The one think you can say about beautiful German actress Franka Potente, is that she is nothing if not honest. As we chat in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, the actress frankly concedes her reason for doing The Bourne Supremacy, the sequel to the 2002 hit thriller which firmly established the actress to US audiences.
“Contract. Simple answer,” says Potente. Without revealing too much about the sequel, Potente’s Marie disappears from screen some 10 minutes into the movie, despite the actress having received second billing. The actress concedes that at the time she was contracted for the sequel, she no idea that her part would be severely cut from the second film, and admits to disappointment but not shock.
“I wasn’t shocked but maybe a bit bummed out because I felt, knowing of course that it was Jason Bourne’s story, that there would be a lot of interesting things to tell about Marie,” Potente explains. “I think we have a young woman that’s way freer than Jason Bourne and through this whole genesis of running away, getting to know each other, etc, she’s making a lot of sacrifices to be with him. We have a guy that comes up with an attractive offer: I really don’t know who I am, all I remember is that I’m an assassin and would you like to go to India with me? She must really love him, I think she does and she might have a lot of hope that things will change because she needs to go and develop that relationship, so the dynamics and all that are really interesting to me. But on the other hand, I talked to Paul [Greengrass, director] about it too and I was very careful, because I don’t like actors who try to talk directors into making their part bigger and that’s really lame.”
Anyone who know Franka and her work in both Europe and the US, are fully aware of her need to play strong female characters on screen. As ferociously independent as her character was in The Bourne Identity, Potente all too concedes that taking on a more passive role in the sequel was a let down. “Oh, I argued all the time, but when I talked to Paul about, in the end, what I saw and liked about part 1 and also about part 2 is the really bold, drastic choices the movie makes. It’s kind of against the rules.” ‘Going against the rules’ seems to define the choices and career of Potente. The almost 30-year old Berlin-born actress has already appeared in over 25 films and says that not only was there an innate desire to perform but a need to act from the outset. “I did it as a kid and it was all about attention and it seemed always the natural thing to do where other kids did other things. Now I just really enjoy the processes. It’s work to me, and interesting to dissect characters and find out about them, portray them, observe, research and all the parts that demand that.” In deciding to be careful about the roles she chooses, Potente insists that she is “not interested in walking around as a cliché, because it’s not my job.”
Potente decided to live in Los Angeles for a year, to test the waters, but while many actors who come here find themselves literally seduced by what Hollywood has to offer, Potente has never found it so. She says after a year, she is finally ready to return to her native Berlin. “I’ve lived in Los Angeles since September and suddenly I am homesick.” There is much, she says, and that she misses about Europe. “Good coffee and bread, but also I remember the other day when I consciously started thinking I’ll go back, I was walking my dog and there was some beautiful green lawn and my first urge was to just sit on it. Then I knew it belonged to a house and somebody would come really quickly and ask me to leave and I thought about the parks in Berlin. I just want to be able to sit on grass as long as I want to, without anybody telling me to leave. Everything is so restricted, here, in that you actually have to stand behind a line, you can’t go up the Canyon and enjoy the view. I got a ticket when I wanted to do that because it was closed that night. What am I going to do, start a fire? I came here with the intention of wanting to hibernate, because my life was very complicated, as I just separated from a long relationship and this is why I chose to come here. It was not because of work and after a year I felt strong enough and you know healthy enough to go back. So I guess in order to be seduced by something, it has to be something that is appealing to you.”
The relationship about which she refers was with director Tom Tykwer, who directed her in Run Lola Run, which ended about 18 months ago, about the time that we last met to discuss The Bourne Identity. At that time, she was clearly disinterested in discussing her personal life, least of all, that relationship. Today, Potente is a different person, but at the time, she recalls, it was tough. “It was just very fresh. I think when you’re unstable and still, you know, feeling a lot of pain about such things, everybody’s reluctant to talk about it.”
Franka says that she remains concerned that that the more successful she becomes, the higher the price she has to pay in terms of protecting her privacy, “because the more you work, the less time you have and the less intimacy you have, and then most of the time it’s not so much to protect myself but the other people, especially when they’re not in the business. For instance my Dad’s a teacher, and my Mom works in a doctor’s office, and they meet people all the time who ask them stuff, or who confronts them with an opinion about me, and they don’t know how to always react.”
Potente is currently single and happily looking, admitting that despite the strong women she plays, in her own life, she’s a romantic softie. “I think I’m a really good partner and very sensitive to the other person’s feelings. I want somebody else to be comfortable, to understand about my job, and if they want to come on a set and see me work, they always can. Everything’s very clear and I always encourage conversation about fears that come because I know that it can be intimidating to be a famous, successful woman to a man, and I try to be very clear and always open about it. I think when I’m in love, I really am very good with calling, little faxes, and visiting and I really put a lot of effort into it. I’m really not the one that’s not available because of work and I’m very sad when I actually leave.”
As Potente is about to turn 30, she doesn’t see this new epoch as something to fear, nor is she getting undue pressure to finally settle down. “I think people are more concerned about numbers. It’s probably from tradition, like your parents and family. My Mom had me when she was 21 and so when their child turns 30 it’s like, the people go: so now it’s time! I personally don’t feel that way. I felt older than I was for a lot of years because of my job, the pressure, and all so damn smart and witty. People are that much older than you, so it’s just kind of a time adjustment.”
While Franka is looking for love, professionally, she is being kept more than busy. She signed up for Che, which was originally to be directed by the elusive Terrence Malick, and is now in the hands of Soderbergh. In describing the publicity-shy Malick, with whom she collaborated for several months before he pulled out, Potente describes him as “a very sweet Santa Claus. He has a beard and red cheeks, is notoriously shy but not vain at all. I met him through a mutual friend, a young guy who edited The Bourne Supremacy, and he helped me with problems that were not his problems.” Franka cannot help but be disappointed that she will not be working with him on Che. “because as much as I admire Steven Soderbergh’s work, Terrence Malick doesn’t work that often and he’s a milestone of American film history to me. Steven does like one movie a year so there’s a possibility we’d work together again while with Terrence there are not so many possibilities.”
In returning to Germany, Potente is looking for the kinds of strong women she has enjoyed playing over the years, but finds it as challenging there to get a good film, as here. “The script situation to me is very similar and very bad everywhere. I read scripts from everywhere and I decide upon the content and the quality by my standards, as to whether I like it or not.” And she is looking for a strong character, “in the sense that it makes sense, that the motivations are interesting and well written. I want to understand the psychology behind things, and her motivations. This can also be someone who cries all the time, who’s slapped by her boyfriend and doesn’t know what to do which is not strong in that definition I guess, but I just want something that’s complex and interesting.”