Last May, Diane Kruger walked away from the Cannes Film Festival with the famed best actress statue for her role in the film In the Fade. Thirteen years earlier, she had made her very first red carpet debut at that very festival for the film Troy, and in that time, also served as a member of the jury for the main competition. Basically, if anyone is a Cannes pro, it is Kruger. But not so fast—even Kruger still gets afraid of that very lengthy, and very famous, red carpet. “I remember walking up the festival steps, which are so intimidating, to say the very least, and being very nervous,” she said of this most recent festival. But if Kruger has proven anything in her latest incredibly emotional role, in which she stars as a woman whose family is killed in a terrorist attack, it’s that she’s not afraid to take on a challenge. Here, the German actress talks about returning to her native language, her first kiss, and why you shouldn’t underestimate an actor based on their appearance.
How did In the Fade come about?
About five years ago I was a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival. One of my favorite directors of all time coming out of Germany is Fatih Akin, and he had a documentary there. So I actually went to his party to tell him how much I love his work and if he ever wanted to work with me; I’ve been waiting for a role coming out of Germany, because I left 25 years ago. He remembered, and five years later, he wrote this for me. It’s a project he had been tampering with for some time but it was always written for a man, and he changed it to a woman.
What did you think when you first saw the script?
The first time I read the script, I wasn’t sure why he even thought about me for this role. Katja is a very tough character. She’s got tattoos everywhere. She’s a very tough street girl, and that’s not usually the part that I get offered. And I felt that Fatih was a little unsure if I could do it, because it’s a very emotional role. The movie talks about a mother losing her husband and her kid in a terrorist attack. The movie is her journey through grief, through the court case. It’s a very emotional part, and a very tough part. I was very scared that I wasn’t gonna be able to find the strength within myself to do this.
Was it hard to go back to German, especially after having to lose your accent for so many roles?
This is my very first German language movie. I left Germany so long ago that I don’t know anyone in the German film industry really. And I really was waiting for so many years for a part to come out of Germany with a director that I loved, so this was a total surprise. And I was so grateful that it happened. It’s funny, I think this might be one of the best parts that I’ve ever been offered and gotten, and it makes me incredibly proud that it comes out of Germany. Going to Cannes with this film as my first German movie, I feel really grateful.
How did you find out that you’d won the best actress prize?
On the Sunday, when they have the awards ceremony, around lunchtime, they call you to say please stay, but you don’t know what your movie is going to win. I was actually packing to go back to Paris, and Fatih called me and he was just crying. And so I immediately started crying. I remember walking up the festival steps, which are so intimidating, to say the very least, and being very nervous. I was shaking and excited all at once. And then at the same time, the movie is about a terrorist attack. and only two days before that the attacks in Manchester happened. That pain that everybody was still feeling was very much on my mind. And when they called my name, of course I was so overwhelmed and so happy and grateful, and yet at the same time, that was so much on my mind. It was strange to accept an award [for something] that I know is really realistic and very truthful to so many people.
Do you find that in the past you may have been underestimated and perhaps not cast in certain roles because of the way you look?
I think as an actor, no matter what you look like, people try to put you in certain categories of what they think you can play. “Well, she’s a pretty blonde, so I don’t know if we can see her in a comedy.” There’s always preconceived notions of what kind of actor they think you’re gonna be. For Fatih to pick me was also a big risk because he’s very well known in Germany as a director who usually casts unknowns or people that he discovers that are not actors at all. I am very, very excited that this movie comes out at this time in my career, as well. I’ve been around the block a few times. I think that sometimes life is done well and things come to you when you’re ready, and I don’t think I could’ve played this part five years ago. I was ready for this part. I’m ready to shed every pretense or any makeup or any beauty look that people think I am. It was scary to be naked, in every sense of that word.
What was it like literally filming scenes naked?
To be honest, the scene in the tub wasn’t really hard to do because it’s so technical. But there were scenes in the movie that I don’t even remember shooting. For example, the scene in the gymnasium where I found out that a man and a child were killed during this attack, it was a complete out-of-body experience; I don’t remember shooting it at all. I met with over 30 families of victims of murder, brutal murder. Six months of sitting in on self-help groups and listening to their stories is something I will never, ever forget. It’s really hard to describe, because it’s more of an energy. As I was trying desperately to find the truth of this character, all of a sudden, I just realized all I had to do was accept that energy and feel it; really allow myself to be part of this mutual understanding of what happened and that nothing will ever be the same again. In one second, their life changed, and that’s what stuck with me the most. That is something you know that I felt very much, and I still do.
Moving on to some lighter topics, what was your favorite Halloween costume?
I went as Marlene Dietrich once, as the blue angel with the top hat. I had a wig on, the cane, the whole thing. I felt pretty fabulous. Then one year I kind of ran out of ideas and I bought a unicorn onesie, and that was the most comfortable Halloween costume ever. And I didn’t get hit on by creepy guys.
What is your favorite birthday celebration you’ve ever had?
I kind of hate my birthdays only because they feel like everybody’s forced to be happy for me. One year for my birthday I invited 20 of my friends and we rented a house in the South of France and we were pretty much drunk for two weeks straight. That was kind of great.
What was your first kiss?
When I was growing up, we would go camping for summer vacations. So my first kiss was with some random guy as we were catching frogs at this lake in Germany. We had like six of them in this little basket made for the frogs. I wasn’t sure what we were gonna do with the frogs, but we had six frogs and they were [making frog noises] as we were kissing, so that was kind of sweet. I kept them as pet frogs for a couple days until my mom said that he couldn’t sleep because they were so loud. That summer was really great.
Do you have any secret skills?
I just learned this summer how to ride a motorcycle, so that is something that nobody really knows about me. I bought a 1972 Honda vintage motorcycle. It’s super cute. It’s basically a moped, but I love it. And I did my license at this Harley Davidson dealership in Georgia. So just imagine a four-day course with me and Harley drivers. Supposedly, there were bets of if I was gonna drop the motorcycle or if I was just gonna give up.
Do you have any celebrity crushes?
Well, Richard Gere is one of the people that I sort of grew up with, and that I’ve always crushed on. I ended up doing a movie with him once and he was so sweet. He came to my trailer just to say hello, and of course, the first thing I said, “Oh my gosh, my mom loves you.” I also love Cate Blanchett. I kind of crush on Elle Fanning, I think she’s the cutest thing ever and she’s so good.
What was your first red carpet dress?
Chanel couture. My first movie that came out was Troy, and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. And I’m really good friends with Karl [Lagerfeld], he’s my neighbor in Paris. I’ve known him since I was 16 years old. And so I asked him, because when you’re that young, you’re just like, “Oh, would you make me a dress for the premiere?”And he literally like sketched me my dream dress.
Diane Kruger Doesn’t Know What It Means to Be a Muse