Diane Kruger Is No Longer the Ingénue
“I’m really grateful” is something I hear about a dozen times in various forms during my hour-long Zoom call with Diane Kruger—be it for the unexpected opportunity to spend a year at home with her daughter and fiancé, actor Norman Reedus, during lockdown; the honor of having gowns custom-made for her by close friends like Prabal Gurung and the late Karl Lagerfeld; or the chance to work with “really kick-ass women who are all mothers and working and successful at what they do” in her latest project The 355. The female-led action flick—in which she, along with Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, and Penélope Cruz, is put in charge of saving, well, everyone from World War III—is one of six projects in the works for the 45-year-old actress. And if all that (in addition to styling herself into one of fashion’s most prolific dressers) wasn’t enough, she’s also a mom, the kind who wakes up “so bloody early” to take their daughter to school in sweatpants and spends a majority of their time hitting up local NYC playgrounds. In short, Kruger is busy with a capital B. Though, you’ll never hear her complain about it.
The 355, which, after a two-year delay due to COVID-19, comes out on January 7, is a film that holds a special place in Kruger’s heart. That is primarily because it was her first project back after having her daughter. “Making an action film right after giving birth felt so daunting,” says Kruger. “That was my first time away from home—from Norman and the family—and taking a baby to work and [figuring out] how that was gonna work out. So I was very anxious.” The feeling didn’t last long, however. Ultimately, Kruger likened the project to a dream come true. “In my career, I’ve mostly only made films with other men. I’m the girl in a movie, you know? So just to be part of that group [of women] felt really amazing,” she says. “And to be able to have lunch with my 8-month-old … and then go out and kick ass was kind of like the best of both worlds.”
Though she has starred in male-dominated action projects before, including Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and the FX series The Bridge, Kruger says The 355 was her first real experience with the genre and her first with a cast primarily made up of women. (Sebastian Stan plays the charming—in the evil way—villain in the movie.) “It’s a different way of making films,” she says. “But it’s very empowering.” Every day, Kruger and her co-stars would warm up with a round of boxing, followed by choreography led by the stunt team, who taught them how to fight and shoot in ways that would look best on film. “You feel like you’re in control of your body, in control of the situation, and it’s really fun,” she says. “It just adds a layer of excitement. Then especially having [it be] girl on girl, I felt [like] it was fun to kick Jessica’s ass. We tried to one-up each other.”
Kruger plays Marie Schmidt in the film, a German intelligence agent with a dark backstory and a certain edginess that the actress, who was born and raised in Algermissen, near Hildesheim, Germany, says is “very typically German.” “She’s very tough and dry and fierce,” Kruger adds, likening her younger self to Marie. “When I was younger, I was definitely a loner. I didn’t like to do stuff in big groups or have a big team around me and, you know, trust a lot of people in my life,” she says. It was during this stage that she left home, first to study ballet at the Royal Ballet School in London and later to pursue a modeling career in Paris when she was just 15 years old.
Though her career was short-lived, Kruger found ample success in the modeling world, starring in campaigns for houses such as Chanel and Giorgio Armani and walking in runway shows for Yves Saint Laurent, Dries Van Noten, and Marc Jacobs alongside Naomi Campbell and Stella Tennant. Not long after she began modeling, Kruger’s growing interest in acting took her to the Cours Florent, a drama school in Paris. But the contacts she made in the fashion world stuck, allowing her to become one of the few best dressed celebrities in Hollywood who don’t use a stylist.
“I come from modeling, so I knew a lot of the designers—I know a lot of the designers—so it seemed, you know, easy to just call them and ask them if I could wear one of their dresses,” Kruger says of her decision to stop using a stylist in the early stages of her career. But it wasn’t all a matter of convenience. Rather, Kruger, like so many of us, is a fangirl when it comes to fashion. “I love watching the runways,” she says in an almost giddy way. “I go online, and I see all the collections, [and] I try to look out for new designers. I just love it.” Then, when an occasion arises, she rifles through her saved folders full of sartorial screengrabs, picks a look that she thinks could work, and asks the designer if it’s available. “Sometimes, it is; sometimes, it’s not. But that’s really how it is,” she says. “Sometimes, if it’s a special occasion where a designer would make something for you, that’s really fun because, usually, I call them myself, and I tell them, ‘I would love something in this vein. What do you think?’ [Then,] they make sketches, and you get to choose so many things. It’s like getting married 50 times over.”
