Diane Kruger Returns Home and Wins Big

Diane Kruger

Who says you can’t go home again? Twenty-five years after departing her native Germany to model in Paris, Diane Kruger is finally starring in her first German-language movie — a role for which she won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

In Fatih Akin’s emotionally devastating “In the Fade,” opening Wednesday, Dec. 27, Ms. Kruger plays Katja, a wild child married to Nuri (Numan Acar), a convicted Kurdish drug dealer who later finds respectability providing translation and tax services to immigrants in Hamburg. One day, Katja drops their young son off at Nuri’s office, and when she returns it is to a scene of carnage: A nail bomb has killed her husband and child. Drowning in grief, and angered by the focus of the police investigation, she embarks on a quest for justice — and eventually revenge — against neo-Nazis. “In the Fade” will represent Germany for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards in March.

“Fatih’s films cross borders, and I always felt that he had something to say in modern-day Germany, being Turkish himself,” said Ms. Kruger, 41, warming herself over cappuccino at the Crosby Street Hotel, not far from the TriBeCa apartment where she lives when not in France. “He has faced a lot of racism, and that’s a big issue in Germany still to this day.” Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How did you prepare for such a harrowing role?

I met with 30 different families over six months, not just victims of terrorism but brutal murder, in self-help groups in the U.S. and Germany. I let myself be overtaken by their stories and their grief. Honestly, this movie has changed me forever — the empathy that I found just by listening. It’s a sense of grief I have never seen in life.

This film makes a strong statement about extreme nationalism, something both Europe and the United States are grappling with.

I’ve noticed the uprise for some time now, being in France for the past two elections with Marine Le Pen every time in the first round. And I’m incredibly ashamed that for the first time since World War II, the right nationalists have a seat in the government in Germany. And then look what happens here. It definitely concerns me, especially since my generation is the true European generation. I started my life as an adult with doors opening and opportunities rising. And now doors are closing again.

Why a German film after all these years?

I had been hoping and waiting for a part from Germany for a long time. But I don’t really know anyone in the German film industry. And I think there was always a little bit of resentment that I made my career elsewhere. The French kind of claimed me — being “Franco-Allemande” when I was in a good movie, though in a bad movie I’m German. [Laughs] And I made American films. Nobody knew where to place me.

Will your best actress win at Cannes translate into greater power? You have been outspoken about the inequities in the film industry.

We’ll see. I think if you do the same work then you should be considered an equal, whatever that means. It can be money-wise but also the way your name appears. It’s weird in Hollywood that the male always gets cast first and he has approval over his female co-star. I don’t think that’s right. Also, the studios love to pick a young actor they don’t have to pay a lot of money, put them in these $120 million movies, and if the movie works, you’re all of a sudden Hollywood’s golden girl. If the movie is a miss, you fall into obscurity. Actors need time to fail, to grow, to get better. Very few people are as good at 20 as they will be at 40 or 50. Male actors still get that opportunity.

You appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” a Weinstein movie. Did the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein surprise you?

That was shocking to me. But everybody knew what he was like. Everybody did.

Have the barrage of sexual harassment allegations about other people surprised you?

Actually, it’s awesome. It feels like an avalanche. But I believe that things are going to change because now we’ve created space for everybody to feel like they can say something. I think there’s a defining moment, not just in Hollywood but in our conscious being as humans — and women especially. Women are looking to make content that women want to see. Women are really taking control of their destiny, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.

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