The FX drama series The Bridge, adapted from the Scandinavian series Bron, is a present-day crime thriller that explores the tensions on the U.S.-Mexico border. When an American judge known for her anti-immigration views is found dead on the bridge connecting El Paso and Juarez, El Paso P.D. Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) must work with her Mexican counterpart, Detective Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), to catch a serial killer operating on both sides of the border. The show also stars Ted Levine, Annabeth Gish, Thomas M. Wright and Matthew Lillard.
During this recent interview to promote the series premiere, actress Diane Kruger talked about playing a cop with Asperger’s, making sure she correctly represents the condition, how much she loved the original series, how similar in tone this adaptation is, the research she did into the border conflict aspect of the show, working with co-star Demian Bichir, what she’s most looking forward to viewers getting to see, that they will wrap up this case in the 13-episode first season, and what led her to television. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
DIANE KRUGER: Well, it’s about how someone who has a condition, such as Asperger’s, can really excel at being such a good cop. That’s really what drew me to the project. Yes, she has this condition. There are so many shortcomings, in her personal life, that appear because of that condition. Yet she is so different in her job because she has this ability to focus and to really look at things from a different point of view, and that was really interesting to me. I had never really had a desire to play a cop. I’m not really the gun toting kind of person, so that was interesting to me. The Sonya character is just so different and cool, and a real challenge. Asperger’s is much more subtle than a more severe version or case of autism.
What are the most challenging aspects of playing a person with Asperger’s?
KRUGER: Everything about Asperger’s was very new to me. I’ve heard of autism, but I wasn’t familiar with Asperger’s. As soon as I started reading up on it, I realized that this is a really daunting undertaking, and continues to be so, because it’s not something that you can just put on. It’s a mind frame that I have to put myself into, every day. There’s not one single line in the dialogue that’s ever been a straight-up line. And so, the key for me really happened when FX decided to reach out to Autism Speaks, which is the biggest association for not just for Asperger’s, but autism in the U.S. They introduced me to a young man called Alex, who has Asperger’s himself, and FX decided to bring him on as an advisor to the show. So, he’s on the set, every day, when I work, and I’ve spent more time with him in the past four months than I have with my partner, and I’m not kidding. I have so many questions, and I just observe him, but I also ask him some pretty uncomfortable questions. And his willingness to be my partner in this has made a big difference. I sleep easier at night, knowing that he watches over everything I do.
KRUGER: Obviously, you always want to make sure that people who are concerned with that condition feel like they are being represented accurately. I feel very grateful that we were able to get the support from Autism Speaks, which is the biggest association for people with autism. They’ve come on board to be a partner on the show. And we have a young man, called Alex Plank, who has Asperger’s, who’s been my partner on the show. He’s on the set, every day, when I work, and he’s going into the writers’ room. He makes sure that not only do I have the support that I need, but he helps me immensely. I think he would be the first person to say that he sometimes finds himself in funny situations because of his condition, and I think that’s really lovable. I’m extremely fond of Sonya. I feel like we’re pretty much on the right track here.
Did you feel any pressure to put your own spin on this show and character, knowing that some people would be familiar with the original?
KRUGER: No, it was actually very exciting to see the original show. I actually watched most of it. Denmark and Sweden have a very different culture, but I’m European myself, so that sensibility is close to home. I loved the show. I was completely hooked. It was a huge success in Europe, so I found myself excited because the adaptation has a lot more for me to make my own than was in the original. I felt like there was enough room for me to give it my spin. There have been scenes that have been very challenging for me, in terms of performance. The Asperger’s is something that has taken up a lot of my time and a lot of my space, and there are days when it’s easier to get my head around it and just forget about my normal, natural instincts. There have been some really emotional, very difficult scenes that have to do with my backstory, so it’s definitely a challenge.
How different is the tone of this series to the original?
KRUGER: The tone is actually pretty similar. I think that we follow the skeleton of the original show, faithfully. It’s the same sort of intrigue and plot, but the colors of the show, in terms of lighting, are very different. Because we’re setting it in El Paso and Juarez, it’s much warmer, lighter, brighter and sunnier. The characters are pretty much the same, but the storylines will evolve a little bit because of that. The major difference is that we get to see Sonya in her personal life much more than in the original show.
There are some very topical and sometimes controversial issues that are laid out in this show, because it involves the Mexico/U.S. border, immigration, and drug and gang wars in Mexico. Dramatizing it in a show like this will make people pay attention and think. Have you thought about it, in that way? Do you like it when you can layer that extra element onto what you’re doing?
KRUGER: I’m not sure if it’s necessarily to inform the public of something. I think it’s more shining a light on a situation that most people in the U.S. and Mexico are aware of. I personally don’t like shows or movies that try to teach you a lesson, or tell you, “This is the way it is, and we should all be doing something differently.” At the end of the day, that’s not our job. The show has to be entertaining, but what we’re trying to do is shine a light on a situation, and be as accurate and non-partial to either side as possible. To me, that’s what is different, and it’s never really been done, in my recollection, either on television or in films. We don’t have all the answers, but we can show what’s going on and, hopefully, shine a little light on the situation.
Did you do any research into the border conflict aspect of the show?
