For Diane Kruger, “it’s all about substance, not surface”. And working with Liam Neeson. Paul Byrne concurs.
It’s both a blessing and a curse, of course, being extremely beautiful.
I know it took me a few years to make my peace with it, but for Diane Kruger, it’s still a struggle.
An injury ending her Royal Ballet School training in London, the teenage Kruger returned to her native Germany to become a model, before making the now common sidestep into acting. Determined not to be seen as just another pretty face with a hot body, Kruger headed to France’s acclaimed Cours Florent to study acting.
“I just didn’t want to walk into an audition without some real skills, some real worth,” says the 34-year old actress. “It would have been easy to get work, but, from the start, I wanted to make that work matter. Not just treat it as a catwalk with cameras.
“It was as much about proving myself as an actor as knocking down people’s preconceptions about models who turn to acting. There are enough bad ones out there for a preconception to exist, and I knew that I would only have a few shots at proving an exception to the rule.”
Kruger, fortunately, made the most of those few shots, building up a solid reputation in French cinema before beating thousands of other perfectly-formed females to land the role of Helen in the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster Troy. The movie didn’t quite work, but Kruger was convincing. And she proved herself a worthy lead opposite Nicholas Cage in the National Treasure outings before truly making her mark as good German Bridget von Hammersmark in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.
“I’ve been lucky,” is how Kruger likes to see her career trajectory, but a steely determination to do the job right – “and make good movies” – hasn’t exactly hindered her rise.
And now Kruger gets to play opposite one of cinema’s finest actors, Liam Neeson, in the Hitchcockian thriller Unknown.
We first meet Neeson’s Dr. Martin Harris as he arrives in Berlin to give a talk at a bio-tech conference, his beautiful young wife (Mad Men’s January Jones) by his side. A frantic return to the airport in a cab (driven by Kruger’s illegal immigrant Gina) in order to retrieve a forgotten suitcase ends in a spectacular crash off a bridge, and some deep trauma memory loss for Harris. Or so it would seem. Another Dr. Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn) has taken his place.
PAUL BYRNE: This hit no.1 in the US last week, but Unknown has been sitting on a shelf since 2009. What happened?
DIANE KRUGER: I wish I knew. There are often good and bad reasons why a film’s release is delayed, and I was worried here that the studio just weren’t happy with what they had. Hitting the no.1 spot in the US proves them wrong, if that was the case. I’m just glad it’s out there…
Neeson’s turning into something of an unexpected action hero, having kicked some European butt in Taken recently too. The gravitas of the man adds surprising depth to a much-abused genre…
Absolutely. There’s something almost mythical about a man like Liam Neeson. It’s like he’s been chiseled out of granite. Solid Irish granite, at that. I was thrilled to get a chance to work with him, and he proved to be just as sweet and centred and towering as I had imagined.
Well, all Irish men are like that…
I’m sure they are, I’m sure they are. There is something special about the Irish, and I think most of you know that. And you use it to your advantage, right? I know I’m a sucker for that old Irish charm.
Good to know. Were there influences here for you and Liam to go watch? There’s an element of Vertigo, a little Jason Bourne, a dollop of The Changeling…
I think Hitchcock was definitely an influence, and I guess you have to be aware of stuff like the Bourne outings, but you’re also just trying to find your own groove. The sense of being a stranger in a strange town who’s suddenly told, this is not your beautiful wife, this is not your beautiful life – that’s a pretty rich area to tap into. I think audiences will be surprised at the twists here, which go far beyond the traditional genre twists and turns.
I think Liam is generally sending a message out to Americans too, with this film and with Taken – never, ever travel to Europe. They will kidnap your women and attempt to take your very soul…
Well, I think Americans already know that [laughs]. Yeah, there does seem to be a pattern emerging – and it’s not just in Liam’s films – that Europe is a dangerous place to take a holiday in. If you’re not being cut up in a basement dungeon somewhere, you’re having your identity, and your loved ones, taken away. Scary place, Europe…
Perhaps not as scary as Hollywood though. How has life been treating you in Tinseltown? Do you feel part of the club, or are you perhaps keen to stay outside of the mainstream?
I think a little bit of both is the best route to take. I love making small films that mightn’t find a green light at a big Hollywood studio, but then, there’s something magical about making a big movie too, where every bell and whistle that filmmaking has to offer is on the table. From an actor’s point of view, it’s pretty much all the same – you try and get your character right, try and make them real. Whatever goes on around you is up to other people, and you’re basically just happy to be along for the ride.
There’s a third National Treasure movie in the pipeline, and you’ve got your important brand ambassador work, for the likes of Jaeger-LeCoultre and Calvin Klein – got any gameplan for the future?
Just to keep working, really [laughs]. I don’t see this as a fame thing, as a quick short, sharp shock; I want to get better at my job, and that means learning as I go along. It’s about substance, not surface. The experience is the thing – enjoy it, and learn from it. That way, you’ll never get bored. Or jaded. I would hate to wake up and not love what I’m doing…