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Diane Kruger on Battling Nazis, Giving a Voice to Women, and the Aftermath of Terror

Written by on January 5, 2018 

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Even though she was born and raised in Germany, Diane Kruger had never shot a feature film in her native language until she did In the Fade. Fatih Akin’s explosive drama sees Kruger playing Katja Sekerci, a woman who loses her son and husband in a terrorist attack perpetrated by Neo-Nazis. Worried that the law won’t make them justice, Katja decides to take matters into her own hands. But this is no simple revenge thriller, rather it’s an exploration of grief that often feels like staring deep into the abyss. Kruger gives the most compelling performance of her career as a woman trying to make sense of a world that’s completely new to her. Watching her transformation from the lively woman we see in flashbacks and home videos, to the torn human being she’s become by the end is truly heartbreaking.

In recent years, Kruger has been delivering quietly masterful performances in projects like FX’s The Bridge (which was cancelled way too soon), Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and the sadly underseen The Better Angels in which she plays Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother. But she never has been allowed to command the screen like she does in Akin’s film; she’s practically in every scene and is asked to go through an unbelievable emotional journey that sees her getting high, breaking down in a courtroom, and driving to save her life. She won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival (13 years after she won the Chopard Revelation Award) and as the film opens in America, she’s part of the awards conversation. The film itself was included in the Best Foreign Language Film shortlist released by AMPAS in mid-December.

We spoke to Kruger about playing a character who deals with endless sorrow, her perception of the German identity, and why she thinks things are changing for the better for women in the film, industry.

There were moments watching the film where I looked away because I couldn’t handle looking at the pain in Katja’s face. How were you able to you take off Katja after a day of shooting?

I didn’t. I really felt there was no way I could do that. I felt I was drowning in grief and there was no way coming home after work and going out for drinks. Absolutely not.

You’ve battled Nazis in period pieces before, and now you’re battling them in a modern film. Are you surprised that we still have to deal with freaking Nazis?

Yeah, and apparently it’s not just in Germany anymore. Unfortunately there’s a huge uprising in the extreme right and white nationalism all over the world, so it’s unfortunate how timely this movie is.

Dealing with the Holocaust seems to be an intrinsic part of the German identity. What was your own personal experience growing up with this?

I’m from the generation of the European Union and growing up in Germany people talk about our history to make sure we don’t repeat it. In the early 90s there was a huge nationalist uprising after the fall of the Berlin Wall and I remember when I was a kid it was easy to spot Neo-Nazis; they had a specific haircut, they dressed in a certain way, and they were outcasts. But now with the internet and international networks of Neo-Nazis it seems it’s easier for them to connect. It’s scary because they don’t stand out easily–they look like you and me. As a German I’m ashamed to say that for the first time since WWII people from the extreme right have seats in our government.

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Do you find that playing characters like Katja helps you deal with your own fears about everything that might go wrong in the world?

No, playing Katja made me aware that every day there are people like her being created, people who have to deal with the aftermath of terror attacks. It actually terrifies me and it makes me sad. I hope the film shows the effects of what terrorism does to the people left behind.

Which of Fatih Akin’s other works inspired you to want to work with him?

I’ve seen nearly all of his films. He’s one of the only working German directors I know because I left Germany so long ago, and his works have certainly left a lasting impression on me as an actor.

What was your work like with Numan Acar and Rafael Santana, who play your husband and child in the movie, but we see mostly through flashbacks?

Rafael had never acted before. He was so natural, all I had to do was gain his trust. We went to movies beforehand, we went to a playground. He’s a really sweet kid. We shot the film in order so I only spend a few days with both him and Numan. At first it was difficult to set that sense of the quotidian and pretend we’d known each other for years, maybe first day jitters? But we made it work. Numan is a wonderful actor, I love his face so much.

Given the way in which the tables are turning and abusive men are being removed from their positions of power, are you hopeful that we might get to see more and more films led by characters like Katja?

Yeah, things are changing. We have to see what happens in the next two years or so. Women have spoken up and they’ve taken control of the situation. Women have created the space for dialogue and for conditions that have reigned the film industry and the world, to change. I think we live in a different world than we did yesterday.

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Has this inspired you in any way to make your own films?

I don’t know if I want to direct but I’m producing films. I’m producing a miniseries about Hedy Lamarr which I hope will arrive sometime next year. I’m buying content not just for me but for other strong women. It used to be an uphill battle, but not it’s more fun to do that. I’m also seeing an opportunity there that didn’t exist before.

What is your absolute favorite Hedy Lamarr performance?

I like Samson and Delilah. I also like Ecstasy which is the movie where she faked an orgasm that followed her around during her entire career. I didn’t know who she was before stumbling on a book about her life. I was so impressed by her mind. I hope I can make justice to her legacy. Her contributions to modern day life are amazing.

Hedy was often praised for her beauty and glamour, but few people know about all the work she did. I wonder if you have encountered similar problems working in film, and is that why you were so interested in telling Hedy’s story?

People always put prejudice on other people. People like to judge others based on their looks, religion, lifestyle… I think sometimes when you decide to take a break out of that it might take longer, but it’s very rewarding. In this time and day when things are changing for women, there is a real opportunity to give the women from the past the voice they didn’t have when they were around. I want to leave the world having been able to do what I want to do. I’m sure in my life I’ve been judged by the way I look or my work, but I want to look forward.

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You’re also starring in the upcoming JT Leroy biopic which saw a writer pretend to be a man to get noticed. I wonder if uncovering all the sexism in the industry lately has made you look at this film with different eyes? Like, would Laura have been as respected as Laura and not as JT?

Maybe but I don’t know how much Laura was blaming men for that, or if her problems had more to do with her mental health. I really don’t know. But to me anyway the story was so fascinating. It says a lot about the media and celebrities jumping on bandwagons. There’s a lot of nuance in that story about society and writing. This movie is based on JT’s memoir as Savannah, so it’s a different side to the story.

Congratulations on the Best Actress award at Cannes. With the film coming out in the midst of awards season in America what are your thoughts on the film being in the Oscar race and all that?

It’s been exciting to be here and talk about the film cause no one had seen it since Cannes. It’s exciting to be in the room with the people being considered, because they are actors and filmmakers we admire. It’s exciting to have the film seen by more people. We are getting attention because of Cannes and it’s great because films that aren’t in English slip away very quickly here. So that’s been the most exciting part.

In the Fade is now in limited release.


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