Mention that you are interviewing the German film star Diane Kruger and boys will note that she is ‘hot’, while girls will forcibly express their love of her style. In Paris, she lives next door to Karl Lagerfeld, a close friend of hers. If any woman could cope with the stress of running into the style fascist Karl as you pop out in your PJs for a café au lait and croissant, it is probably her.
We meet in New York at a lunch in the Rockefeller Building hosted by Swiss watchmaker Jaeger LeCoultre. Over lunch (actual food, a glass of wine) she’s friendly, unstarry and chats enthusiastically about Coachella, the Palm Springs music festival, which she recently attended with her boyfriend, the actor Joshua Jackson. Tonight, they are at the Met Ball, the fashion equivalent of the Oscars, and she is looking forward to seeing fashion friends from the ‘old days’. She used to model, has fronted Jaeger LeCoultre campaigns for the past two years, and has recently been named as the new face of Chanel beauty. At the Met, she’ll know a ton of people and it will really feel like a party. Could the girl get any cooler?
After lunch, high above the hot pandemonium of Fifth -Avenue, our interview takes place in the Anzac war memorial garden: there’s a breeze, blue skies and the soothing gurgle of a -fountain, it’s ‘not bad’, she jokes. Close up, at 35, there is nothing of the Hollywood wind tunnel about that amazing face of hers.
In America, Kruger became famous virtually overnight when she was cast as Helen in Troy (2004). However, without a doubt her greatest role to date was her Dietrich-esque turn as a double-crossing German film star Bridget von Hammersmark in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) ‘He fired someone who showed up for rehearsal without a pen, so you can see the level of intensity,’ she says of Tarantino, who she compares to Hitchcock.
Though she is cast in her fair share of popcorn movies, creative challenge is something for which she plainly hankers. ‘Oh my God, it’s so hard,’ she says, when I ask how about finding a meaningful female role. I venture that her spectacular looks must also minimise the roles she can convincingly play. Unlike the K/Cates (Winslet and Blanchett), talented actresses who can look beautiful or plain on the turn of a pin, there is nothing of the chameleon about Kruger. She looks a knockout buying the groceries.
‘You know,’ she says, slightly wearily, ‘I’m not even sure that the physical thing has anything to do with that, I think it is very hard in America… I mean there are roles, but those are very, very rare, they really are.’ She cites Robin Wright’s scheming character in David Fincher’s House of Cards as remarkable. ‘We don’t make movies like that anymore. Have you ever seen a strong female character like that in a movie?’
Like Claire Danes in Homeland and Spacey and co. in House of Cards, Kruger is the latest in the list of film stars to sign on to a well-written TV series, with great production values. From next month, she will be seen in The Bridge, the American remake of the noirish Scandinavian series. Kruger will play a detective who suffers from Asperger’s. ‘It’s always the male that gets cast first, there are very few women who are in a position to get a film green lit and be basically the star… I think that’s why in America, at least, cable television has become this other outlet.’
She was born and brought up in Algermissen, a small village in northern Germany, and grew up to be a good enough dancer to study with the Royal Ballet School, until a knee injury stopped her in her mid-teens. She helped her mother, to whom she is very close, through a tough few years after her parents split up. Money was tight, and she always did odd jobs to earn pocket money. When later I ask her what in her life she’s most proud of, she answers without missing a beat: ‘My home, because I come from a very lower-middle-class background and to be able to afford to buy a house when I was 27 was a huge accomplishment.’
Her mother plainly gave Kruger her sense of can-do, teaching her that she ‘could be whoever I wanted to be’. When she was 15, her then boyfriend sent her photograph to a modelling contest run by Elite. The prize was a contract with the agency and flights to Paris.
She was scarily young. What advice would she give to a teenage model in that position, up to her neck in a sometimes brutal industry? ‘Honestly,’ she laughs, ‘today, at 35, if I thought about my daughter being 15 and saying, “Can I go away and live in Paris?” I’d be like, “Fucking get to your room and don’t leave your room for another year!” But then at the same time it is thanks to my mother’s trust that I am who I am today, so I don’t know. If my daughter is really cool and I can trust her then that’s great but it seems crazy to me, I’ve got to be honest…’
Would she like a family of her own one day? ‘Of course, of course, yes,’ she laughs, despite saying that she’s had a lifelong aversion to living ‘in a perfect house with a white fence, with a boy and a girl and a husband’.
In Paris, she became a favourite of major photographers like Patrick Demarchelier and by the late-1990s had appeared in campaigns for almost anyone you care to name, from Armani to Bur-berry and Chanel. Most people would have been content to just enjoy it. Instead, at 22, she decided to move to Paris and go to drama school. ‘I did really well and I had a great time doing it — it just became a little boring at the end because I grew up…’ As she puts it, ‘When you’re a model you are a very nice coat-hanger.’
It’s not a way of life you can imagine the feisty Kruger finding fulfilling for very long.
She and Jackson have been together since 2006. She was married to the French actor Guillaume Canet for three years in her twenties and once rather wisely said that she thought people should get married at the end of their life, if their relationship endures, not at the start. ‘You know, I don’t know any different,’ she says of her way of life. ‘Even modelling is such a gypsy life, so I don’t really know what a normal relationship would be like. You take it every day. I think [a relationship] is more for yourself, when you want to be with somebody, you make time for that and I think maybe that’s changed. I think I just want to make time more than I ever have.’
So sorry about that, boys. As for the girls, for anyone looking for style tips from Diane Kruger, I can’t help all that much. On the red carpet she says she likes ‘to look the most like myself as I can’ and refuses to use a stylist. ‘I think it’s so weird as an adult that somebody picks out clothes for you,’ she exclaims, ‘I mean, like, I’m not ten you know!’ She’s a grown-up dresser and a grown-up intelligent actor — someday soon, someone needs to give her a film role that does her justice.