Diane Kruger goes to the dark side in The Bridge

The second season of The Bridge sees Diane Kruger’s character explored in greater depth. -- PHOTO: FOX
The second season of The Bridge sees Diane Kruger’s character explored in greater depth. -- PHOTO: FOX

After roles that rely on her looks, Diane Kruger dresses down to play drab detective in The Bridge

Her perfectly Teutonic features, rail-thin frame and tabloid-worthy romances have made Diane Kruger a fixture on red carpets and magazine pages for the better part of a decade.

But for much of that time, the actress did not really have the career to match her public profile. She hit a professional peak between 2004 and 2009, which was bookended by juicy roles in the films Troy and Inglourious Basterds. This was followed by a bunch of largely forgettable movie projects, although the former model was still in demand as a fashion and beauty spokesman for brands such as Chanel, Calvin Klein and L'Oreal.

Then a year ago came a complex dramatic role that she could finally sink her teeth into and prove her acting chops with once again. The only catch was that it was in a television show, The Bridge.

And it would mean playing an intensely unlikeable person: the abrasive, socially awkward American detective Sonya Cross, who is forced to work with her counterpart in the Mexican police force after a grisly murder is discovered along the United States-Mexico border.

Speaking to Life! at a Los Angeles screening for the show's second season, which airs in Singapore on Fox (SingTel mio TV Channel 330, StarHub TV Channel 505), the 37-year-old German star says becoming Sonya was definitely a departure, both in terms of her career and her own personality.

"So I saw this opportunity and I was really excited about it. And it's a little bit scary because it's definitely 'out there'," she says, referring to the explicitly dark, gory and sexual themes of the series, which had solid ratings in its first season in the United States, and picked up a Peabody Award and Critics' Choice Television Award for Most Exciting New Series last year.

But she cherishes the fact that this woman, whom viewers soon realise has Asperger's syndrome, is the sort who rarely exists on the big screen, where the pressure to attract large audiences leads to less risk-taking in terms of creating truly multi-dimensional female characters.

Kruger believes movie audiences would never accept a female protagonist with Asperger's, a developmental disorder that leaves people less able to socialise and communicate with others.

"We never mention Asperger's on the show, so for the first couple of episodes in Season 1, viewers did not like Sonya. It was like, 'What the hell's wrong with her, why is she so weird?'

"And that was a little scary too. It was like, 'Oh my god, did we make the right decision?'"

"Then as the season went on, people realised she had Asperger's, and it's gone 180 - like, people really started to think she's the coolest!" says Kruger, who was married to French actor-director Guillaume Canet from 2001 to 2006. Shortly after, she began dating her current partner, Dawson's Creek star Joshua Jackson, 36.

And after a career of roles that have leaned heavily on her looks - as the glamorous movie-star-turned-spy in the war comedy Inglourious Basterds, for example, or the dangerously beautiful Helen, whose face launched a thousand ships in Troy - she now dresses down to play the rather drab Sonya, who in Season 1 works with detective Marco Ruiz (Demian Bechir) to track down a serial killer.

The second season of The Bridge will see Sonya's character explored in even greater depth, she promises, as does creator and showrunner Elwood Reid.

At the screening, Reid tells reporters that he wants the series to grow and develop in other ways too because, frankly, he is "sick of serial killer shows".

Now that the first season is done, and the plot does not have to hew so closely to the Swedish/Danish original's any more, it will be free to explore the characters - and issues such as cross-border politics and the war on drugs - more meaningfully.

Fans can expect to see Sonya's difficulties with communication progress too. "You can't be cured of Asperger's, but you can evolve and learn social skills," says Kruger.

"You'll also see her go through a pretty dark journey."

As for her own journey, the performer is modest about the impact of this career-changing role.

Asked if she thinks it has changed the way the industry now sees her and created more opportunities for her professionally, she simply shrugs.

"I honestly have no idea. There are always plenty of opportunities. You can do only what you feel passionate about."

stlife@sph.com.sg

The Bridge Season 2 airs on Fox (StarHub TV Channel 505 and mio TV Channel 330) on Thursdays at 9.50pm.

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