Cannes: Diane Kruger Says David Cronenberg’s ‘The Shrouds’ Is a ‘Desperate, Emotional Cry’

TheWrap magazine: The German actress describes Cronenberg’s latest, which was inspired by his wife’s death, as “100% the most personal film he’s ever made”

Diane Kruger Cannes 2024
Diane Kruger (Guerin Blask)

For Diane Kruger, Cannes is a lifelong personal experience. The world’s most potent and dazzling film festival, now in its 77th year, has been the locale for many of the significant twists in the German actress’ singular career. It was where “Troy” premiered in 2004, featuring Kruger’s breakthrough star turn as Helen, queen of Sparta; five years later “Inglourious Basterds” bowed there, with her award-nominated role as a crafty double agent; and in 2017, Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade” was a showcase for her ferocious, shattered performance as a bereft mother, which scored Kruger the jury’s Best Actress prize. 

“Going to Cannes has marked the turning points for every step in my career,” the 47-year-old said. “Just being there, whether the film was well received or not, you feel like you’re truly welcomed in this circle of aspiring artists and the greater world of filmmaking. The French really take a particular interest in filmmakers. And with a few exceptions, the audiences in Cannes aren’t going to see a movie just for an actor who’s in it. Instead, it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna go see Cronenberg’s next picture.’”

And this year, Kruger will be back with exactly that: David Cronenberg’s highly anticipated “The Shrouds.” It’s her first collaboration with the famed 81-year-old Canadian auteur — but for each of them, it marks their seventh film to premiere at the festival. Kruger and Cronenberg also share experiences on the main competition Cannes jury. He served as the jury president in 1999 and she was a member of the team in 2012.

The new film is a horror and sci-fi hybrid in the tradition of Cronenberg’s classics “Scanners,” “Videodrome,” “The Dead Zone” and “The Fly,” but this one is an autofiction rooted in a painful crucible of truth. Focusing on a businessman (played by French actor Vincent Cassel, sporting a Cronenbergian hairdo) who develops a device that allows mourners to view their loved ones after death, the film is Cronenberg’s artistic attempt to grapple with the loss of his wife, Carolyn Zeifman, in 2017. 

“It’s 100% the most personal film he’s ever made,” said Kruger, who stars as three different characters in the story. The experience has altered her attitudes about life and love and this modern world. She lives with actor Norman Reedus and their 5-year-old daughter in New York City, which is where we connected with her to discuss her Cannes history, both past and present. 

Vincent Cassel and Diane Kruger in David Cronenberg’s “The Shrouds”

Did you realize it’s been 20 years since “Troy” had its world premiere at Cannes?

Oh, really? That’s crazy. That makes me old, I guess. Not too old.

But that wasn’t your first time at the festival?

No, the year before, while we were filming “Troy,” Cannes gave me the Trophée Chopard. I had made a couple of French films and that is their award for best newcomer actors. So my very first Cannes was a wild experience, because I needed to leave straight from the “Troy” set in Malta to go to the festival. 

They sent this small airplane to pick me up. I had to get dressed in the plane and it was an outfit I’d never tried on before. We were just hoping it would fit. I had a wig on for “Troy” and the festival flew a hairstylist on the plane from Cannes, who spent the whole flight trying to get the glue out of my hair. From the airport we went straight into the ceremonies, so when you look up pictures of me there, my hair looks crazy.

What are your most vivid memories of the jury experience? You were part of the jury that gave Michael Haneke’s “Amour” the Palme d’Or. 

I remember it being a bit of an impossible task, because you’re comparing really great films with each other and it’s such a personal thing. It gets very heated at times at the jury deliberations, or at least it did my year. It can be exhausting but it’s really pure to experience a film festival just for the movies and none of the other BS. And I made friends for life. Alexander Payne was on the jury with me, and a few months ago when I saw “The Holdovers,” he was the first person I texted afterwards. 

What is your advice for this year’s jury members?

Don’t go out too much at night because it’s truly not fair to that movie you’re going to see at 8 a.m. the next morning. Also my advice would be to defend your point of view, for sure, while also being open to hearing a different point of view. There are some films that you just don’t respond to, right? And there’s others that you just love and then somebody else doesn’t. As an actor, I tend to have an emotional response to most of the films that I see. And that’s why it was so interesting to hear what a director has to say or what a writer has to say. It’s a very individual experience.

In 2017, five years after you served on the jury, you won Best Actress for “In the Fade.” You appeared genuinely overwhelmed and stunned. 

You know, I hadn’t worked since we had finished shooting, because it was so emotionally draining to make that film. I had six months of prep just talking about death, attending grief counseling groups, experiencing grief. I was exhausted emotionally.

Every movie requires a type of effort, but when they called my name, it was the first time in my career where I felt like all this effort had been recognized. And I also understood that you don’t campaign at Cannes. It’s not like winning an Oscar. You don’t do months and months of press. The jury watched everything and they thought my work stood out, so that was an incredible honor. 

