Q & A: Diane Kruger Talks ‘The Bridge’ and the Complexities of Playing a Character with Aspergers
FX’s crime drama The Bridge is back for its second season. Starring Demian Bichir and Diane Kruger, the show follows Detectives Sonya Cross (Kruger) and her Mexican counterpart, Marco Ruiz (Bichir) as they investigate the death of a cartel member whose body was found on U.S. soil.
This show also stars Ted Levine, Matthew Lillard, Emily Rios, Thomas M. Wright, Annabeth Gish, Franka Potente, Nathan Phillips, Abraham Benrubi and Lyle Lovett.
Kruger’s character has Asperger’s and said in a recent conference call that the role has been a challenge. “Obviously, people who have Asperger’s have emotions; it is just that they are delayed and come out in the most unexpected moments,” she said.
In the interview below, she talks about the complexities of the role, working in television for the first time and having to bring her mind to dark places.
The Bridge airs Wednesdays at 10pm on FX
Sonya is such an unconventional female character, it’s also very restrictive in the range of emotions you can play; how do you take such an emotionally-stoic role and make it personally satisfying as an actor?
Diane Kruger: It’s been a real challenge, not just for me, but I think also for, you know, the writers, for Elwood and the writing team to continue to evolve her character and to give her storylines where she can show emotion and nuance. . Season 2, we will get to see a lot of Sonya’s personal life and her relationship with Ted Levine’s character and Demian’s character, obviously, tested. It’s a very dark and quite emotional season for her, so it’s been very satisfying.
Do you know why they didn’t mention her condition specifically in Season 1 that she has Asperger’s?
Diane Kruger: That was part of, I think, what they learned from the Scandinavian original show. They never mentioned it either, and I think it was a great decision because I think just because she has Asperger’s, people don’t go around telling people, you know, “I’m Sonya Cross. I have Asperger’s.” It was just, you know, a way of peaking hopefully everyone’s interest and sort of making that assumption and diagnosis for themselves.
What are you looking forward to learning more about your character and, you know, what do you think is the most intriguing aspect of the topics of the show?
Diane Kruger: Well, you know, Sonya herself is a very complex character to play, and like I mentioned earlier, the real challenge is to give a really nuance performance and really pushing, not just the radars, but also pushing myself to make sure that we see a very complete picture of a woman living with Asperger’s, and yet, I’m, of course, always intrigued. I learn so much from the show about storylines that actually happen on the border. A lot of our stories are inspired by real-life events, and, you know, it’s a very volatile area, as you know. The stories that I read about and learn about are often discussed, not just on set, but when we get sort of the pitches for the next upcoming episodes, so I’m always intrigued by that. It’s been a very satisfying experience working on a show that is politically relevant and quite timey.
What do you think sets your character apart from some of the other roles that you’ve played in the past?
Diane Kruger: Hopefully, every character that I take on as I grow older becomes more interesting, and, obviously, as I grow older, I have more to bring to the table and more experiences that I’ve lived myself, so I’m hoping that I can color my characters more and more. Sonya’s certainly been very challenging and continues to be so, and it’s been a very satisfying season so far. I feel like we really get to learn a lot about her.
How did you go about getting the nuances of someone with Asperger’s because to me it can be a really challenging role to pull off without going over the top?
Diane Kruger: Yes. That continues to be really daunting for me, you know? The research on it was really intense before we started Season 1, and then being able to be around someone who has Asperger’s for a long time, very high functioning, but was very interesting to be able to just observe his limitations sometimes. He has evolved enough that I could ask him when he comes to certain limits what is going through his mind, why he’s behaving certain ways, and what is it that makes him uncomfortable right now, so I felt like whenever I’m do stemming or certain takes or I have to say lines that’s kind of awkward, that they are informed. Then, now, I feel like in Season 2, because I know the character better and I just know so much more and have met so many more people who have Asperger’s, I feel like I can make it my own a little bit because, as I’m sure you know, not everybody is the same who has Asperger’s and [indiscernible] very differently in different people. I’m really comfortable now also to push Sonya because I think she wants to learn and be better socially, and she’s not a child anymore. I think the writers have been really, really good this season about giving me the opportunity to branch out and to show how she evolves, yet still obviously having Asperger’s, but like where she’s trying to be different.
Do you ever come across any moments that make you uncomfortable, but you know that’s what a person would do; they put themselves in some kind of awkward situations?
