It’s a chilly evening in New York as I greet Diane Kruger at the restaurant of the NoMad Hotel, a sceney new destination in the recently-made-up NoMad (“North of Madison Square Park”) neighborhood, where midtown suits supposedly mingle with downtown denim. Kruger has just arrived back in the States from a two-week vacation in South America, one of those life-affirming adventures with her longtime partner, actor Joshua Jackson, that involved desert trekking, mountain climbing, and long, quiet moments beholding the vast beauty of the natural world. It was a welcome break from her hectic schedule, as the German-born veteran of such films as Troy, National Treasure, and Inglorious Basterds has been working nonstop. After completing work in The Host, a film based on the book by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, she immediately moved on to the Terrence Malick-helmed The Green Blade Rises, and shot a pilot for FX called The Bridge. But tonight, she seems relaxed and happy to be back in New York, looking cozy and gorgeous in a white patterned sweater. She’ll soon fly back to her house and vegetable garden in Los Angeles before alighting once again in Paris, where she keeps an apartment, and, apparently, her heart. But, for now, we’ll share some radishes and thoughts on acting, gardening, and the meaning of home.
Waiter: Can I get you something to drink?
Diane Kruger: Can I get the Riesling? Is it dry?
It’s a bit dry.
A bit dry?
It’s quite dry.
I’ll try it.
BlackBook: Mad Men’s back soon. I thought Season 4 was the best season.
I’m really good friends with January Jones, so I hope to see her more in the show. She said when she signed on that her character didn’t even have a name. She was “wife of.” [Drinks arrive. Clinking glasses.] Cheers, nice to meet you.
Waiter: The menu goes from the raw vegetables here to the meatier components. These radishes are dipped in tempura butter. I don’t even like radishes normally but I love these.
I’m for the radishes.
BlackBook: Let’s radish it up.
The food here is very good. Funny enough, I’m actually going to the Fat Radish later tonight. I love radishes. When I have a dinner party I always have radishes.
I gave up on cooking a few years ago and never looked back. What’s your special dish?
I don’t really have one. I just love the process of cooking. And I’m obsessed with cookbooks. I collect cookbooks and I love to just pick a recipe and spend a day cooking it. It’s my way of unwinding. I’ll go to the market on Saturday and buy everything fresh. It really takes my mind off everything. We just started a garden, so we try to grow as much as we can. It’s so satisfying. Beets, tomatoes, and cucumbers. So much food. Now I’m pickling stuff, which I’ve never done before in my life.
They grow like wildfire. It’s so cool having a garden.
Tomatoes are the best when you grow them yourself.
Bizarrely, our tomatoes didn’t turn out as good as we’d hoped. We bought the tiny plants and I felt like they were watery.
(Waiter arrives with what looks like a hat box with radish hors d’oeuvres on top.)
Tell me about your trip to Chile. Was that a vacation?
Yes, it was great. We were there 14 days. We flew into Santiago. It was my gift to my partner, Josh (Joshua Jackson). He just finished a project and it was his lifelong dream to go to Chile. Have you been to Patagonia?
Not yet. I’m a northern hemisphere guy.
We hiked every day. (Shows some pictures on her phone.) We went to the Atacama. It’s an elevated desert. We hiked up a mountain and summited at 18,600 feet.
That’s pretty hardcore. You’re not lounging on a beach.
There’s so much space. It was different than anything I’ve ever seen.
Was it warm down there?
Yeah, Atacama was really hot, it was 85 degrees. Patagonia was cooler.
I’ve never been to South America at all.
I’ve been to Argentina, Uruguay …
Our photo editor, Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez, is Uruguayan.
Yeah, from where?
Uh, I’m not sure. In the middle somewhere. Uruguay City?
And she’s a vegetarian. She says it’s impossible to be a vegetarian down there.
And on a diet, forget it. All they have is meat.
How’s the Riesling?
It’s very nice. I love wine. Every two or three years I try to go on a wine tour. Go to vineyards and buy some wine.
I write about booze but find wine difficult to describe.
It’s very difficult to describe. I find it hard to tell people why one wine is better than another. And you read descriptions in Wine Spectator like “chocolatey.” What does that mean?
No idea. Tell me about The Host. Looks like an interesting story.
It’s a sci-fi. I personally happen to be a big sci-fi fan. I love Star Trek and Star Wars and all those. No one’s every offered me to be in that genre, so I was hesitant at first. But my character was very liberating to play. In sci-fi most characters are larger than life. Your imagination can really break free. You can create something that is out of the norm. Also, in The Host, the aliens have a human body, so it doesn’t involve prosthetics.
Your character is the Seeker. Are you good or evil or what?
