A mysterious Mennonite bookkeeper laundering Mexican drug cartel money and killing anyone in her way, Eleanor Nacht — the villain played by Franka Potente on season two of the FX crime drama The Bridge — is an in-charge woman attired like the Church Lady. For the German actress, the murderous character is a far cry from Run Lola Run’s red-haired dynamo and the initially reluctant sidekick she played in first two Bourne movies. Vulture phoned up Potente to discuss the role, tattoos, and being a PETA spokesperson who will act in fur.
What are the chances two German actresses end up on an American show about the drug trade on the Texas-Mexico border? Did you and Diane Kruger know each other?
We knew of each other, but we’d never met before or worked together. Diane has been here a long time, and so have I. I don’t know; maybe the showrunner [Elwood Reid] likes German women, or someone dated a German girl. [Laughs.]
You know a bit about Texas, having been an exchange student in Houston part of your senior year of high school. You’ve said you had the whole American experience: a boyfriend, football games, the prom — not exactly the El Paso life as depicted on The Bridge.
I was in a suburb of Houston, and it was my first time in America, so I was experiencing the world in a very different way. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to El Paso. I went to Mexico once. I probably did go because I was on the high-school tennis team, and we played in tournaments all over.
How did you get cast? Although Eva, the madam you played on Copper, did murder someone, you don’t necessarily come to mind when I think of a repressed, serial-killing bookkeeper who is never without her ledger!
Who does? That’s like the craziest, weirdest description of a role! I met with Elwood and we totally hit it off, and he told me a tiny little bit about the part. And I said, "Yeah, that sounds awesome." I had just had a baby [Georgie, now 1] a couple of months prior. To get offered something that was so very different, it was like taking a vacation from what was going on [in real life].
You also have two daughters [Polly is 3 and a half]. As a mother, how difficult was it to play someone who seduces and ultimately kills Kyle, a young, innocent boy?
I don’t judge her. It’s something Eleanor has to do because she has a certain structure and her own crazy rules. And the crazier the part, the better.
I thought Eleanor’s tattoos were a way to telegraph what a badass she is. But it turns out the ink is yours. Did you have a conversation with the producers about incorporating them rather than covering them up?
My personal tattoos are not really seen. They were covered up by Eleanor’s tattoos, which are demons and religious things. Tattoos have become a big thing, so when you [show them], you have to secure design rights. We worked with Shamrock Social Club, an old-school parlor on Sunset Boulevard that actually did two of my personal tattoos. My tattoos are nothing like Eleanor’s!
So it turns out Eleanor has been skimming money from her boss, the cartel leader. She knows how dangerous he is, so why would she do it?
I can’t give away too much. I think that Eleanor’s looking ahead and she’s covering her bases.
So we’ll find out why?
She does wear a fur coat — was it a mink? — while feeding turkey to her cat with a pin. You’ve posed for a PETA ad. Did wearing fur give you pause?
I never wear fur and I am a spokesperson for PETA. But in a role, that’s not my department, that’s the costume. She was wearing something off and strange; it’s very warm [in Juarez], which, to me, shows us how cold inside [she] is.
Let’s talk about the pins: Eleanor clearly gets off sticking herself.
She does strange things in order to feel something, in order to reward herself. To her, it feels nice; it has a bit of a sexual connotation.
She definitely has some kink. Some loose ends were tied up last night: We learned why Eleanor really killed her henchman, and she told Monte (Lyle Lovett) what to do if she died. She was just about to go wreak havoc on Hank’s (Ted Levine) family when she was caught by Sonya and Marco. Will there be a dramatic confrontation between Eleanor and Sonya? Is Monte going to have to follow through on her last wishes?
Without spoiling, I can say that whatever is dark and painful about Sonya’s past is kind of on a similar wavelength to Eleanor’s. Women sometimes connect over these things. It’s as if they can smell it on each other. There might be something like that happening for Eleanor and Sonya.
Eleanor develops a taste for romance novels courtesy of Caesar. I read you’re writing a novel. When will it be published?
It was published in Germany last March, but unfortunately, not yet in the U.S. There are so many amazing contemporary writers here. You don’t need another German writer translated!
Last question: As innovative as Run Lola Run was, do you think that story could be told today? Manni could just tweet for help after leaving the money on the subway, or he and Lola could post on Facebook or crowd-source. At the very least, Lola would be texting him as she ran around Berlin.
You have single-handedly destroyed the story! [Laughs.] As you said it, it wouldn’t have worked. But I think when people are under extreme pressure, they’re more careful and do what they know, which, in Lola’s case, was running. I mean, back in the day, she could’ve taken a cab! I haven’t seen [the movie] recently. But the last time I did, I didn’t watch it and say, “Oh my god, this is so ridiculous!” It holds up because of the action and the cartoon element.