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On the 10th anniversary of Inglourious Basterds’ theatrical release, the word “euphoric” comes to Diane Kruger’s mind as she reflects on her experience as Bridget von Hammersmark in Quentin Tarantino’s sixth film. Considering the uphill battle she faced to land the role, Kruger cherishes the opportunity more than anything else — including the rave reviews she received for her performance as the popular German film star and Allied spy.
“Truly, I got into that room because he couldn’t find anyone,” Kruger tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The actor that he had in mind didn’t work out. He auditioned every single actress in Germany that he thought was right for the part before he agreed to see me. That’s really how I got the job.”
In her latest return to the big screen, Kruger embraced one of her most challenging roles yet as an undercover Mossad agent in Yuval Adler’s The Operative. Her character Rachel disappears as a result of an undercover assignment in Tehran, and her former handler, Thomas (Martin Freeman), is tasked with finding her by way of a cryptic message she relayed to him.
Preparation for the character of Rachel put Kruger in some rather precarious situations with real-life Mossad agents.
“I … got to Israel quite early before we started filming, and we did a lot of Mossad training,” she explains. “We had agents that gave me false identities, and I had to try to get into Tel Aviv International Airport on a false passport.”
In a recent conversation with THR, the Operative star discusses her unusual preparation for the role of a Mossad agent, the Troy criticism that affected her early career and her experience on 355 with Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o and Penelope Cruz.
To play a Mossad operative, where do you begin as far as preparation? Was a former agent willing to talk to you?
When the script came to me, I learned that it adapted a novel called The English Teacher, which is based on a true story and a real Mossad agent. I was able to speak to her, which was really informative, but I couldn’t meet her because she’s still hiding. I also got to Israel quite early before we started filming, and we did a lot of Mossad training. We had agents that gave me false identities, and I had to try to get into Tel Aviv International Airport on a false passport. That kind of stuff.
Does your acting ability come in handy when you’re trying to use a false passport?
It’s a bit more intense than that. They’re just trying to put you in their shoes a little bit. Obviously, trying to infiltrate Tel Aviv is not the same as an Israeli Mossad agent going to Tehran. Being in Israel and having conversations with people, you form a picture in your head, little by little, about what this person could be like.
As an actor, can you relate to these people to some degree since you travel the world, going from job to job and pretending to be people you aren’t?
I thought so myself when I first took this job, but when you meet some of those agents and from talking to her, there’s a whole other level of paranoia that I was not aware of. From 5,000 applicants per year, they take one person who has the ability to become a Mossad agent. Their awareness, determination and commitment to a cause is remarkable. The people that I met who were Mossad agents have an intelligence and an ability to manipulate people without them knowing they’re being manipulated. It’s extraordinary. I don’t think actors, at least not the ones that I know, including myself, have that ability. You can pretend to be someone for a couple months, but it’s a whole other level to live that.
How important is chemistry building when it comes to you and your scene partners such as Martin Freeman and Cas Anvar? Are the results that much different if you just rely on your overall experience and acting ability?
I would say that it depends on the role and what you’re trying to get out of the scene. I spent little to no time with Martin before we started filming, but I spent a lot of time with Cas beforehand. I like to rehearse, I like to talk about scenes, I like to hear the words out loud, but I don’t love putting a scene on camera before you actually do it on the day. It often takes away from the freedom of spontaneity that comes with being on the location and feeling it fresh on the day. It has helped me on many movies as Quentin [Tarantino] loves to rehearse. For Inglourious Basterds’ scene in the tavern, we rehearsed for nearly two weeks, and that really helped the scene, I think. It kind of makes that scene. We rehearsed it like a play, and we shot it like a play. For other movies, I’m glad we didn’t rehearse any of it.
Because there are so many variables at play, do you avoid committing to a performance until you’ve had a chance to feel the vibe on set, as well as the dynamic between you and your co-stars?
Yeah, always. I arrive with a certain idea of what the character is, but you also feed off of other actors, often. Sometimes, after shooting a couple scenes, what you thought you were going to do in a scene just doesn’t make sense for you to do. You always have to be open to surprises. The location itself will change something, or the other actors will put a whole new perspective on things. I love that … I crave that. I always hope that it’s going to be quite different than I expect.
Did you almost reunite with your Troy co-star Eric Bana on this?
Yes! He was attached at one point, but he kinda fell out. He wanted to do some show, but they couldn’t get the dates to work.
Was it designed to be a reunion of sorts?
No, it was kind of a coincidence, but I would love to work with him again. I love him.
Your previous Troy reunion certainly worked out rather well.
Yeah, I was really glad to work with Brad Pitt again on Inglourious Basterds. When we made Troy, I was so green, and it was so early on in my career. It was really nice to get to do something with him at a time when I had more experience and where we really got to play off each other.
