Tall, blonde and strikingly beautiful, German-born goddess Diane Kruger has captivated movie audiences since she was aptly cast as Helen of Troy in Troy. Since then, the former ballet dancer and model has racked up notable credits in films like Inglourious Basterds, National Treasure, Unknown and The Host. But her first starring TV role—in FX s The Bridge (Wednesdays, 10/9c) —has brought her wider acclaim and her toughest work yet. She plays El Paso, Texas police detective Sonya Cross, who battles crime and corruption—and Aspberger syndrome. Which made for a pretty interesting discussion.

Is Sonya the most challenging character you’ve ever played?
Yes, in a way, because she has Aspberger’s and so many limitations. It’s strange to not react in the way you and I would react. So that’s strange and very challenging, and it makes those moments when she does show emotion more powerful.

What do you like most about her?
I find her directness refreshing sometimes because she says things as she sees them. She’s not just a cop. She’s a smart, fully formed character, and that’s exciting, because of the relationships she has. It’s a very dark season for her, but she comes out a more mature, more assured person that is finally more able to take her life in her own hands.

“To a lot of people Sonya is strange, but heartbreaking and beautifully so, and she is, in a way, very close to real life.”

Why do you think she’s obsessed with the brother of her sister’s killer?
Part of it is a backstory that we have never seen. Sonya probably grew up never diagnosed with Asperger’s, in a very broken home, and her sister was literally her only family. She’s never been able to move past her sister’s death. Jim Dobbs, the killer, is her last connection to her family, and she transfers all of these complicated, dark and not very healthy emotions to his brother. In a weird way, it’s quite beautiful and sad at the same time. She can be so rigid. She’s not a really warm person. Her emotions aren’t always in the right place. To a lot of people she is strange, but heartbreaking and beautifully so, and she is, in a way, very close to real life.

Had you received TV offers before The Bridge?
Only one time; It was a pilot that I really wanted to do and really loved but wasn’t right for. That opened the door. This is such hard work, to be a lead of a show. I’m looking forward to finishing. We’re on our last episode right now. But it’s really nice to spend so much time with a character. I feel like I get to fully explore my potential as an actor. I get to show all different nuances of a character. In movies you don’t always get to do that.

You have a couple of movies coming up—what’s Fathers and Daughters like?
I play an alcoholic trophy wife. She’s a mess. It’s set in the ‘80s so you can just imagine the big hair and fake nails. It was a great character. I can’t do a lead in a movie right now while I’m on The Bridge, but the beauty of supporting characters is every scene counts. It was great to go to Pittsburgh and do a crazy scene as the opposite of Sonya.

You also play Abraham Lincoln’s mother in The Better Angels.
Yes. It’s very historically accurate. The script is gorgeous. But it was done in a way that they never stop filming, which is very odd. There are no real scenes; it’s very fluid. You become like a kid again because your imagination has to kick in. You’re left to your own devices. You find yourself always staying in character. That’s not how I trained. I trained in classical theater—Victor Hugo and Moliere.

What do you plan to do next?
A French film that will shoot here called Sky—it’s about a couple that comes to America to save their marriage.

Do you have a career to-do list?
Not a list, but I still have dreams to work with certain people. The more you act the more you become infatuated with the possibilities, though as I get older there aren’t many roles for women, which is sad because you have more life experience and bring so much more to a role. Still, I think it’s a new era for women right now because of television. I think it’s getting better. Where would you find a role like Sonya Cross in movies right now? I think it’s a really exciting time for talent and directors, too.