The jury is out on that. Earth has been invaded and the alien souls are going into human bodies. Usually in sci-fi movies the aliens are always evil. They take over earth and destroy everybody. But in this case they’re actually better than human beings, because there are no wars, there’s no competition, nobody gets killed and so forth. The flip side of that being the human spirit gives way to the alien that enters their body. And there are pockets of human resistance that don’t want to be taken over by this alien force. What’s striking is that the aliens are very peaceful. They don’t use guns. They just want to live in peace with each other.
Were you offered this role or did you go out of your way to ask for it?
They offered it to me. I had just finished being Marie Antoinette in a French movie called Farewell, My Queen, and this was the total opposite of what I’d been doing. I’m a big fan of (Host director) Andrew Niccol—Gattaca is one of my favorite movies ever—and (author) Stephenie Meyer is a big draw. (Actor) Saoirse Ronan being attached to the project was as well. There’s a gravity to her that adds something to this genre. For half the film she has two people living inside of her. Andrew actually recorded the other person’s dialog and played it in her ear while we were doing scenes together, so she had to talk to me while she had this voice in her head to make her believe in the scenes.
What else do you have lined up?
I did a pilot for FX called The Bridge. I play a girl that has a mild version of Asperger’s, so she’s socially awkward. That was a lot of fun to do and we’ll see where it goes. And immediately after this movie I made a black-and-white film with Terrence Malick, called The Green Blade Rises. It’s about Abraham Lincoln as a child. I play his stepmother. She gave him books and convinced his dad to let him go to school. It’s Lincoln as a five-year-old, six-year-old.
You work in every genre, act in every language? Even comedies?
Pretty much. I made a comedy last year. A French comedy. It’s challenging to go back and forth.
You’ve been so many things. You were a ballet dancer in London, a model in Paris, and an actor all over the world. What’s your next career?
The older I get, the more I realize that it’s about being creative, pushing yourself to extremes, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. When you’re young you have open eyes. The older you get, the more closed off you get to the world. But with acting, and also directing, it’s your job to be as open as possible. I find it freeing to know that I can still feel that much, the extreme emotion.
It’s good to keep an open mind as you get older, but it takes a lot more work than when you’re young. Still, it bugs me when I hear people my age complaining about culture today, like “there’s no good music anymore.” I’m like, do you remember some of the stuff we listened to in high school? It was terrible.
Oh me too. In The Bridge, there’s a scene where I drive this car that belonged to my sister, who was killed in the early ‘90s. There’s a cassette stuck in the player, so it plays the same songs over and over. The writers were asking “What should we put on the tape?” And I was like, I don’t know, Journey, Britney Spears? They were like UGH!
The small town that you’re from, Algermissen, is in what was once West Germany?
Yes, It’s an hour and a half south of Hamburg. It’s called the Lower Saxony area. But I left Germany so young.
You left home at an early age, and you’ve traveled and worked all around, lived all over the place. Do you have an idea of home, or are you comfortable wherever you are?
It used to be worse when I was younger and modeling. Now I have a green card so America is a big part of my life—there are so many things I love about this country. But I think I’ll always be connected to Paris. Germany for me is like a homeland, but, other than my family, I don’t have a lot of attachment to Germany, other than culturally. Paris, to me, is home. In America, I want to say New York is more home than LA, but given that my job’s there I had to give up my New York apartment. But I’ll be back.
What language do you think in? What language do you dream in?
Usually English, but when I’m in Paris for a long time I dream in French.
Your dad was a computer specialist?
I think he was. I haven’t seen my dad in a long time but I think he worked with computers.
So much for basing questions on your Wikipedia page. Is there anything you’re sick of being asked in interviews?
What do you identify being? Because there’s no good answer to it. I get asked that a lot.
And I couldn’t help myself. Okay, what director would you like to work with?
My dream role would be with Darren Aronofsky.
It could happen.
You have plans after this?
Yeah, dinner. Josh is going to come pick me up. And here he is. This is Josh. (Small talk. Nice to meet you. Can you take these magazines up to the room. See you in five…)
I like him, he seems nice.
(Sweetly) Yeah, he’s alright.
Were you always confident and glamorous?
It was different when I was little. I was definitely an outcast at school. I did not fit in. I was a ballerina. I was little and dainty in Germany where all the girls are six feet tall. I went to a Catholic school and was rebellious. I just never felt like I fit in at all. I hated school. I dropped out when I was pretty young.
Do you fit in now?
Not really, but I’ve learned to make it work.
Do you have any enemies?
There are people who don’t like me very much, but I’m not sure they’re enemies. But I do think there’s a bit of a double standard. As a woman, when you have something to say, often you’re labeled difficult. But if a guy does it he’s labeled as passionate about his work. So, you like radishes now?
Image via thehostthefilm.com
[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for The NoMad Hotel, The NoMad Restaurant, The Fat Radish; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]