Diane Kruger: 'It's kind of nice to be out of America for a bit'
The actress talks hotel-room ‘castings’, playing Kellyanne Conway and her modern take on marriage
‘It’s awesome,’ says Diane Kruger with a sigh, looking out across the rooftops of Paris, her pale blue eyes lit by a burst of winter sun. She and her fiancé, the actor Norman Reedus, have been taking time out from Hollywood to spend a year enjoying la vie Parisienne with their four-year-old daughter, Nova.
‘It’s a different way of life here. Also I find, right now, America is very divided, and – not that Europe doesn’t have its own problems, but it’s kind of nice to be out of America for a bit. And I always wanted that for Nova – she’s half German, after all.’
Kruger is trilingual: German by birth, adopted darling of the French film industry, and a part-time American star with perfect, unaccented English. Is it any wonder Tarantino cast her as a spy in Inglourious Basterds? She is formidably smart as well as utterly gorgeous, the kind of blonde, to quote Raymond Chandler, to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.
After her first big break, as Helen in the 2004 epic Troy, her natural authority won her parts as a history professor (in National Treasure and its sequel, opposite Nicolas Cage), a queen (Marie Antoinette in the French language film Les Adieuxàla Reine) and a Hollywood sociopath (the television series Swimming with Sharks, from 2021).
Her typecasting could easily have been ‘glacial’, but she started to set her own agenda, choosing parts calling for empathy and tenderness, such as the German revenge tragedy In the Fade, for which she won the Cannes award for Best Actress in 2017. She is currently hoping to co-produce an ‘ambitious’ television project in which she is to play Marlene Dietrich.
Meeting her off-duty in Paris, as she tries on Chaumet jewels for the camera, I find her informal and contented, much more relaxed than the fledgeling star first I met in 2005. She whizzes around Paris on a hired electric scooter, and relishes the local food – halfway through our photoshoot, cast and crew all sit down for a feast, Kruger choosing creamy mushroom risotto, Coke Zero, and fresh bread, while chatting in French with the team.
I catch the odd phrase about parties, gossip and jewels. ‘I love Chaumet’s artisanal feel,’ she says. ‘It’s less mass produced than some of the big names and it’s a family proposition, going down the generations. I love their history –’ Chaumet’s Joséphine range, which she wears for the shoot, references its work commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte for his Empress – ‘and their archives are amazing.’
Sitting opposite me in a stripy yellow ribbed top like a glamorous bee, with three-quarter-length jeans and biker boots, she says, ‘I definitely feel a little more stylish in France. In America I barely get my pyjamas off, I just put on a coat and walk Nova to nursery. For me, America’s either very high-end glam, or not. Here there’s just a normal chicness that everybody has. What’s in stores is different, people are much more put-together, I enjoy seeing all these good-shaped coats…’
When she spoke about America being divided, what did she mean? ‘Don’t misunderstand me, I love America. But although it’s politically divided for sure, also the baseline of morality and common sense seems to be lost a little, everyone feels at one another’s throats and everything is politicised. It feels like the country’s not functioning properly.’
Her home used to be New York, but she says violence and homelessness ticked up. She plays Trump’s publicist Kellyanne Conway in a sassy little take-down skit I found online. ‘It doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat, it was just unbelievable what was happening before our eyes,’ she says, referring to what she saw as an Orwellian repurposing of language – for example the slippery renaming of a lie as an ‘alternative fact’. She laughs. ‘It’s not funny
any more. It seems to me like there’s been an acceleration since the Trump presidency of what is acceptable and what is said. But things can change so quickly, for better or worse.’
The film industry has been through upheavals of its own lately, too. Does she feel more respect now? ‘I always felt respected.’ With a place on juries in Cannes, as well as power in Hollywood, she has perhaps been part of changing the industry to become more fair to women?
‘Change really has to come from the top, and so when I say, OK, I’m not doing castings in a hotel room, that doesn’t really change things, but when the Screen Actors Guild has a rule that no castings can be held in a hotel room, that’s change.’
It has to be systemic. ‘Right. And I think people are put on guard now, because a space has been created for complaints.’ Love struck after she met Reedus in 2015 on the set of Sky, an American road movie written and directed by Kruger’s friend the French auteur Fabienne Berthaud.
‘We’ve made three films together,’ she says of Berthaud; Kruger has a producing credit on them all. ‘She holds the camera herself. When we first came together she was not so great at scriptwriting, and I produce things on a more creative level. I think I have a good eye for storytelling, I’m good in the edit. I really trust her and I respect her vision.’
Rare to work with a female auteur; rarer still to find that your wild-card co-star turns out to be your soul mate. She could never have predicted that was going to happen? ‘I know, right? And I hope it never happens again!’
Kruger had already had a short-lived marriage, aged 21, to the French actor and director Guillaume Canet (now partner of Marion Cotillard), and a 10-year relationship with heartthrob Joshua Jackson of Dawson’s Creek. But Reedus, 53, is a whole other box of oranges, a free-spirit photographer, motorcyclist and novelist, best known for his role as zombie hunter Daryl Dixon in the television drama The Walking Dead. With 11 series completed, he is now shooting a follow-up, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon.
