Diane Kruger is German, films most of her movies in France, and lives in America. But this year’s Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival is a favorite everywhere.
In some ways, Diane Kruger is a throwback to the movie stars of eras gone by. She’s elegant. She’s beautiful. She’s an icon of style. And perhaps most unusual for modern times, she’s under the radar. No Kardashian-esque overexposure and embarrassing scandals for Kruger. She’s in a rapidly shrinking class of celebrities whose every move is not broadcast on social media or—worse—TMZ. And that just adds to her appeal.
The German actress speaks three languages, something that comes in handy when she has to film a French picture like Benoît Jacquot’s Farewell My Queen and then move on to American films such as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
As a child, Kruger aspired to be a ballerina. She studied ballet at the Royal Academy in London, but her dreams were shattered when she broke her knee at age 13. “When that ended, I was really lost for a long time,” she has said. “Somebody saw me dancing and said, ‘You should be a model.’” At 5’7” and having come from a small village with a population of 2,000, modeling was not a profession Kruger had thought of pursuing. But one modeling contest later and she was traveling the world, landing jobs with blue-chip brands such as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani. The experience colored her perspective not just on the profession, but life in general. “I got to travel the world and was taken seriously as an adult in a way. I was 15, but you’re expected to be an adult. You can’t kid around. So it was educational about the world, about your power over men, your self-worth. It was a great time in my life.” But at a certain point, the posing became boring to Kruger, who “didn’t find it creatively all that challenging,” she said. “I just started meeting people in Paris who were actors and they were like, ‘Well, just go to drama school.’”
Fast-forward to 2002 and Kruger was starring as Helen of Troy in the movie Troy with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom—having beat out more than 3,000 actresses for the part—which she has described as “totally intimidating” and “completely overwhelming.” She also landed a role opposite Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. But perhaps her most hard-won role was one of her most memorable, as spy/movie star Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino wanted to cast actors who were from the same countries as their characters, so Kruger flew to Berlin to audition and show him her passport. “It was hard to get the job,” she has said. “But then once you get it, you can only thrive, because he chose you. He 100 percent believes you’re the person for this.” Since then, she’s amassed more than 30 movies to her credit, portraying memorable characters such as Marie Antoinette in Farewell, My Queen, Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother in The Better Angels and a Bosnian immigrant taxi driver opposite Liam Neeson in Unknown.
Perhaps one of the reasons Kruger treasured that role, and struck up such a bond with Tarantino, is that as an actress, she loves roles that allow her to develop a character. That is also in large part why she’s never wanted to be in a big studio film (read: Superhero). “Every once in a while, there’s a studio movie that I want to see,” she’s said. “Not that I don’t enjoy a big blockbuster. I went to see Jason Bourne. But I just don’t find myself emotionally invested in those movies. You go to check out of reality.”
That doesn’t mean she takes herself too seriously to go for a laugh. Take her portrayal of Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway in the Funny or Die production of The Kellyanne Conway Story (co-starring Genesis Rodriguez as Melania Trump and Ben Feldman as Mike Pence), a short spoof in which Trump’s character (played by Christopher Meloni) spouts lines to Conway like, “I know what you like. That attention. The power. Thirty percent off Ivanka’s stuff,” and charms Kruger’s character into believing that facts are nothing but a nuisance that get in the way of the message he wants to put out. He even calls her “Daddy’s little mouthpiece.”
With one month left in the year, Kruger has five films on the way: the French Tout nous sépare, in which she plays the daughter of Catherine Deneuve (and told the Guardian “It’s a really fucked-up movie and I loved every second of it”); Butterfly in the Typewriter, the story of A Confederacy of Dunces author John Kennedy Toole, with Matthew Modine and Susan Sarandon; JT Leroy, with Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern, in which a young woman named Savannah Knoop (Stewart) spends six years pretending to be the celebrated author JT LeRoy, the made-up literary persona of her sister-in-law, and The Women of Marwen, as part of a cast that includes Steve Carell, Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie, and Leslie Mann. And in theaters this month, In The Fade, the Germany-based story of Katja, whose husband and 6-year-old child are killed in a bombing at his office, setting her off on a path of revenge when the killers are set free after being tried in court. Kruger’s performance has already been praised; Variety called hers a “beautifully modulated performance,” and she won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for the movie in May. Reflecting on In The Fade, Kruger told indiewire.com, “I’m curious as to what the film might incite other filmmakers to offer me. For me it’s a turning point in my life, if not my career. I definitely look at this as the most important work I’ve done.” Perhaps it is—so far.