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Playing a cop is not uncommon for an actor or actress.
But a cop with Asperger’s syndrome?
Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds, National Treasure) plays Detective Sonya Cross on FX’s new serial-killer drama The Bridge, which premieres Wednesday. Cross joins Mexican detective Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) to hunt a killer who works on both sides of the El Paso-Juarez border, and her Asperger’s both helps and hinders.
“Yes, she has a condition [with] so many shortcomings in her personal life that appear because of that condition,” Kruger told THR in an interview with reporters. “Yet, she is so different in her job because she has this ability to focus and really look at things from a different point of view.”
The challenge of playing a character with the syndrome led Kruger to take the role of Det. Cross, which is also her first TV starring turn. “I never really had the desire to play a cop. I’m not really the gun-toting kind of person,” she said. But watching Bron, the Scandinavian series adapted into The Bridge by showrunners Meredith Stiehm and Elwood Reid, and its detective with Asperger’s, Kruger was intrigued by the subtle manifestations of the condition.
“As soon as I started reading up on it, I realized that this was a really daunting undertaking because it’s not something you can just put on. It’s a mind frame that I have to put myself into every day,” she said. “There’s not one single line in the dialogue that’s just a straight-up line.”
She had on-set guidance: FX connected with Autism Speaks, a U.S. autism awareness and research organization, and arranged for a young man with Asperger’s to advise Kruger during shooting. In addition to her own extensive research, Kruger says, she watched Alex Plank’s behavior on set and asked him “some pretty uncomfortable questions” about his condition.
“I’ve spent — I’m not kidding — more time with him in the past four months than I have with my partner and friends,” Kruger said. “I sleep easier at night knowing that he watches over everything I do.”
Cross is meticulous, direct, and prickly with her colleagues — but the writers decided early on not to name her condition. “We didn’t want her condition to be her defining character trait,” Kruger told reporters. Initially, she said, the mystery of Cross’ behavior drew her to the script. “I didn’t immediately understand Sonya’s character. It wasn’t quite on the page, so I was intrigued.”
Unlike Bron, The Bridge has crafted a backstory for Cross, its tragic details hinted at in the premiere. Her condition distances her emotionally from others, Kruger said: “There’s a lot of darkness and loneliness that Sonya carries around and has probably carried around for most of her life.”
Kruger, who most recently starred in the Stephenie Meyer adaptation The Host, also credited the cable TV renaissance for her shift to television. She named House of Cards, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Americans as favorite shows. “The quality of the writing surpasses most movies,” she said. In particular, she explained, those shows’ female characters provide actresses unparalleled opportunities for dramatic depth. “It seems to me that [female characters] thrive and the audiences are looking for characters like that, and it’s very exciting, I think, for women in general,” she said. “A character like [Cross] has never been offered to me in a movie.”
Repped by UTA, Kruger will also star in this year’s young Abraham Lincoln bio The Green Blade Rises and the 2014 atom bomb history Midnight Sun.
FX will premiere The Bridge Wednesday at 10 p.m. The pilot was written by Stiehm and Reid and directed by Gerardo Naranjo. It stars Ted Levine, Thomas M. Wright, Annabeth Gish and Matthew Lillard alongside Kruger and Bichir.
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