KRUGER: Yes, I did a lot of research. We actually shot a couple of days in El Paso for the pilot, so I did get to walk the bridge of the Americas and spend the day in Juarez. I just needed to see for myself. And I don’t have the pretension to know everything about the conflicts that are going on, but certainly I’ve been in the U.S., on and off, for the past 20 years and I read the New York Times every morning, so you feel like you have to be blind and deaf to not hear about those issues, like immigration and so forth. I’m intrigued by that aspect of the show, for sure. I want to know and understand more. I find it fascinating and quite risky on FX’s part, to try and shine a light on that situation.
KRUGER: The relationship between those two detectives was laid out for us. We have two opposite cultures. Demian very much represents how we imagine Mexican men to be. He’s very Latin and charming, and he has a great accent. And then, Sonya is very much American. She’s all about the rules and business and enforcing the law. That’s all from the original show. What we are trying to convey, as the show unfolds over the 13 episodes, is two such different cultures, from two such different countries, and how they can put their differences aside for the greater good and try to make their relationship work, and how they can take away things from one another. That’s what we’re working on, every day, in every episode.
How do you two get along, when you’re not shooting?
KRUGER: When the cameras are not rolling, Demian and I have actually become really friendly and really good friends. We were supposed to make a movie together, before this show came along, so it felt like we were meant to work together. I admire him very much, as not just a colleague, but also as a person. I think he’s wonderful. And his significant other and mine have formed a real friendship.
With this kind of script, is there any room for improvising or changing around the lines, or is it pretty set in stone?
KRUGER: We change things. Not a lot, but there are definitely gaps to be filled in. FX is a very actor-friendly network, and is very character-driven. We always do table reads. The writers invite all of us actors to give comments on the script. That doesn’t always make a huge difference, but they have been very open to our suggestions, and a lot of the scenes are changed. That’s really important because sometimes you can write a great scene, but when you’re actually in a situation and it doesn’t work, you have to be flexible enough to make it work for you.
KRUGER: I think what I’m looking forward to is that we decided, early on, that we were not going to label Sonya’s condition on the show, which I think is very important and very interesting. We didn’t want her condition to be her defining character trait. So, I thought that was really brave. It’s pretty ballsy, in my eyes. In the first episode, she’s so odd and you don’t really know what it is that’s off. I think it will be great to get the opportunity, for the next 13 episodes, to see her nuance and her layers, and to understand a lot of her backstory, that has made her the person that she is today.
Where we go away from the original show is that the writers agreed to write a backstory to her character, which we will come to explore, as the show goes on. It will really show you a very emotional side of Sonya, which I’m always very excited to play because she so often comes across as blunt or stand-offish, which is not the case, at all. People with Asperger’s have empathy and they have feelings, but they just don’t know when to show those emotions. There’s a delay there. They understand when somebody is pissed off, or their behavior causes people to misread their intentions, but they just don’t understand what it is that they said.
So, there’s a lot of darkness and loneliness that Sonya carries around, and probably has carried around for most of her life, and yet she’s so great at her job. There will be a lot of emotional moments for her, and some funny moments because Asperger’s leads to some comedic moments. In Episode 2, the way that she picks up a guy in a bar is pretty priceless, in my opinion.
Will this case be solved, in the 13 episodes of this season?
KRUGER: Yes, we are going to solve this crime.
There are several shows on TV right now, including The Following, The Killing and Hannibal, that all deal with serial killers. What do you think will make The Bridge stand out and be unique, in comparison to those shows?
KRUGER: First of all, the setting between Mexico and America is unique, and I don’t think it’s been done on television before. And I think the backdrop of the unsolved crimes, with the missing girls from Juarez, and the relationship between America and Mexico, is very interesting to see and shine a light on. I think that the two characters, Marco Ruiz and Sonya Cross, are an unusual combination of detectives. The show’s not your usual cop show. It’s a very character-driven show. And you think the show’s about one thing, but then it goes in directions that will be quite unexpected.
KRUGER: Cable television is in its Golden Era, right now. I find myself watching shows like House of Cards, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and I feel like they’re better than most movies that I watch, these days. They’re really great dramas, and the quality of the writing surpasses so many movies. I just am very excited to be part of the show. The writing is superb. A character like this has never been offered to me in the movies, and the opportunity to get 13 episodes to explore this person is exciting. I feel like it is a really exciting time for directors and actors to come to cable television, so that’s really what led me to it.
Do you see opportunities for women broadening in cable television, with roles like this one, and do you think that cable does better with women than movies do?
KRUGER: Oh, yes, I absolutely agree with that. There will continue to be movies that have great female roles, but I definitely think that, on cable television, from Mad Men to Homeland to Robin Wright in House of Cards, those female parts are so well written, that that’s really what it comes down to. It seems to me that they thrive. The audience is looking for characters like that, and it’s very exciting for women, definitely.
Did you always want to work in this industry, when you were growing up, or did you have other professions in mind?
KRUGER: No, I didn’t dare dream of anything like this. I come from a very small rural village in northern Germany, and being an actor never even seemed like a possibility. I thought you would have to live in a big city, or be discovered somewhere, or be born into an artistic family, which I certainly wasn’t. I dreamt of becoming a ballet dancer. I studied with the Royal Academy of London for 11 years, and that did not pan out, but my love for being on stage was born there. And then, I actually went to drama school in Paris, France. That’s where it first started. I never thought I would have an opportunity to act in the United States, and continue to expand my career outside of Europe. To be honest, my reality is bigger than I would have ever dared to dream.
The Bridge airs on Wednesday nights on FX.