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‘Troy’ star has face to launch 1,000 ships

Former ballerina and model Diane Kruger stars opposite Orlando Bloom
/ Source: Reuters

She had a face that launched a thousand ships and was supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the world.

But the actress who plays Helen in the new film “Troy” was a complete unknown even in her native Germany before director Wolfgang Petersen plucked her from obscurity to star with Brad Pitt in one of the most expensive films ever made.

Diane Kruger beat established Hollywood stars such as Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, who were reportedly eager to play Helen in Petersen’s $200 million film based on Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad.”

“I’m just totally overwhelmed,” 27-year-old Kruger told a news conference in Berlin at “Troy’s” world premiere ahead of its release this month. “I can hardly believe this has really happened to me. It’s a dream come true.”

Helen of Troy is one of the most legendary women in the history of literature and the indirect cause of the Greek-Trojan war.

Married to the Greek hero Menelaus, she was abducted by the Trojan prince Paris and taken to Troy, sparking the 10-year war and the siege of the walled city by united Greek forces — giving rise to the legend that her face launched a thousand ships.

“I had to gain [15 pounds] for the role,” Kruger said — an order from Petersen to give the former model a more rounded look.

“It was terrible. A girlfriend who came to visit me ended up losing five kilos because it made her ill to see how much I had to eat.” She said she has since lost all 15 pounds.

Petersen, who left Germany for Hollywood in 1987, said he was searching for a new face with classic beauty. He insisted he didn’t realize that Kruger was German until after he had picked her from a pack of 3,000 video tape auditions.

“I didn’t pick her because she’s German,” Petersen said. “I picked her because she’s so good.”

But the 63-year-old director — whose career began in Germany with “Das Boot” before he moved to Hollywood to make “In the Line of Fire,” “Air Force One,” and “The Perfect Storm” —admitted he was also eager to make a new discovery.

Early in his career, while directing a German detective series called “Tatort,” Petersen gave the little-known Nastassja Kinski a starring role in a now-famous 1977 episode called “For Your Love Only.”

Kinski later went to Hollywood to play the title role in Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning “Tess,” and had a lead roles in other films.

“I wanted to find a new face, an unknown face, sort of like what happened with Natassja Kinski,” Petersen said. “It was a lot of fun.”  He said that when he finally met Kruger in person he was sure he had made the right choice.

“As soon as Diane entered the room, I knew I’d found her,” Petersen said.

According to U.S. and German media reports, the film’s producers were interested in hiring a known star such as Kidman, Cameron Diaz, or Uma Thurman to play Helen.

“The studio boss said they had seen 3,000 women and some could launch 100 ships, others could launch 500 but they were looking for the face that could launch 1,000,” Kruger said, adding she didn’t think she would get the call.

Small town girlKruger grew up in Germany, in the small town of Hildesheim near Hanover, where she was known as Diane Heidkrueger. Her mother worked in a savings bank and her father was a technician.

She later studied at the Royal Ballet School in London. A knee injury at 13 cut her ballet career short and she turned to modeling, winning several contests. She said she was above all eager to get out of Germany.

Her face has appeared on fashion magazines such as “Vogue,” “Elle” and “Cosmopolitan” but she quit modeling four years ago saying it was boring. She now lives in Paris with her husband, French actor Guillaume Canet.

She shortened her name Kruger and has worked hard at removing any trace of a German accent from her English with the help of a speech coach.

Until now, she had had small roles in films such as “The Piano Player” with Dennis Hopper in 2002 and a French film “Mon idole.” She won a best young talent price at the 2003 Cannes festival.

She will next appear in a film with Nicolas Cage “National Treasure,” “Copying Beethoven” with Ed Harris and “Merry Christmas” — a film about the World War One truce when German, French and British soldiers stopped shooting to play football for a few remarkable hours.