Diane Kruger wouldn't seem an obvious choice to play a tough U.S. police detective on the dangerous El Paso-Juarez border — especially one with Asperger's syndrome.
Though regarded as a fine actress, the German-born former fashion model is known for roles in “Troy,” where she was legendary Helen; the two “National Treasure” movies; Marie Antoinette in “Farewell, My Queen”; and as the glamorous film star Bridget von Hammersmark in Quentin Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds.”
A constant target of paparazzi, Kruger, who has been in a long-term relationship with Joshua Jackson, recently shot a Chanel ad and is creating a handbag with fashion designer Jason Wu.
Last year, she took on her first TV role in FX's gritty crime thriller “The Bridge,” which won a Peabody Award and received a lot of critical acclaim.
Kruger plays Detective Sonya Cross, who in the first season was paired with Mexican detective Marco Ruiz (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir) to hunt a serial killer after a body was found cut in half in the middle of the Bridge of the Americas, which connects Juarez and El Paso.
Kruger recently talked to some reporters about the second season while on the set of “The Bridge” in Santa Clarita. (The series returns Wednesday.)
The actress says she initially didn't know anything about working in television and found it was “quite daunting” to take on an extended role in a series.
“I think it is a great outlet for an actress because you really have 13 hours to bring a character to life,” she says. “So much more than in film, you have the luxury of time to tell a story and to really color a character.”
Kruger said she doesn't believe she would have been offered a role like Sonya if it were in a movie: “People with Asperger's are not necessarily the lead in a film.”
A person with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, is often characterized as having difficulties in social interaction and will often seem cold and unemotional. That describes Sonya to a T. In the first season of “The Bridge,” which is based on the Danish-Swedish TV series of the same name, Kruger's character wasn't identified as having Asperger's; only the actress playing Sonya knew it.
She worked with a young man with Asperger's from Autism Speaks to advise her during shooting.
“The research was really intense,” Kruger says.
This year, the writers have given her more opportunities to branch out with the character.
“Because I know the character better and know so many more people who have Asperger's, I feel more comfortable now to push Sonya,” Kruger said. “I think she wants to learn and be better socially.”
Recent stories of children from Central America crossing the border illegally and being kept in detention centers have made national headlines, but Kruger doesn't think the issue will be incorporated in the new season, although shooting is still underway.
“A lot of our stories are inspired by real-life events, and, as you know, it's a very volatile area,” she notes. “The stories that I read about and learn about are often discussed, and not just on set. It's been a very satisfying experience working on a show that is politically relevant and quite timely.”
There will a new criminal case for the second season.
“We don't really have a classic serial-killer storyline this year,” Kruger says. “We were following the original Scandinavian show in season 1, and now, we're completely on our own and have our own stories.”
The new season begins when the body of a Mexican drug cartel member is found on American soil, which means Sonya again must work on the case with her Mexican counterpart played by Bichir, though the two are on uneasy terms.
They soon find themselves in the middle of a drug war, but there are plenty of other crimes to deal with as well as bad characters of all stripes on both sides of the border.
Among the actors playing villains is another German actress, Franka Potente (the first two “Bourne” movies and “Run Lola Run”), as a shunned Mennonite woman with a sinister side.
“It's a very cool character — very much a Tarantino-esque type character,” says Kruger, adding that her Sonya and Potente's Eleanor Nacht “do this little dance around each other.”
While this season “The Bridge” is being shot around the Santa Clarita area, standing in for the El Paso-Juarez border region, last year some filming did occur in Texas.
While filming there, Kruger got to walk the Bridge of the Americas into Juarez.
“Because I'm not an American, I was surprised how close the two countries were, and what a real difference culturally that the bridge really is, and how you are truly in a different country just crossing a bridge.”
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Follow Rob Lowman on Twitter: @roblowman1