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by laurie brookins | February 11, 2011 | People
Diane Kruger has just traded a yurt in the Himalayas for a hotel suite in Africa, and for more reasons than you’d think, she couldn’t be happier. “It was a lot harder than I anticipated,” Kruger says of the four weeks she spent living in the felt-covered, tentlike structure high in the mountains of Tajikistan as part of the filming for one of her two upcoming movies, Special Forces, in which she plays a French journalist kidnapped by the Taliban. “Eighteen-hour car rides, dirt roads that are not really roads, freezing cold at night, everyone is sleepdeprived, and everything is incredibly difficult and hard. I’ve broken down crying sometimes, but so have many of the boys.”
But would she do it all again? You bet. “It was also truly breathtaking, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” When we spoke in early November, filming had just shifted to Djibouti, a small country on the Horn of Africa. “Here it’s 120 degrees in the shade,” she says. Two-plus weeks in Djibouti would be followed by two weeks of filming in the French Alps, but it was clear the overall experience would stay with Kruger long after she wrapped.
“I researched the role for four months, interviewing female journalists who were kidnap victims, and I think it’s changed me as a person,” she says. “It’s as though I felt quite ignorant before this, or maybe it’s just part of growing up. I always thought I had a pretty accomplished life: a famous model who speaks three languages and keeps a place in Paris. [This role] has certainly put me in my place a little bit.”
Kruger's Unknown Territory
While Special Forces (costarring Djimon Hounsou and due out later this year) may be the most demanding of Kruger’s recent adventures, it’s just the latest chapter in a career that she’s enjoying more with each subsequent role. Next up: The thriller Unknown features Kruger opposite Liam Neeson as a coma patient who awakes to find someone else living his life. Kruger is the Bosnian immigrant compelled to help Neeson uncover the truth.
“I’m a pretty tough chick,” Kruger says about her role. “It’s really action-packed, a lot of running through streets with Liam Neeson, who’s just so tall and imposing. I felt like I looked like a child standing next to him. He brings that amazing presence, one of those faces that just comes alive on-screen.”
Much of Unknown’s filming took place in Berlin, a three-hour train ride from Kruger’s hometown of Algermissen in northern Germany. “We also filmed Inglourious Basterds there,” Kruger notes of Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 Oscar-winning film. “It’s pretty cool for me, cool for my family; my mom is able to visit. I’m from this little village of 5,000 people, so I feel incredibly lucky to have opportunities that can make something like that happen.”
In the Early Years
Kruger left that little village for Paris when she was 16. She had been training as a dancer with the London Royal Ballet in Germany when an injury sidelined her, and then modeling beckoned. Her segue into acting brought her to the attention of American audiences in 2004, when she appeared in two high-profile films: National Treasure and Troy. Kruger has fond memories of the latter for reasons beyond acting.
“I had modeled for Chanel quite a bit when I was younger, and I’ve known Karl [Lagerfeld] since I was 16,” she says. “When I started to act, they’d lend me clothes, and Karl designed a haute-couture gown for me that I wore to the premiere of Troy in Cannes. I still have the sketch. I look at him as a mentor.”
Kruger is a staple at the French house’s soirées, attending events such as the September relaunch of the label’s Soho boutique and the debut of its Cruise collection in St-Tropez in May. It was there that I first met Kruger: Chanel had organized a friendly game of pétanque, the Provençal version of bocce ball, between editors, Chanel staffers and other guests, and as teams were eliminated, I and a bunch of Australians found ourselves squaring off against Kruger’s team, which included her longtime boyfriend, Joshua Jackson. Both were excellent players, and it was clear she wanted to win; then again, you don’t become one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood if you’re not a little competitive. Hence Kruger’s reaction when reminded that my team had bested hers: “OK, I’m hanging up on you now.”
The Theatre Beckons
Kruger is kidding, but maybe only a little, and promises are made for a rematch on the bocce-ball courts of the Place des Vosges in Paris’ Marais district. Kruger hopes to spend more time in Paris later this year as she embarks on her first theater venture—a French version of James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce, reportedly set to premiere in January 2012. Though it’s her first major theater role, she is undaunted; after all, what’s a stage after four weeks in Tajikistan?
Her suite in Djibouti may be vastly more comfy than that yurt on the mountaintop—“Open the Champagne,” she’s instructing a friend, whose birthday party is kicking into gear as our conversation winds down—yet it’s clear she wouldn’t trade the Himalayas for all the five-star hotels on the planet. “It’s one of the most difficult parts I’ve tackled, but I’m thrilled about that,” she says. “Before Inglourious Basterds, I was just thought of as the fresh, young European actress. But now I’m in a really good place where interesting projects are coming along, and this one, well, I’m incredibly proud of it. This is a love project.”
photographs by don flood. Styling by Ryan Hastings. Makeup by Georgie Eisdell for Armani at Exclusive Artists. Hair by Andy LeCompte for soloartists.com. Manicure by Tom Bachik for Chanel at Cloutier Remix
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