Diane Kruger is the first to admit that her latest role is a departure from what she’s used to. “I’ve never done a movie like this in my career,” she says to me over Zoom from her home in New York City. The eternally gorgeous German-born actor is casually sitting in a chair, wearing a white sweatshirt and leggings, her blond hair pulled back into a neat ponytail—looking flawless even in casualwear. We’re speaking in late September, but Kruger is already excited about the January 7 release of The 355 (which was delayed for a whole year due to the pandemic), about an all-female group of international intelligence agents who team up to stop a world-altering device from falling into the wrong hands. Joining Kruger in this long-overdue feminist take on this often-male- saturated genre are Jessica Chastain (who’s also a producer on the film), Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz and Bingbing Fan.

The name of the film is a nod to Agent 355, the code name of a female spy during the American Revolution. Kruger plays Marie, a German BND agent who’s a very focused, self-controlled lone-wolf type of character on the same mission as Chastain’s Mace, who works for the CIA and goes rogue. Eventually, the two women realize they’re fighting for the same cause, so they team up, along with Cruz (a Colombian DNI agent), Nyong’o (a British tech whiz and former MI6 agent) and Fan (an agent with the Chinese Ministry of State Security).

Matthew Sprout

Blazer, vest, shirt, pants, socks and loafers (Prada)

Directed by Simon Kinberg (known for The Martian, Logan and Deadpool 2), who also co-wrote the screenplay and is a producer, this wildly entertaining, surprisingly emotional thriller gets your heart racing right from the jump with high-speed chases through international cities, hand-to-hand combat and guns galore. But amid all the explosions, drop kicks, uppercuts and gunfire, the movie is fuelled by the heart and chemistry of this group of exceptionally talented actors. “I’ve known Jessica for years, and being asked to join [the cast] felt great—just to be in their company,” says Kruger. “I usually make films with a lot of men and very few female leads, so this was really refreshing.”

Matthew Sprout

Dress and coat (Khaite).

Shot in 2019, this was Kruger’s first film after having a daughter with her fiancé, Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus, and she wanted to challenge herself with the physicality of the role. “It was like learning to dance,” she says of the fight scenes. “They were choreographed— every day, like a dance rehearsal, you would go in and learn a new move. It’s a different way of acting too; how you fall says so much about your character.”

The physical aspect of the role wasn’t the only draw for the actor. Chastain, aware that many of the women in this movie are also mothers, ensured that it was a child-friendly set—something that made a huge difference to Kruger and her eight-month-old baby and created an atmosphere that made the actors feel secure and comfortable. “It was a very easy thing to have a trailer on-set that was for the use of the actresses and their children,” Chastain said via email. “It was something I wanted to do. Many people thought it would be too difficult, but it was actually incredibly easy, and I think more studios should support their artists this way.”

Kruger credits a lot of The 355’s on-set energy to Chastain. “Jessica really values the work of other women, and she was the kind of producer who would be very much a part of the [conversation] if we had any concerns or character questions,” she says. “She made us feel like we own a piece of the movie. She definitely went above and beyond to make every single one of us feel valued.” That respect is reciprocated by Chastain. “Working with Diane was a blast,” she wrote in the email. “She is such a professional. She came to set every day ready to kick ass… usually mine. Diane just ups the game of everyone around her. She is at 100 percent for every take, and it’s inspiring to be around.”

This kind of general thoughtfulness and mutual esteem is something Kruger is seeing more of in the film industry— and a lot of that has to do with more women being on-set, being in higher positions and having greater creative control. The roles Kruger is being offered now are much more complex and interesting than the ones that came her way when she broke out as the ingenue, playing Helen of Troy in the 2004 epic war film Troy opposite Brad Pitt. “At this point in my life, I’m interested in roles that show women in their complexity, in their fullness, in their arcs,” she says. “In that sense, it’s been really fulfilling getting older—the roles are more complete.”

Matthew Sprout

Blazer, blouse, pants, belts and boots (Celine).

Kruger has had an incredibly successful career in Hollywood as well as in European cinema, where her love of acting began. When she was 16, she moved to Paris from her hometown of Algermissen, Germany, to pursue modelling. There, she discovered French films; one in particular, starring German actor Romy Schneider, whom Kruger loved watching when she was growing up, made an impact. “She made a movie with Claude Sautet called Les Choses de La Vie, which really changed my life,” says Kruger. “To see her speak French with an accent and be so well loved in France gave me hope, like, ‘Oh, I could become an actor here; maybe this is possible for me.’” Kruger learned the language, and almost immediately, her acting career took off. She hasn’t stopped since, with countless films on both sides of the Atlantic, including award-winning roles in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and German director Fatih Akin’s In the Fade.

Although Kruger often finds herself filming in Europe (her next movie is being shot in Barcelona with Liam Neeson), New York is her home at the moment, and with a daughter in preschool and a partner who’s on a TV series shot outside Atlanta, she’s making more thoughtful work choices since life has picked up post-vaccine. She was in L.A. with her mother, daughter and Reedus when things shut down in 2020; by chance, he had stopped there on his way from New Zealand to Atlanta. “The days slowed down, and everybody, including our daughter, relaxed and got used to having everyone around,” says Kruger. “In retrospect, it was definitely a time we will never get back.”

Matthew Sprout

Dress and boots (Louis Vuitton).

When I ask the impeccably stylish Kruger if the pandemic changed her fashion choices, she laughs. “Having a child changed that,” she says. “I just can’t get it together at 6 a.m. I spend half my days on the playground, so the cool Chanel boots just don’t seem to hold up as well. I don’t go out much because I know I have to be up at the crack of dawn the next day, so those evenings have to be really special for me to not want to sleep.”

Find the full story in the Winter issue of ELLE Canada — out on newsstands and on Apple News+ November 15th.  You can also subscribe for the latest in fashion, beauty and culture.

Matthew Sprout

Photographer: Matthew Sprout; stylist: Liz McClean; creative director: Annie Horth; hair: Danielle Priano (Kalpana NYC/ Moroccanoil); makeup: Misha Shahzada (Kalpana NYC/ Dior Beauty); editorial producer: Estelle Gervais; set coordinator: Laura Malisan; photography assistants: Shawn Robert Cuni and Corey Danieli; styling assistant: Amer Macarambon; producing assistant: Isabelle Allain.