Tuesday, June 18, 2002

'Bourne' actress refuses to play a wimpy woman

By Anthony Breznican
The Associated Press

        It's fitting that Franka Potente's last name means “strong.” The German actress best known as the tenacious, cherry-haired heroine of 1998's Run Lola Run is revolted by the abundance of weak, helpless movie roles for women.

        Ms. Potente, who makes punk style look glamorous, prefers playing hard-edged characters who test her endurance.

        “I like it when it's demanding,” said Ms. Potente, who co-stars with Matt Damon in the spy thriller The Bourne Identity, which made $27.5 million at the box office in its opening weekend. “At the end of the day I like to be tired and know, "Ugh, I worked today.' ”

        In Run Lola Run, she ran up to 8 miles a day in front of the cameras, playing a woman who races through Berlin to beg, borrow and steal enough money to stop gangsters from killing her boyfriend.

        In The Bourne Identity, she plays an adventurous good Samaritan who gets caught up in car chases, martial-arts attacks and gunfights after she helps a mysterious amnesiac played by Mr. Damon. Jaclyn Smith played the part in the 1988 TV version starring Richard Chamberlain, but in that movie the character became embroiled in intrigue only after she was taken hostage.

        “My major task was to really make her a civilian, not a cliche action movie girl,” Ms. Potente said.

        She also wanted to modernize the damsel-in-distress character from the 1980 novel by Robert Ludlum.

        “I started reading it, but I thought it was so old-fashioned,” said Ms. Potente, who turns 28 in July. “We're not in the Stone Age anymore.

        “But if you have a close look,” she added, “my characters have weaknesses, too. And this is what in the end makes them strong. We just have to be fair with the character and make her human. And I think weaknesses and admitting them is the biggest strength ever.”

        In one fight scene, Ms. Potente watches as Mr. Damon's character pulverizes a killer who's wielding a machine gun only to see the bloody and beaten assassin jump to his death before he can be questioned.

        “After a guy goes jumping out the window — which is the most bizarre thing — she was scripted to be flipping out and screaming and crying and wailing and beating her chest,” Mr. Damon recalled. “But she said, "No, no, no . . . I'm in shock. I'll play it like that.' ”

        Director Doug Liman said her stunned, silent response added to the tension of the moment by making it harder for Mr. Damon's character to usher her out of the building.

        “She's amazing because she makes the movie hers,” Mr. Liman said. “She's not just some sort of a Bond girl who's there to look pretty.”

        Born and raised in Munster, Germany, Ms. Potente began acting in theater productions, working part-time selling tickets to make money. She had a number of German TV roles before the breakaway success of Run Lola Run, made by former boyfriend Tom Tykwer.

        “We thought, "You know, this might be too artsy. They will show it at midnight on some TV channel,' ” she said. “Then it came out and it was like Christmas, and we would get presents and the presents kept getting bigger and bigger.”

        Other German credits include the horror film Anatomie and Mr. Tykwer's drama The Princess and the Warrior, both from 2000. Last year, Ms. Potente had small roles in the American films Storytelling and Blow.

        Her career choices reflect the boldness of her personality. Asked about her tattoos, Ms. Potente flashes the artistry creeping down the small of her back into her jeans, the thorns curling around her navel and the theater masks dangling on her shoulder.

        Her light German accent is occasionally flavored by a Texas twang, the result of a year she spent as a high school exchange student in suburban Houston.

        Another of Ms. Potente's trademarks is her ever-changing hair color. Red as a fire engine in Run Lola Run, it was bright green for The Bourne Identity before the filmmakers lost their nerve.

        Now relatively demure, it is mostly dark and threaded with blond and red highlights. It could almost be read as an indication of her moods.

        “When I finished my last movie, my hair was brown with red stripes, but I can't stay with a character's hair color. So I bleached it, cut it and made it orange. Then a week ago I said, "No, I don't see myself like this for the premiere,' ” she said. “I change it very often.”


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