The Operative has a rather disturbing scene that takes place in a truck. Was it as uncomfortable to shoot as it was to watch?
It was, but also for other reasons. I was pregnant while I was filming, so I physically couldn’t get into that box. So, they had to use a body double. I had to shoot all that stuff just on my face, and they had to redo all of that just for the body. It was a very difficult thing to do, and I have to give great credit to our director, Yuval Adler. It was not easy to get that uncomfortable feeling.
When you were promoting In The Fade, you mentioned that you initially didn’t know how you were going to play the loss of a child since you didn’t have any children at the time. Emotionally speaking, has motherhood added some more colors to your acting palette?
It remains to be seen. This is my first movie back since having a baby. It’s certainly made me question how I’m going to deal with a part that requires an involvement and an investment, like In The Fade, while having to come home to a young and innocent child and be her mother. So, we’ll see. It’s definitely something that I’m thinking about.
As far as process, do you usually channel life experience into your performances?
I do. The older you get and the more experience you have, the more you bring to the table. You’re more and more naked as you get older because you finally know what you’re talking about. The lines become much more blurred than when you’re a young ingenue.
It’s the 10th anniversary of Inglourious Basterds, and Universal marked the occasion with the release of a 10th Anniversary Blu-ray. As far as your downtime on set, what moments come to mind?
On Inglourious, I was always studying. Quentin was one of those directors who’s really precise about his writing. He would break a scene if you forgot or changed a word. I just remember always studying my lines in between setups. There’s kind of a melody — a very specific rhythm to his writing. I was always on; I don’t remember having downtime. I was never in my trailer just having a cup of coffee and waiting for them to be ready. I feel like I was always alert because he really demands that. He loves actors, and he loves his writing and characters so much that you never want to let him down.
What was the vibe like on set?
It’s not relaxed. (Laughs.) When he’s happy with a take or scene, it feels euphoric at times. He’s like a kid in a candy store. He gets so excited. I can only speak for myself, but I always felt tension. He sits right next to camera; he’s not removed in video village. So, he watches you like a hawk. He’s like a spectator. So, I always felt like I had to give 110 percent all the time. I would be really exhausted at night because you really felt like you worked your butt off.
You’ve said before that he didn’t want to audition you at first. How did you get into the audition room, ultimately?
Truly, I got into that room because he couldn’t find anyone. The actor that he had in mind didn’t work out. He auditioned every single actress in Germany that he thought was right for the part before he agreed to see me. That’s really how I got the job. (Laughs.)
Tarantino is known for providing his actors with a ton of backstory on their characters. Did he also provide you with plenty of information on Bridget von Hammersmark?
In his head, he had an entire movie that could have just been my character. How I got to be Bridget von Hammersmark…where I was from…how I became a movie star on that film…why she decided to become a spy. All these things that, as an actor, you usually make up for yourself, he just laid them out to me. He told me my story. I just thought that was so great, and I could feel how much he loved that character. He didn’t write a single line without thinking where Bridget came from. It just felt like a complete character — whether you see that on film or not. There was never a doubt in my performance or in my mind of where he was coming from and where my actions as Bridget were coming from.
You’ve talked a lot about a piece of criticism you received during the Troy era as The New York Times said you were “too beautiful to play a role of any substance.” I’m curious about how you responded to this. Did you react by saying, “Oh, I’ll show them,” or did it haunt you for a little while?
All of what you just said. I felt let down. A newspaper that I really respected took a really easy and cowardly angle on me that seemed unnecessary and rude. I just wondered, “Is it always going to be like this? Is this what this business is like? Is this what critics are like? Is commenting on physical appearance the norm — rather than what you actually do?” I questioned what my life as an actor was going to be like. It made me want to hide for a little bit. It made me feel that maybe I shouldn’t do this in America. It was definitely a weird time, and it definitely hung over me for a while.
Even though you didn’t interact onscreen, did you and Brad Pitt get a chance to reminisce about Troy during Inglorious Basterds’ production or press tour?
Yes and no. We talked more about [director] Wolfgang [Petersen], to be honest, whom we both love. So, we were talking about certain anecdotes and crazy things that happened during the production. I think both of us were really happy to meet again.
How’s 355 going so far with Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o and Penelope Cruz?
Well, all the women play spies in their respective countries. We just completed week one, and it’s been pretty awesome so far. I have to hand it to Jessica; I’m in awe of her. She really put her money where her mouth is. We were all paid the same. We own a piece of the movie. We have the same trailers. We have a trailer and playground for our children when they visit set. The script was a collaborative effort for each character. It’s been an amazing work experience.
Do you miss playing Sonya Cross on The Bridge?
Yes and no. That was a really fun time! I loved making that show. I miss it and the people, too. It was kind of a great character because you could say whatever you were thinking. (Laughs.)
The Operative is now available on digital.
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