You mentioned the research into grief counseling for that film. That theme very much applies to “The Shrouds” too. David Cronenberg lost his wife and this film is his effort to reconcile with that loss. Was that clear from the beginning?

Well, everyone who knows Cronenberg’s work knows about his obsessions with technology and the body and all of that stuff. So when I read the script, I was surprised by how emotional it was. And when I met him, I didn’t know that this was inspired by his own story. But he was telling me that he lost his wife and that many scenes are based on what they actually experienced. Those things are in the movie. Even though obviously he changed some stuff, this film is a depiction of a very difficult time in his life. 

We met in Paris and had a long conversation and one of the things he said which really struck me was that he had made this journey with his wife through her sickness. And they knew she was going to die. And he said when she passed away, she was put into a coffin, and that was almost harder for him than her passing. He told me, “Because I couldn’t accept the fact that she would be alone in the coffin in the ground and I couldn’t be with her. And it took all I had to not jump in with her.” That is a part of what the film is about. 

Diane Kruger and Vincent Cassel in David Cronenberg’s “The Shrouds” (Prospero Pictures)

What can you say about the three roles that you play in the story?

One of them is the main character’s wife, who we see more in flashbacks. One of them is her sister. We see the wife in different stages of her sickness. Her sister is very extravagant and kooky. They were very close in age in real life. And then there’s a sort of personal assistant, an avatar character, which doesn’t necessarily resemble me all that much, but it’s my voice. 

Cronenberg has used this duality technique before in a few films, especially in “Dead Ringers,” where Jeremy Irons plays twin brothers. Have you ever done multiple roles in a project before?

No, I haven’t. And it was definitely a mind f–k, excuse my English. The sisters have different personalities but they are alike as well. You’d have to ask Cronenberg, but I think that actually they were very similar. For the two roles, he didn’t want to get too into prosthetics and all that stuff, but I look just different enough so that you buy it as being two different people. Also, because the wife is ill, there’s an obvious difference physically. 

It’s also striking how much Vincent Cassel resembles Cronenberg in the film. 

Yeah, I know, it’s very strange. I would have never thought that about the two of them before, but it’s really weird to see how much Vincent looks like him.

You mentioned what a personal project this was for Cronenberg. What was it like filming with him?

On the set, he directed us, but I felt that he was trying to distance himself to a certain extent from what was happening. He didn’t do rehearsals, he never had a table read. I think he didn’t want to hear us say those lines out loud. But thankfully, I have enough experience under my belt where I realized pretty early on that he would be expecting me to be ready to deliver the minute I stepped on set in Canada. I figured that he would be very specific about his lines because he wrote everything, and that was true. 

Was that true as well in your experience with Quentin Taratino on
Inglourious Basterds”? You’ve talked about how you memorized 30 pages of dialogue for your audition. 

Yeah, it’s true that Quentin is also very specific about his dialogue, but Quentin really loves to rehearse. So there’s a safety blanket because you’ve tried out the lines. With Cronenberg, he didn’t want that. Earlier in my career that might have been a bit paralyzing for me, but it was pretty clear that that’s what he wanted on this picture. But it was a lot for Vincent because his English is not as easy-coming, so he had to really work on the dialogue. Vincent and I would meet every day after work and go over the next day’s lines. 

Do you have more trust in your own talent now than you did earlier in your career? And how much has being a parent altered your craft?

The work itself is easier in a way because I feel like I’m so in touch with my emotions. Having a kid in your life, you have to be in the present all the time. You cannot be stuck in your head. So it has liberated me of many anxieties that were unhelpful for my work. I’ve found that on set, I’m not afraid of letting go. The work has become more of an outlet for what I love to do. Being a parent now, I don’t get to do it quite as often as I used to. But when I’m there, I’m there 250%.

Has working on “The Shrouds” changed your mindset at all, regarding the theme of grief that the movie explores?

The movie is about love in the sense of spending your life with someone. And then also saying goodbye. I think about “Amour,” which is one of my favorite films. “Amour” touched me so profoundly because it was about the relationship between a husband and a wife. And as I grow older, I find myself thinking, “Who do I want to be around in good times and bad?” All those kinds of things. And not that I think about my own mortality all the time, but I kind of do think about it in terms of what love actually means and how it expands, how it changes.

And in that sense, Cronenberg’s film is really great because it’s a very honest way of a husband dealing with the death of his wife. And even though it’s his vision and there’s a techno graveyard and gore and some of the distinctive things that he’s known for, in this particular film you really sense him as a person. He wishes he could have done what Vincent’s character does in the film. It’s a desperate, emotional cry for wanting someone you’ve lost to come back.  

This story originally appeared in the Cannes issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read the full issue here.

Diane Kruger photographed for TheWrap by Guerin Blask

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