‘He’s filming his spin-off here in Paris, by pure coincidence,’ says Diane, beaming. He has got her into motorcycling, and the pair spent a lot of the summer ‘exploring the south of France, on country roads, with no music but the sound of the wind…’ She has an American licence, but in France rides pillion with Reedus. ‘I prefer it, to be honest, I love being
a passenger. I don’t have to worry about crashing, I just cling, and yet it’s a solitary experience: you’re in your own head…’
Before the arrival oftheir daughter, Nova Tennessee, in 2018, Diane was already step-mother to Reedus’s son, Mingus, with the Danish model Helena Christensen.
‘Mingus was 16 when we met, although his mom and I already knew one another. I’ve known her longer than I’ve known Norman.’ (Kruger began modelling in her teenage days, and they both walked for Dries Van Noten.)
‘When I became a mom myself, I didn’t expect to love it quite as much as I do. I mean, I wanted to have a child, and I thought I would like it, but I’m quite taken with all aspects of it.’ Kruger’s voice is full of laughter.
‘My favourite time is to be with her reading books. It blows my mind to see her mind blown…’
Will Nova be multilingual too? ‘We’ll see, we’ll hopefully try. I speak German to her and hopefully she’s going to pick up some French, fingers crossed.’
Since modelling internationally at an early age, and spending weeks in London with the Royal Ballet School as a child, Kruger has always been a nomad. ‘I think it’s a huge privilege to live a travelled life. But now I’d always rent a house or apartment, so Nova has a base that feels like home. I think it’s important she has stuff around her, not just toys but the books and bedding and artwork that make a home. I have a library in every house.’
Kruger has, as it happens, written a children’s book, A Name from the Sky (£16.99 to download on Google Play) for Nova, telling her how she got her name: ‘Nova, for the star that brings light on the darkest nights… And Tennessee, for the beautiful Smoky Mountains where her father and I waited for her to arrive, wondering what she would be like.’
The book delves into Kruger’s own childhood, too – for example, the pet rabbit she took to school on a string. ‘That’s true, I did that with my rabbit Benny,’ she says. Is the rabbit your spirit animal? ‘I don’t know about that, but he didn’t talk back.’
‘Growing up, I was an uneasy child. I felt at odds with the world, I think a lot of children do.’ Her school in Algermissen, Lower Saxony, was not artistic. ‘It wasn’t a school that encouraged other ways of thinking. That’s why they kicked me out, right?’ What happened? ‘I had been away for two months modelling, and even though when I came back I passed my exams, the principal said, “You’re missing too much class, either quit all this or finish school.” I thought it was so unfair that this guy said I had to give up on my dreams just so he could tick his boxes, right?’
Her mother came to the rescue by giving her permission to leave. ‘She said, “OK, take a sabbatical and go follow your
dreams.” That was something that I remembered when I became a mom…I feel the opportunity and the responsibility towards Nova to encourage her to live her life, whatever that may be, and not feeling like she’s always being held back – ’ here she adds wryly, ‘while also growing up with rules.’
Diane recently told Madame Figaro that Norman is un papa-gâteau – what does that mean? ‘He spoils her, he’s very much wrapped around her finger. He had a boy already, which was great, and he was so excited to have a girl. It’s very different, I think, seeing him with her and the unconditional love, y’know.’ So it falls to Maman to provide the discipline? She laughs.
Kruger’s own childhood was marred by the alcoholism of her father. She has spoken about how her parents’ divorce when she was 13 weighed heavy. ‘Je n’ai pas vraiment eu de père,’ she has said.
Living in France has allowed Nova to be close to Diane’s family, her mother, Maria-Theresa, and brother, Stefan, and I wonder if a reconciliation with her father might ever be possible. ‘No, no, I’m past the point of being angry, and I’m not interested in going back there, put it that way.’ She flashes an intense look. ‘One makes choices. I don’t know if you can ever really get over it, but you can stick in the past or you can move on and write your own history.’ She is clearly doing the latter.
Diane, Norman and Nova will be in Paris for Christmas. Brought up Catholic, Kruger is no longer observant but likes to celebrate ‘the German way,to the big chagrin of Norman’, she says, smiling. ‘In Germany the main event is the night of the 24th. You decorate the tree on the 23rd or 24th, but you don’t put the lights on, and the door to that room is locked until the afternoon of the 24th. Then, ding-ding-ding! We ring a little bell. And the door opens and Christmas happens: you go in and it all goes on, the lights, the music.
She is getting ready to collect Nova from school. ‘I’ve finished filming for the year, so I have almost two months off, and we don’t have a nanny over here, so… it’s very “grounding”.’ I know that when I see her next, it will be as Jessica Lange’s daughter in the forthcoming Marlowe, the Neil Jordan take on John Banville’s rewriting of Raymond Chandler. It will be hard reconciling the brittle heiress onscreen with the warm person I’ve encountered today.
One more question. What would she like for Christmas? ‘We just got engaged, a year ago, so it feels like jewellery-wise I’m well covered. Norman is very generous.’ She isn’t wearing her engagement ring. ‘It’s lovely, it’s beautiful, it’s stunning – a solitaire diamond. When I was younger, jewellery didn’t matter much to me, but now when I open my jewellery box it’s like my life is there. I have pieces my grandma gave me before she passed, as well as what I received from Norman for my daughter’s birth… And if you get a job you work really hard for, you reward yourself.’ She giggles. ‘Well, I do!’