Serialized storytelling has enjoyed a massive resurgence over the past decade, and several cable television networks have positioned themselves at the forefront of the movement. FX is no exception, boasting a slate of critically acclaimed original series that includes The Shield, Rescue Me, Justified and Sons of Anarchy. Joining the ranks this week is The Bridge, a bold new drama that explores the ever-growing tension around the border between the United States and Mexico.
Starring Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds, The Host) and Demian Bichir (Weeds), the series follows a string of murders on both sides of the border, which forces El Paso detective Sonya Cross to work alongside Chihuahua State Police detective Marco Ruiz to track down a sadistic killer. Marco has spent his career navigating the slippery politics of Mexican law enforcement, but his easygoing nature doesn’t sit well with Sonya, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and strictly follows rules and protocol.
With the season premiere on the horizon, we were fortunate enough to speak with Diane Kruger about her involvement in the series, and the challenges of playing such a multi-faceted character. Here are some of the highlights.
You have a sort of double role to play here, and that’s both a person with Asperger’s, and a cop. What was the hardest thing for you in performing, about putting those two roles together?
Well, it’s just that how can someone who has a condition such as Asperger’s really excel at being such a good cop? And that’s really what drew me initially to the project, because 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’s what really was interesting to me. That was really the thing that drew me to it – Sonya’s character is just so different and cool and a real challenge, because Asperger’s is much more subtle than a more severe version or case of autism.
[pullquote_left]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.[/pullquote_left]What was the hardest thing to master about playing a person with Asperger’s? You mentioned that it’s a very subtle thing, what was the most difficult aspect of that?
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 not just for Asperger’s but for autism in the U.S., and 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, I’m not kidding, more time with him in the past four months than I have with my partner, because I have so many questions and I’m just observing him, but I’m also asking 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.
Is there a particular scene that you’re looking forward to people seeing?
Well, I think what I’m looking forward to is that we decided early on that we were not going to label Sonya’s condition in the show, which I think is very important and very interesting, because we didn’t want her condition to be her defining character trait. So I thought that was really brave and it’s pretty ballsy, in my eyes, because in the first episode, she’s so odd and you don’t really know what it is that’s off. And 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 back story that has made her the person that she is today.
[pullquote_right]We decided early on that we were not going to label Sonya’s condition in the show, because we didn’t want her condition to be her defining character trait.[/pullquote_right]We will come to explore [her back story] as the show goes on, and it will really show you a very emotional side of Sonya, which I’m always very excited to play because she so often could come across being blunt or standoffish, which is not at all the case, because people with Asperger’s have empathy and they have feelings, of course, but they just don’t know when to show those emotions. There’s a delay there. And 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 they said.
And 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. And so there will be a lot of emotional moments for her, some funny moments because obviously Asperger’s leads sometimes to comedic moments, like I don’t know if you’ve seen episode two, but the way that I go to pick up a guy in a bar is pretty priceless, in my opinion.
With some of her social awkwardness that comes from the Asperger’s, a lot of it is played for comedic effect. Do you worry at all that some viewers may be offended by the choice to play the character in that way, or do you think that the show handles it pretty well?
Obviously, you always want to make sure that people that are concerned with that condition feel that they are being represented accurately. I feel very grateful that we were able to get the support from Autism Speaks. [Alex is] on the set every day when I work, and he’s going into the writers’ room and 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 finds himself sometimes in funny situations because of his condition, and I think that’s really lovable.
I’m extremely fond of Sonya. I’ve come to understand where she goes when she doesn’t understand a situation and if that’s funny sometimes then that’s great, because you also see when her condition leads her down a path that is not funny. I feel like we’re hopefully pretty much on the right track here.
You mentioned that you did a lot of research for the role to perfect your character’s condition. Do you find that your own instincts and ideas ever intrude on the project and what’s written in the script?
All the time. Like I said, when I first started reading the books about Asperger’s or autism in general it [dawned on me] that this was going to be a much bigger undertaking than what I thought it would be. It continues to be a huge challenge because my instincts tell me to say things with intention sometimes, which is totally wrong for this character because she doesn’t mean to be rude, she doesn’t mean to be blunt. It’s really trying to put my mind to see things from a totally different perspective that a person with Asperger’s would do, and that is obviously difficult. They’re very rational and logical and they take shortcuts. The social niceties or the social cues that we all have to learn to read just don’t exist for them.
[pullquote_left]It’s a very character driven show, and you think the show’s about one thing and then it goes in directions that will be quite unexpected.[/pullquote_left]So sometimes, to be honest, it’s a great relief because you just say it how it is. And then other times, especially when you’re in a scene where a person is really hurt or is emotionally distraught and you just can’t show any empathy, that goes against any person’s instincts, and so it definitely keeps me on my toes.
There are several shows on TV right now that all deal with serial killers. Can you weigh in on what you think will make The Bridge stand out and what makes it unique?
First of all, the setting between Mexico and America is unique and I don’t think has been done on television before. And I think the backdrop of the unsolved crimes as the missing girls from Juarez, the relationship between America and Mexico is very interesting to see and shine a light on. I think that the two characters 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 and then it goes in directions that will be quite unexpected.
Did you do a lot of research about the tensions along the border, or did you find that the scripts covered everything you needed to know?
[pullquote_right]A character like this has never been offered to me in the movies, and the opportunity to get 13 episodes to explore that person is exciting.[/pullquote_right]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 spent the day in Juarez, because 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 practically have to be blind and deaf to not hear about those issues and hear about immigration and so forth. I’m intrigued by that aspect of the show, for sure. I want to know more, I want to understand more. And I find it fascinating, and quite risky, actually, on FX’s part to try and shine a light on that situation.
You’ve had quite a career in movies before this. What led you to television?
Cable television right now is in its golden era, and I find myself watching the shows like House of Cards and Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and feeling like they’re better than most movies that I watch these days, and they’re really great dramas and the quality of the writing surpasses so many movies, and 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 that person is exciting, and I feel like it’s a really exciting time for directors and actors to come to cable television, so that’s really what led me to it.
Roles for women on cable television have frequently been limited to the wives of the men who are the main characters. Do you see opportunities for women broadening in cable television with roles like this one?
Oh yes, I absolutely agree with that. Like I said, I’ve never been offered an in-depth character like this in a movie. There will continue to be movies that have great female roles, but I definitely think that on cable television, from Mad Men to Homeland or Robin Wright in House of Cards, those female parts are so well written and unafraid of characters, and that’s really what it comes down to, I think. It seems to me that they thrive and the audience is looking for characters like that, and it’s very exciting for women, definitely.
The Bridge premieres on July 10th at 10pm ET/PT, exclusively on FX. For more information, be sure to visit the official website.