Diane Kruger: Yes. Here’s the thing like sometimes I have to fight or I find myself being very protective of her because I think it’s natural for the directors or even for people who observe a scene while it’s being filmed to want something that is a little safer, let’s say. For example, we did a scene where somebody dies, you know, it’s a very beautiful sort of teary-eyed scene. Then, somebody touches my character, like it’s on the shoulder, and in that moment, as you know, and they feel out of control or helpless, they can be really overreacting. One of the notes that I got from my Asperger’s advisor was like she would completely overreact in this situation and probably scream at this person, so I did the scene and it was quite extreme. My writer, who was on set the day, was like, “Well, maybe we should do one where she’s not so angry,” and I kept saying, “No, no. We have to have it this way,” so I find myself really trying to protect the integrity, you know, that we have, even though I know it’s going to make people uncomfortable, but we’re just going to have to be okay with that.
You film in Los Angeles. What I always appreciated is somebody from Texas was the feel of the border that you’ve captured in the series. It seems like a character in itself, and I was wondering do you film at all in El Paso, Mexico still or how does that work?
Diane Kruger: No. Not really anymore. We shot a little bit there for the pilot, and then, obviously, we have the role that goes down to El Paso and Mexico on a frequent basis. There are talks about going back for the finale maybe to film a couple days there, but L.A.—I mean [indiscernible] Desert is a pretty good match for El Paso and Juarez.
Did you film at all in El Paso in the pilot?
Diane Kruger: Yes. I did. Yes.
Does that help you get into the feel of the drama of the serious because it’s so Texas?
Diane Kruger: Definitely. Actually, people say El Paso is quite different from what the rest of Texas is like, supposedly, but, yes, it’s a very unique place. I got to walk the Bridge of the Americas into Juarez. Because I’m not an American, I was surprised how close those two countries were, and what a real difference culturally that that divider of the bridge really is, like how you truly are in a different country just crossing a bridge, so I don’t know, I get a real sense of the place [indiscernible] and Juarez. It was great.
What was your first reaction when you read Sonya’s character and how have you come to embrace her?
Diane Kruger: Well, I knew the original show, so I kind of knew that she had Asperger’s and who she was and I watched the show, so if anything, I thought it was fascinating to see the adaptations in America and Mexico. I think when you see the original, we all felt like we needed an emotional outlet because in the original show, she’s even more black and white. You never see anything of her personal life, which is where the whole sister back story came from. I think that’s a great tool in Season 1, and in Season 2, like I said, all of us feel more comfortable in evolving Sonya. It is a great challenge because she does have Asperger’s, but we all feel like we’ve made it our own now. She’s grown up quite a bit for Season 2.
This has certainly become sort of the main preeminent form of artistic expression now, this type of TV, you know, 10, 11, 12, 13 episodes, very intense type of show, and some actors really seem to shine in it, like yourself. Can you talk a little bit about this type of TV that you didn’t know before? Why your skill set works so well in it? Maybe even has it improved your acting, has it changed you acting at all? I’m giving you permission to not be humble.
Diane Kruger: Well, I don’t know anything about television. I’d never done it before. Initially, it was quite daunting, you know, to take on so much challenge and so much time with it. I think it is a great outlet for an actress because you really have 13 hours to bring a character to life, so much more than in the film, and you have the luxury of time to tell a story and to really color a character. I’m not sure that this kind of character would’ve been offered to me in a movie: (A) because people with Asperger’s are not necessarily the lead in a film. They’re often sort of used as comic relief or they’d be the odd guy that shows up every once in a while.
That’s the other thing; television is a great tool for women. As you know, the best female roles, I think, are often on television, so it’s a very exciting time. Yes. No. I’ve really embraced it. Like I said, I think I said it last year, the pace is great and then also not so great sometimes because you feel like I have to make sure I have to pay attention at all times to not let anything slip through. The change of directors, for me, was very difficult to grasp in Season 1. I’m getting better this season because we have a lot of directors returning from last year, so there’s not this getting to know period as much, and I enjoy it. I have a great time. I love my costars. I feel like you lean on them heavily. You lean heavily on crew much more than you would do in a film, and it really does feel like you’re in this like boat together, and you all have to keep the ship running.
There have been scenes of the course of the show that have been very intense, and I can’t imagine what it’s like for you actually doing the scene, but I do imagine that you have to let your mind go to like really dark places. What are some of those dark places or the darkest places that you’ve allowed yourself to go to kind of do the scene and dive into your character’s psyche?
Diane Kruger: Well, for me, the [indiscernible] thing for my character is so obsessed with dead people. I think she gets along better with dead people than she does living creatures.
That part hasn’t been so difficult for me to shoot up. I think because she is such an emotionally-restrained character, whenever there is a scene where I show emotion, it is truly heartbreaking to see someone who is seemingly a bit aloof or nothing really shocks her or touches her and then having some scene where you just see the loneliness of this person, those are sometimes really hard scenes. It’s weird even for the crew sometimes when I have to do a scene—it catches them off guard because often they are in moments that are not what a person without Asperger’s would be emotional at. It’s a really nice character.