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Fresh face to launch thousand ships for Troy

Berlin, May 12 (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 seven kg for the role,” she 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 kg because it made her ill to see how much I had to eat.”

She said she has since lost all seven kg.

Petersen, who left Germany for Hollywood in 1987, said he was searching for a new face with classic beauty.

He insisted he didn’t realise 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 discovery.

Early in his career, while directing a German detective series called Tatort, Petersen gave the little-known Natassja 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 US 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.

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