Getting into the Depths of Eleanor Nacht from ‘The Bridge’ with Franka Potente
Who the hell is Eleanor Nacht, played awesomely by Franka Potente, on The Bridge? We know she’s very exact, calculating, and suspicious, she doesn’t hesitate to kill, whether it’s her accomplice or a young boy, and she cares for dead armadillos. But beyond that, we know nothing. Last Wednesday’s episode (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) got us closer to that answer with the introduction of her beloved what appears to be an acorn-hungry captive creature. Here, in a phone conference call, Potente talks about Eleanor’s character, the most powerful woman within the Mexican cartel, why the audience is so intrigued by her, and how television is like dating.
On how she gets into her character & what drew her to the role
Franka Potente: I was given very little information when I embarked on this journey. [Producer] Elwood Reid told me she’s bad, she’s very dark, she has dark secrets that only kept revealing themselves episode per episode. I did some research, and then put that in the back of your head and see if it ever surfaces again by itself because a lot of things, you can’t play. Inside, though, she’s quite simple to be honest with you. What’s complicated is her baggage from the past and the history of the terrible things that have happened to her and are still very present in her life and driving her to do what she does. I think she’s a very structured person as an inside universe that lays down the simple rules, which are basically it’s either things go as clear as Eleanor needs them, or people need to be removed because they endanger the structure. In a strange, beautiful, weird way, that is actually very simple for her.
I tried to inform myself a little bit more about the whole Mennonite background, and I’ve watched the show, and I know a little bit about what’s going on at the Mexican border and the immigrant situation. At the end of the day, you have to dismiss that a little bit because all this information is stuff that I can’t act. I can act someone who’s aloof, who keeps things simple, who follows a structure and defends it with blood if necessary. That’s all stuff I can act, and I really try and focus on that because, otherwise, you can make it also unpleasant and complicated for the audience, because then, as an actress, I’m trying to basically almost comment on what I do. That’s very confusing and not clear.
I always believe the audience is smart—they want to figure things out. It’s not my job to tell them how to understand the character, that’s their job. If they see it a different way than me or the writers, that’s absolutely fine. That’s the magic of why we watch things, because, hopefully, it does jumpstart our mind and we put things together and we want to understand her secret. Why is she doing this? What I like about a character that is different, that’s bad is that…let’s say we understand that all the audience, we are all normal, we’re good. How is that we can watch someone so bad, so psycho and kind of enjoy it? How can we watch someone like that who is so different, and for a split-second maybe admire her determination? How can we check in with our own aspirations watching someone like that? That’s what I want. That’s what’s interesting to me. I cannot comment on what she does, that’s not interesting to me.
On Eleanor’s motivation
Potente: It’s very much about the personal vendetta, but within it, she enjoys the power. Within her structure, that it’s absolutely necessary for her and how she does things. She’s always with her ledger, and she needs things a certain way. She doesn’t like people to touch her. She’s quite high maintenance in that way. She appreciates that Fausto knows all that, and he treats her accordingly being very clear with her. He sets very clear tasks so that really works out. She’s a control freak in a way, so that always has to do with power. It’s very important for her to have the upper hand, not with Fausto; she respects him as her boss. She works for him, and she understands that.
On acting on a television series after being in film
Potente: I loved every little bit of it. At first, it wasn’t quite clear that Eleanor would stick around this long. We had maybe seven episodes in mind, and then it just kept growing and she kept sticking around, which is amazing.
I like this kind of work where every week, a stone is turned, and it’s almost like I’m given a new challenge or something: a scavenger hunt that will eventually lead me to the goal or the prize or whatever. It’s a very playful approach. I think that in movies versus TV work, we get a script maybe two, three months ideally before we do the movie, and then we have to know everything. We have all the conversations and we have all the rehearsals and then we start shooting. It’s a very different dynamic. A lot of the stuff that we do in TV, the way we work, the pace and everything is a lot more realistic to how we would discover a person in real life. You meet someone, you start dating, and then every week, you find out more things. You don’t know everything about a person the minute you meet them, but if I play a character in a movie, I have to know everything about that person the minute I start shooting on day one. I really do appreciate this way of working because it keeps everything fresh. It keeps you up on your toes, keeps you curious, and sometimes, you’re surprised. That happens with ourselves. Tthat happens with friends, so I can connect to that very much.
On being such a strong female figure within the cartel
Potente: I think Eleanor is not interested in the female/male distinction necessarily, even though we see, as the show progresses, that she does have almost like a soft spot with certain women. She will have interesting connections that are surprisingly tender for her with female characters. No, I think she has a lot of male attributes; she’s just as cutthroat as Fausto is in a way. She’s not very emotional or, to say it differently, I think she’s very good at tucking her emotions away. She’s not like a sexual person, at least she doesn’t look it, but there’s not really so much that will get into the way between her and one of the male players in a weird way.
On playing a role that seems usually reserved for men
Potente: Well, I don’t look at it that way, of course. I don’t have any awareness of it while I work on it. To me, it is what it is, and that’s how it is for Eleanor. To be honest with you, it might seem more extreme because it’s enhanced, it’s like this weird looking, frumpy-ish, but yet hard-ass woman in the Mexican cartel world.
If we translate the question into our real lives, women have to be super heroes: we have to be moms and we have to lose the baby weight in eight weeks, have to be back at our desk another week later. We have to be awesome and beautiful and wear heels and work out. That’s really tough as nails, I think. Despite her appearance and all this, I think that makes it maybe a little bit more odd, but I think in reality, women are not much softer than men or anything. I think in the world we live in right now, we have to do everything with the same energy and the same vitality. We’re go-getters just as much.
On the juxtaposition of Sonya Cross, played by Diane Kruger, and Eleanor
Potente: They have a lot of similarities. I think they are both driven by some weird passion even though the surface is aloof or cold or whatever, but they’re definitely on different sides of the river. Sonya is the law and Eleanor is definitely not that; she operates by her own laws. It’s going to be very interesting to see, as the show proceeds, if these women do get to interact or, if their paths cross, one can imagine that it’s going to be very interesting. Gosh, I am like dancing around the spoiler.
Nadia Chaudhury really loves Run Lola Run.