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Franka Potente.

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Franka Potente on Copper, Cigarettes and Jägermeister, and the New Bourne Movie

German actress Franka Potente, best known for her roles in Run Lola Run and the Bourne franchise, is making a comeback on the small screen as a madam with a heart of gold in the new nineteenth-century cop drama Copper, which airs its second episode on BBC America this Sunday at 10 p.m. She's also set to play an asylum patient on two episodes of American Horror Story's second season. We talked to Potente about her hunky Copper co-star, Tom Weston-Jones, working with Jessica Lange, and what she thinks of Jeremy Renner as the new Bourne hero.

Your character is a nineteenth-century businesswoman, which is very unusual. Did you do research on the women from that era for inspiration?
I did some historic research. You would feel like a bad student if you didn't. But at the end of the day, I tried to dive into more of the emotional and human aspects of this character. And as the series progresses, you'll see different aspects of her unfold. Because the first episode's always, "Okay, well, this is everyone." I can say for myself I think I kind of hit my stride, like, completely — feeling more secure in who she was — by the fourth or fifth episode.

The man you are starring opposite, Tom Weston-Jones — he's pretty handsome, and he's your love interest. Lucky you.
He's very sweet, and we have a lot of sex scenes, so it's important that you have a good laugh, and he's really chill, and we get along really well. There's something very suave and sexy to him in a not-trying-too-hard way. I would call it a nice swagger. For me, I want to feel something like this for the lead character. It sets the tone and texture for the entire show. I didn't expect this magic, feel-able magic, from him. I think it really works for the character.

I read an old interview with you that you used to bring a bottle of Jägermeister to sets with you to help you with kissing scenes. Do you still do this?
[laughs] Well, this was just one little anecdote. This was like ten years ago on this movie Blow, with Johnny Depp, and we were shooting in a bar in L.A., and there was a power outage or something, we had some extra time, and the bartender was like, "Oh, Johnny Depp and everyone, you have to have a drink. Ah, you're German, okay, let's have Jägermeister" — and that's kind of what the story was. And I was really nervous that day. I had a lot of lines I had to do a Boston accent or something, and it was so hard, and I was really affected because I had too much Jägermeister. I was young, I didn't know any better. So that's really the story, and, no, I don't like Jägermeister, really. It gives you a headache, too much sugar; it's not my drink of choice.

During the time of Run Lola Run, you were famously a pack-a-day smoker. Is this still true?
Well, you know. I don't know like — smoking is such a touchy issue in America. So I don't even want to elaborate, but you know, you'd be surprised. I’ve met professional dancers, athletes [who] smoke, you know?

Can you tell me a little bit more about your role on American Horror Story? The only thing we know is that you're a patient at the asylum.
Probably not. Because honestly, they'll probably sue me if I do. Let's say there is a big thing that my character steps forward and claims, which is the hook for everything. And there are things about my character that are very upsetting and crazy to other people, and they try to figure me out. They try to find out if what I say is true.

You must be so excited to work with Jessica Lange.
Oh, of course, are you kidding me? That's like a free acting lesson. I'm just going to sit back and watch what she does.

Have you seen the new Bourne movie, with Jeremy Renner in it?
I haven't. But I also haven't seen Dark Knight Rises yet. I heard it's really good, to be honest. I'm not like, "Oh, I was part of the old franchise, why are they doing this, and why is Matt not in it?" I hear it's really good; it has great actors in it. So that's not what's keeping me or anything.

What did you think when you heard that they cast Jeremy Renner?
He's a great actor. I can see that. And I think he probably has the quality that I really liked in Matt, for the movies: That from the outside, he could be anything. There's an air of normality to him, you know what I mean? Like, he doesn't look like a crazy person. You want those guys to blend in a little bit. I mean that in the best way.

Photo: JIMI CELESTE/Patrick McMullan