Joey Nolfi
December 15, 2017 AT 11:30 AM EST

Between now and the Oscar nominations on Jan. 23, EW will speak to numerous contenders in below-the-line categories about their work and craft. This week, Diane Kruger and Fatih Akin go behind the scenes for an in-depth look at their best foreign language film contender In the Fade (Dec. 27).

You hear it all the time, whether it’s in a critic’s review or a glowing recommendation from a friend: some movies linger with you long after you leave the theater, and that’s exactly what happens with Fatih Akin’s In the Fade. A ghostly composite of sorrow and grief in the wake of unimaginable violence, the film follows a German mother, Katja, whose Turkish husband and young son are killed in a ruthless act of neo-Nazi terrorism, her journey evolving across three distinct acts: the grieving, the litigating, and cold, hard retribution. The project is anchored by lead actress Diane Kruger, who gives a career-best performance that scales the peaks of the human condition. For her, preparing for the part turned into a personal evolution, her trajectory beginning as she met with real-life families of those killed by vicious attacks in the past. From there, she channeled their stories into the fabric of the film. Read on to find out how.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where it’s raining as much as it rains in this film.
DIANE KRUGER:
That was part of Fatih’s idea to have it feel like Katja was drowning, literally, in the three chapters, in the beginning and in the courtroom, when she’s sitting in that grey, windowless room, and then in the conclusion when [she finds] resolution.

It’s great to see such a complex and unapologetic woman who doesn’t apologize for her actions. That doesn’t come along very often, does it?
KRUGER:
No, definitely not for me. So much of an actor’s career is made up from opportunity, and I firmly believe that I would not have been offered this in the U.S., at least not in this point in my career. This is my first German-language film, and I know that Fatih took a big risk on picking me. He’s well known in Germany for hiring non-actors or local, unknown actors, which makes his films so authentic… in Germany, people in the industry were taken aback at why he’d cast an international, well-known actor, but I’m really grateful because this is the part I’ve been waiting for.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

It was inspired by real acts of terrorism by a neo-Nazi group called the NSU, right? How did a film start to form around that concept?
KRUGER:
Its themes are something of great concern, especially to Fatih, who’s Turkish himself. In Germany, there’s a big problem with Turkish immigrants and an uprising — just as in the United States and all over the world — of right extremism. So, I know Fatih set out making this film based on a real trial that’s still ongoing, about Turkish people being killed by neo-Nazis, and the victims are accused of being the origin of this problem. So, because of his outsider’s journey, that’s the reason he made this film.

Terrorism might be the [inciting action] in this movie, but it’s really a universal story about grief, and this problem is a reality that everybody in the world lives with. It could have been jihadists; it could have been a shooter in Las Vegas. In the end, it’s about the people that stay behind, and that’s what’s so touching… I can’t stress to you how acutely aware it made me of the times we live in, and how acutely aware now, when I watch television and there’s another attack, because I know how many Katjas are being created each day and what they must feel.

Magnolia Pictures

FATIH AKIN: My motivation was in how the media forgot these attacks. Something happens in the news, and tomorrow we forget it. I had to keep this dialogue alive for an audience. Once I began writing, all these political elements shifted to the background. I realized, through Diane’s portrayal of a leftover family member of the victims, that I personally believe it doesn’t mater who killed her husband and her child. After a certain while in the film, it seems to be exchangeable. In grief, we’re all the same.

State justice is a very different thing than individual needs for justice. Trials in Germany are typically the most non-emotional events. Emotions have nothing to do with a courtroom in Germany. It’s all very cold. For a victim, the need for justice, the want for justice, is such an emotional thing, so there’s a conflict, here. The [coldness] of the state meets this emotional thing for the individual. Where there’s a conflict, there’s drama, and where there’s drama, there’s a screenplay.

Magnolia Pictures

Diane, you embody that universal quality so well in your performance. Did you have to be a more disciplined performer to make this character work?
KRUGER:
I had to be really open and naked, emotionally, and the truth is, I don’t know if I could have played this part five years ago. This is the first time a director said to me, “I know you can do this, but I need you to give yourself over to the process of becoming this person, and I need you to invest the time.”

So, I prepped for six months. I met with about 30 families of survivors — not just of terrorism, but terrible murder. And those experiences are hard to describe, because it’s not their individual stories, which are all equally horrible, it’s about witnessing that sense of loss and giving yourself over to that grief that I hope I never have to live in my own life. I felt an acute sense of responsibility as the months passed, and I was witnessing what these families were going through, and trying be truthful to what they’d experienced. It changes you as a person, and without wanting to sound like a cliché, a movie like this requires more than just acting: You become that grief, you drown in that grief. I felt like I was drowning, and I still feel this story everyday. It was mostly self-help groups. I had a friend in New York, who’s a psychiatrist, and he was talking to some families about this, and he broached the subject of me being able to attend these meetings, because it’s not an easy thing to sit in on. You feel like an intruder; you feel like an asshole for asking questions.

Gordon Timpen/Magnolia Pictures

As time went on, I realized I just needed to listen, observe, and allow myself to feel their pain, and it was helpful to see all the stages of grief…. things stuck out to me. Like rage, [because] it’s one thing when somebody gets sick and dies. That’s horrible, but murder and terrorism are so brutally unfair in the sense that someone else makes that decision for you, your life changes in one second, and it will never ever be the same.

Do you feel that a certain type of person — say, those who cling to their guns when a mass shooting happens in America — would benefit from watching this film more than anyone else?
AKIN: 
Without being didactic or preaching, the message of the film is very short: It shows how violence can create violence. So, what the Katja does [with her grief] is an example, and it’s a choice. No matter who starts it, it always ends in violence. The solution, however, is in the dialogue, and cinema can create that dialogue. Two people can have two different opinions and go see a film and come out with a dialogue about it. With help from the film’s arguments, the reasonable can convince the unreasonable. That’s my hope.

KRUGER: I’m not a politician; I’m just a human being. We’re all trying to figure out what’s happening and what we can do to make these horrific things stop. The most amazing thing I’ve experienced since we started showing this film is on what level it connects us as human beings. This movie has inspired a real conversation, not just between journalists and I, but also among the audience. It has opened up in me an empathy and connection to people that I wasn’t quite aware I had… that dialogue has opened up for me, too [and] that means half the battle is won, you know?

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