In the Lead
Whether she’s throwing herself into secret service training or doing a complete one-eighty on motherhood and marriage, DIANE KRUGER embraces the curveballs that life throws at her. She talks about her next chapter and the dark side of celebrity with JANE MULKERRINS
In the second trimester of Diane Kruger’s recent pregnancy – her daughter with her partner, actor Norman Reedus, was born in October – the German actress was about as far from putting her feet up as it’s possible to imagine. Instead of slowing down, she was in Tel Aviv, undergoing intensive training to play a Mossad agent – the same training one would be given to actually become an agent in the notoriously tough Israeli intelligence service – for her role in upcoming film The Operative.
“We had to do some strange things,” says Kruger. “Like having to convince a stranger in the street to walk you somewhere, and having to knock on someone’s door and convince them to let you into their home.” Her cover was that she was a tourist in the city. “And if you act believably, most people will go out of their way to help you,” she muses. “But I found it really hard to lie to people like that.” More nerve-wracking still, she says, was being made to travel on a false passport through airport security. “There was a real possibility of getting arrested. It was terrifying.”
“I didn’t think I wanted CHILDREN for a long time. I was too SELFISH. But by the time I got to about 35, I thought, yes, I do want one. But then you have to wait for the RIGHT person to come along”
However uncomfortable she may find them, lies and deception are very much the themes of 42-year-old Kruger’s upcoming film slate. Alongside The Operative, she will soon be seen in Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy, the eagerly anticipated story of the elaborate hoax that fooled both Hollywood and the publishing industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. ‘JT LeRoy’ (played on screen by Kristen Stewart) was presented as a literary wunderkind and the author of several supposedly semi-autobiographical books detailing a luridly hardscrabble childhood. In reality, ‘he’ was an entirely fictitious character, created by writer Laura Albert, and played – in glasses and a wig – by her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop. Knoop (portrayed by Laura Dern) co-wrote the screenplay.
In a film that is already deeply meta, Kruger’s character, Eva, is mind-bogglingly so: a conniving, manipulative European movie star obsessed with LeRoy and determined to secure the rights to his novel (she is, in part, based on the actress and director Asia Argento, who befriended LeRoy and directed the adaptation of his story The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.) “Celebrities would flock to JT’s readings – they all wanted a part of this guy who seems to be so pure and ‘authentic’,” says Kruger, with an expression of slight disdain. “Celebrity culture is so ugly – or it can be, anyway – and that story really highlights that.”
One gets the distinct impression that Kruger’s own relationship with celebrity is, at best, ambivalent. She became paparazzi fodder largely thanks to her ten-year relationship with former Dawson’s Creek actor Joshua Jackson; when they split in 2016, the internet went into overdrive, proclaiming that society was truly broken now this golden couple were no more. In the wake of that breakup, she said: “I will never talk about my relationship ever again…I feel like I share enough of my life with everyone. Some things have got to stay more concealed now.” She and Reedus have decided not to share their daughter’s name with the media for as long as they can manage.
“Celebrities would flock to JT LeRoy’s readings – they all wanted a PART of this guy who seemed ‘AUTHENTIC’. Celebrity culture can be so UGLY and that story really highlights that”
But while she may be avoiding unnecessary media exposure, Kruger remains a mainstay on best-dressed lists, often clad in outfits by her coterie of close designer friends, including Karl Lagerfeld, Jason Wu and Giambattista Valli, most of whom she has known since back in her modeling days two decades ago. Today, though, it’s a far more low-key Kruger who arrives at the cafe in Manhattan’s West Village, around the corner from the brownstone she and Reedus share. She is bundled up in a huge beige MaxMara coat, makeup-free, with her hair tucked into a baker-boy cap. “I’ve showered for you!” she announces gleefully, peeling off her coat to reveal jeans and a striped polo neck. “I’ve definitely made an effort – this is the best I’ve looked in about two months.” Reedus – aka zombie-slaying tracker Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead – is watching the baby while she has ducked out. “I didn’t think I wanted children for a long time. I was too selfish,” she says. “But by the time I got to about 35, I thought, yes, I probably do want one. But then you have to wait for the right person to come along.”
“Never say NEVER [to marriage]. I would have a party. I’d like to wear a nice DRESS. But I’m not religious and I’m financially independent – I don’t need ANYONE for that”
Reedus, whom she has been in a relationship with since shortly after her breakup with Jackson, also has a 19-year-old son, Mingus, with his former partner, the model Helena Christensen. The Danish-Peruvian supermodel also lives in the neighborhood; they just spent Christmas all together, and will be spending the coming weekend together, too, celebrating Reedus’ 50th birthday.
Kruger was married once, in 2001, aged 23, to French actor and director Guillaume Canet. They divorced in 2006, and she has since commented that marriage is something one should only do when very old, after having spent a lifetime with someone. “Never say never,” she smiles. “I would have a party. I’d like to wear a nice dress. But I’m not religious, so that aspect of marriage doesn’t mean anything to me. There’s obviously a financial security that comes with marriage, but I’m financially independent – I don’t need anyone for that.”
Kruger grew up in the small village of Algermissen, in northern Germany. Her mother worked in a bank, and her father was a cinema projectionist. He was also an alcoholic, and they divorced when Kruger was in her early teens. She’d been an aspiring dancer, spending summers at the Royal Ballet School in London. “But the minute my body started changing, I was falling behind – I just wasn’t good enough.” An injury at 13 put paid to any remaining aspirations. “A blessing in disguise. It’s a hard life,” she shrugs.
At 15, she won Germany’s Elite Model Look contest and, after a series of test shoots, was sent to Paris on a job. “And I just kind of never came back,” she says. “I saw a different world, and it was awesome.” She laughs heartily now, at the notion of allowing her own daughter to do anything similar. “I cannot believe my Mum let me go. I credit her with everything I have in life, because if she didn’t have faith in me and trust me, there’s no way I would be where I am today. But there were no cellphones, I had no credit card, there was no chaperone, I didn’t speak any French.” She sips on her cappuccino and shakes her head. “No, my daughter will not be doing that.”
Though her modeling career was successful and lucrative – she appeared on the cover of magazines including German Vogue and French Elle, and starred in campaigns for the likes of Chanel and Giorgio Armani – “it just got boring after a while. And being judged only on your physical appearance all the time seemed very redundant.”
Her Parisian base allowed her to study acting at the historic theater school Cours Florent, and in the years since, she has established a solid career in France, where she is considered one of the country’s premier actresses. She has recently begun to be seen as a serious actress in her native Germany, too. In the Fade, her first ever German-language film, in which she played a woman whose husband and son are killed in a terrorist attack, won her the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2017. “It really connected me to my German roots again,” says Kruger. “I hadn’t lived there for 25 years, but being there again and speaking the language every day – I know they’re my people.”
“Norman is so CALM, and he teaches me a lot. There’s definitely SOMETHING to be said for being with someone who is [being a parent] for the SECOND time”
In spite of some high-profile roles, such as that of German actress and double agent Bridget von Hammersmark in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, English-speaking parts of a similar depth have yet to come her way. “It’s fine, though,” she says. “I think as you grow older, you learn that things come to you when you’re ready for them.” Likewise, she says, regarding motherhood. “I’m glad I waited.”
On that note, Kruger excuses herself to check her phone. Reedus has texted her a picture – of their daughter sound asleep in his arms. “He’s so calm, and he teaches me a lot, because he’s done it before,” she says. “There’s definitely something to be said for being with someone who is doing it for the second time.” And with that, Kruger ducks back around the corner to her studiously private, modern, blended new family.
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy is out March 29
The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown.