Recently I had a chance to sit in on a conference call with actress Diane Kruger (“Inglourious Basterds,” “National Treasure,” “Troy”) , who stars as Sonya Cross on FX’s “The Bridge.” The show begins its second season tonight. Here’s a transcript of the conversation.
Q: Even though 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: 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. Obviously, people who have Asperger’s have emotions; it is just that they are delayed and come out in the most unexpected moments. 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.
Q: Do you know why they didn’t mention her condition specifically in Season 1 that she has Asperger’s?
Diane: 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.
Q: What’s going on at the border has made international headlines with the children coming over from South America or Central America, and I was just wondering, I don’t know if you’ve finished all of the episodes at this point, but has there been any discussion about incorporating what’s been happening into the story?
Diane: There’s definitely been discussion. It’s actually funny you bring that up; even just yesterday, I was talking to Elwood about this. I don’t know if—you know, we’re at episode 11, so I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to incorporate it this season, but if we should get a Third Season, I think there is definitely a place for that. It’s just actually amazing that while we’re in production how much happens at those borders. I mean we could probably go on for 10 seasons and have stories to tell of people’s crazy journeys. It’s definitely been discussed.
Q: 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: 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 timely.
Q: What do you think sets your character apart from some of the other roles that you’ve played in the past?
Diane: 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.
Q: 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: 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.
Q: Do you ever come across any moments that make you uncomfortable, but you know that’s what a person with this condition would do; they put themselves in some kind of awkward situations. My example, off the top of my head, is the time when Sonya had a one night stand, and it was kind of rapid-fire slam-bam kind of thing, and it seemed for somebody who may not have the experience with that condition like out of character, but this is really how they view relationship.
Diane: 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.
Q: How do you think this season will differ in tone from the first?
Diane: I think it’s a very different show in many ways. We don’t really have a classic serial-killer storyline. You know, we were following the original Scandinavian show in Season 1, and now, we’re completely on our own and have our own stories. As you know, Meredith Stiehm went back to Homeland, and it’s just Elwood Reid the show run on the main voice of the show, and his vision for the show is darker for sure, but also more complex. There’s not just one storyline per se, so our personal lives get involved in what is happening on the border. There are many different storylines that sort of happen at the same time, and, seemingly, are not connected, and the American involvement in the cartels plays a big part. You know, it’s a very grey show.
Q: You film in Los Angeles. What I always appreciated 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: 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 the area around LA, including desert is a pretty good match for El Paso and Juarez.
Q: Did you film at all in El Paso in the pilot? I guess you did right?
Diane: Yes. I did. Yes.
Q: Does that help you get into the feel of the drama of the serious because it’s so Texas?
Diane: 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 Juarez. It was great.
Q: I was wondering if you could kind of elaborate on her relationship with Jack a little bit; you know, we gotten an early glimpse of it, but what’s sort of her motivation there and where is that going as the season progresses?
Diane: Well, I think it’s very dark when you think about it. This clearly is the brother of the man who killed her sister in the most horrific way, and I think that—which you also will come to learn that Sonya has never really had any sort of family and that her sister really was the person in her life, and she has never been able to move on, and has been searching for answers out of Jim Dobbs for the past 15 years, which is why she continues to go to see him. In some really strange way, that relationship and him painting pictures of the murder of her sister has been the only connection that has been left of her family, so when he dies or is about to die, meeting his brother has this strange fascination for her of being still with somebody who she shares history with. Clearly, that is not a very good way of going about things, and again, her idea of what sex means and being physically with somebody comes into that, and they have this really strange relationship that makes her really happy or she thinks is really happy. You’ll see that relationship over time and what happens with it is pretty sad.
Q: What was your first reaction when you read Sonya’s character and how have you come to embrace her?
Diane: 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.
Q: 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: Well, for me, the thing is 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.
Q: I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about what’s ahead for Sonya and Marco’s relationship this season?
Diane: Without giving too much away, but it is getting tested a bit. Sonya has reason to believe that Marco is compromised and she distrusts him quite a bit, and there’s a big fallout over whether or not she believes that he’s taken too many steps into that darkness, you know, into that grey zone where she learns about his dealings with the bad guys basically.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the situation Sonya has with Jack kind of her opening herself up. Very early on with him, and then, as well as kind of their quick affair, at least in the first episode. How much do you think is her wanting to really pursue this relationship with Jack or how much of it spurs from her condition kind of getting her in trouble in a sense in terms of lack of judgment?
Diane: I don’t think Sonya has ever been in a relationship. I think the fact that he is her sister’s brother’s killer—the killer’s brother—I feel like there’s a sense that she feels like they have shared history, and she somehow knows him. I think that he doesn’t judge her. He doesn’t think she’s odd and weird. There’s this desperate attempt of making it maybe more than it actually is, and I think there’s little bit of rebellion towards Ted as well, who obviously thinks that this is not a good idea—what am I going to do though? What? They’re calling me back to set. I’m sorry; let me finish the question, so I think there’s this need of wanting to maybe have a relationship to not let go of this shared history. Then, yes, she opens herself up and gets burned.