘Okay, well, that’s great, but…
Like, you’re just checking off a box or something…
Exactly, and I believe that, like anything else, things tend to swing from one extreme to the other. And, as a result of the competition, streaming rights, and all the other outlets, more opportunities are being introduced to the crew as well as actors.
This perfectly segues into another project you have coming out, Swimming with Sharks, which portrays the Hollywood industry. I’d like to learn more about your role in this project. Also, what are your thoughts on how Hollywood is portrayed in this film?
Well, it’s a TV show adapted from the original movie with Kevin Spacey. So in a way, I take on his role. It’s very Hollywood with a female twist. So the challenges my character comes across may not be as black and white as it was for Kevin Spacey back in the 80s. There are infertility issues, relationship issues and, you know, things that add to whatever drama that’s going on in Hollywood.
And I was really excited to see that you’re doing a film in 2022 that is all about ballet. It’s as if you’ve come full circle.
I’ve wanted to do a movie about ballet for a long time. I mean, obviously, I’m too old to be a dancer, but I played the teacher I love it. It’s a true story about Joy Womack, who was the first American to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. And just having dabbled in ballet myself, it’s just, that’s like the impossible task, to do. I love ballet. I really do. I’m just glad it didn’t work out because that’s a pretty tough life. You know?
Very, very tough.
But wonderful at the same time. My kid attends ballet three times a week.
Dance, ballet… it’s a beautiful expression of the human experience. You have ventured into many genres in your career. Is there something that you haven’t tried yet that you’d like to take on?
Yeah, I’d love to voice a character for sure. Even if it’s just for my daughter, but I do love animated films. And I would love to do more comedies, I’ve done really only, one in a French film. I don’t know, I guess people don’t really see me in comedies (laughs) but I love doing comedies. It’s not easy and I have so much respect for comedic actors.
“I don’t think I would have had the career if I didn’t speak French, and making French films has really rescued my career. German is my mother tongue. So I’m passing that on to my daughter but it’s just the ease of being able to work and to live in different places without feeling completely disconnected, right? It’s like the world is your oyster.”
Heng Qing Zhao
Anthony Campbell/A-Frame Agency
I don’t doubt that! Comedy has so many elements to it. You can have funny material, but if somebody is not able execute, it’s totally lost. A lot of people don’t know, but you support some great causes. I would love to hear more about what drives you to support those in need.
I mean, I don’t particularly consider myself as extraordinary since I’m not on the ground. I wish I was, but it’s clearly not what I think I’d do well, because it makes me desperate and angry. The only time I’ve ever gone to South Africa with the Global Fund was for AIDS, and it’s so frustrating because you feel so helpless. I have to be honest, if you go there, everything you see is what people on the ground are confronting every single day. And I find those are like the true unsung heroes of our times, including nurses, and people who have given up their life, just to help others. Those are the ones that we really should celebrate and honor as heroes. It’s one thing to be capable, and if it’s up to us to provide assistance and raise awareness, I suppose that’s one aspect of support that I can provide. But, you know, the reality of what’s going on is where the real fascination lies.
Absolutely. How did you get involved in the first place?
The Global Fund approached me because they were looking for ambassadors. And I said ‘sure, but I’d like to see what you guys are doing on the ground.’ So I went on this trip with them a few years ago. And they’re a fantastic organization. What I liked about them is that they funnel the money towards small places like hospitals that really help that particular community. And it’s not like it’s some huge organization where you have no idea where your money is going. So I saw that and I was really impressed by it. And then there are others, like, I was in LA during the beginning of the pandemic’s peak, and the homelessness was out of control. I saw an ad on TV for Covenant House in Los Angeles, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them. They provide shelter and medical care, and it seems like donating is the very least I can do, so I just try to give as much as I can.
I lived in Downtown LA for ten years. And when the pandemic started, it was like something I’ve never seen before. I couldn’t tell the difference between fireworks or a flashbang or a gun. It was a crazy time. I can only relate on a certain level to what others were experiencing.
New York is just as bad. My mom was here and down the street from where we live in the West Village, as she was heading to the bakery, she called me one morning and said, ‘Oh my god, I just saw a dead person.’ He was homeless and was leaning at an odd angle over a parked bike, and she thought it was some drunk who passed out. As she came out from the bakery, there were paramedics and he was apparently dead for so long. And I was just like ‘oh my god’. I was so shocked. This poor person, can you imagine his demise? And like nobody even noticed you’ve been dead for this long. We live in a crazy time.
I believe everyone is trying to look to the bright side this next year. I am so grateful we’ve had the chance to chat today. I do have just one last question for you I let you go! I feel like your superpower is being able to speak all these incredible languages. Have you ever used your language capabilities to your advantage at times?
Of course! I don’t think I would have had the career if I didn’t speak French, and making French films has really rescued my career. German is my mother tongue. So I’m passing that on to my daughter but it’s just the ease of being able to work and to live in different places without feeling completely disconnected, right? It’s like the world is your oyster. Although I do not know why, I studied Latin in school for eight years, so one of the things like Spanish should come easily but it really doesn’t for me. I understand more Italian than Spanish.
Obviously, as a writer, language is so important. Currently picking up my fourth! Again, it’s been so lovely getting to know you.
Thank you too, Merry Christmas, be safe!
Merry Christmas to you too!
Talk to you soon, bye!