When I liken the experience to a dream, Kruger is quick to agree: “And it still is. That’s never changed. It’s such a joy. And you know, you feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”
One of the first times that dream became a reality occurred ahead of her Cannes Film Festival debut back in 2004. “A moment that I really loved … was for Troy way back when, and Karl Lagerfeld, who I was really close with and friendly with, designed [a] dress for me,” Kruger explains. “Karl was kind of notorious for not wanting to dress celebrities on the red carpet. He didn’t care. He just wanted to make nice clothes, [so] he never really made anything for anyone.” Even so, after working with Kruger during her modeling years, Lagerfeld made an exception for her. “I remember being very young … and going into his office, and he said, ‘Well, what do you want?’ and I told him, ‘I don’t know. Blue I love and, you know, maybe a little ’50s inspired,’ and he literally [sketched] it in front of me,” she recalls. In fact, she even made adjustments. “[It’s] so crazy, you know? That I requested [something]. Now, when I think back, it’s like the audacity of me to be like, ‘I don’t know. How about this sleeve, Karl?’” Nonetheless, it came out perfect in the end. “Now when I look at those pictures, it feels like a coming-out moment for me,” she says.
There are some occasions where Kruger calls on a stylist, particularly Micaela Erlanger, who works with Kruger’s 355 co-star Lupita Nyong’o as well as Ana de Armas and Meryl Streep. “It’s mostly for time-consuming purposes because I don’t have the time today to wait for the FedEx to arrive with a dress or go to a tailor if I need tailoring,” she says. “It’s like a one-stop shop. So I use [Erlanger] if I have a big tour like The 355 coming up, but if it’s just an event that I want to go to, I most likely would just call the designer myself.”
But even Kruger—who is seldom left out of any best dressed roundup—wasn’t immune to the sweatsuit craze that lockdown catalyzed. “The sweatpants and stuff came out strong,” she says, laughing when I ask if she ever dressed up at home just for the hell of it. “No, no, I think [Norman and I] were comparing what sweatpants we should order.” Almost two years later, though, she’s more than ready to turn it on again. “I think the ritual of getting ready and putting on some makeup and nice clothing is… [There’s] just something about it that makes you feel like you’re giving importance to that time,” Kruger says. Still, getting back to her pre-pandemic and pre-motherhood style isn’t a given now that things are going back to some semblance of normalcy. “I spend every afternoon either on a playground or chauffeuring my kid to and from ballet or whatnot, so [my style] is more basic than it used to be,” she says. “But I have a closet full of beautiful stuff. I gave up my place in Paris a couple of years ago, so [everything has] been in boxes, and they just all arrived, and I’ve been unpacking. I used to be so stylish, and I have such nice stuff, so I told myself literally this weekend that I don’t care. I’m going to pick up [my daughter] in my Prada outfit. I don’t give a damn. I’m doing it.”
Even if she does stay true to her promise to don Prada in the carpool line, it’s unlikely you’ll get the chance to see it, at least not up close. While Kruger can’t necessarily help it if paparazzi follow her and her family around, she’s been adamant about protecting her daughter from the public eye ever since she was born in 2018, specifically keeping her name and birthday from the press. “When my daughter was born, everything crashes in on you,” she explains. “It just feels like you’re responsible for someone else’s life, and they have no tools or weapons or whatever to defend themselves. Not that they’re under attack, but… They should have the opportunity to discover the world as innocently as they can, in my opinion, and not be judged by the way they look or who their parents are or, you know, by a grown man following them around taking pictures.”
Though a lot about her perspective on fame changed when her daughter was born, that occasion wasn’t the first time that she saw the not-so-glamorous side of the career path she started on nearly two decades ago. “It was a steep learning process,” she tells me. “You can live easily in this bubble, where you’re just around other actors or people in the industry, and you get treated like the next Christ coming because of a stupid movie you made. I think it took me a while to learn perspective on life and who I really am and what I stand for.” According to Kruger, it’s tempting in her industry, especially when you’re young, to surround yourself with what she calls “yes people,” or people who will lift you up for just about anything, even if it’s undeserved. “It feels good, but you just have to grow up sometimes and realize that you’re not that great all the time,” she says matter-of-factly.
It’s that straightforward mentality that’s gotten her this far in her career and, quite frankly, her life. Today, Kruger is looking for a new kind of role, one that’s more diverse, as opposed to always playing the girl in a movie. “I’m too old now to play the ingénue. And not that that was not fun when I was at that age, but now, the spectrum of what it means to be a woman has become larger, and that’s really interesting,” Kruger says. She’s also taking more control over her career and her time, explaining that she now cherry-picks her jobs more than she ever did. She only takes roles that allow her to shoot many of her scenes in a short time period, permitting her to be home as much as possible while still pursuing a livelihood that she loves. “I feel like times have changed for women of my age,” Kruger says, her face lighting up (and not just from the glow of her computer screen) as she says it.
For Kruger, 2022 is full of uncharted territory, but I don’t get the feeling that dodging a challenge is an activity she, like her character in The 355, is particularly familiar with. On the contrary, Kruger is facing the untold facets of her future with nothing but excitement: “I don’t want to miss anything.”