Whether she's a blur of bright red hair, using a scalpel for self-defense, saving a one-man army, or the unofficial queen of 19th century New York, there is a singular undercurrent that ties together all the strong women Franka Potente has played: they're weak.
That is the odd acting choice Franka explained to me when we spoke earlier today about her role as brothel owner Eva Heissen on BBC America's new 1864-set crime series, Copper. In addition to making me understand her way of thinking, Franka explained why she signed on to Copper, why it's good to be a pimp and what you can expect from her upcoming guest arc on American Horror Story season two.
TheInsider.com: What appealed to you about Copper?
Franka Potente: The first thing that drew me in was New York. I love New York and it seemed to be about the birth of New York. I didn't know much about New York before it became New York. My dad is a historian. He always reminds me of how important it is when I read a script that it's historically correct. And with Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson as the creators, I knew it would be. Tom Fontana is an encyclopedia on legs. He knows so much. So I wasn't worried. It's also the story of immigrants, and I can relate to that. I'm an immigrant in America. I'm not a brothel owner, but I'm doing business. It was just interesting and fresh and seemed contemporary even though it's set in 1864, which seems impossible, but I liked that about it.
Insider.com: I totally agree about the contemporary feel. Where do you think that comes from?
Franka: I think you could take Eva out of 1864 and, because she's not as restricted as the socialites of the time, what she does would totally work today. To be honest with you, I have to pay tribute to Tom because with a series like this, the texture has so much to do with how the lead character is done. If I can't relate to the lead character on a show, or don't like the feel of the hero, I'm out. I didn't notice it working with Tom [Weston-Jones, who plays Detective Kevin Corcoran], but watching it, there is a suaveness about this guy that I really like for the character. There's some darkness, he's kind of hunky, has the aura of a rockstar and I really like that for the character. It works for me.
Insider.com: And what about Eva, what attracted you to her?
Franka: She's really a wildcard. With a series, you never know what will happen with your character, but the more you establish that someone is fearless and ruthless and all these badass things, so much can happen. Eva definitely moves up and over and everywhere – she has her fingers in everything. She's like a dark angel, spreading her wings. She's fun and she's dangerous – and of course that's fun to play.
Insider.com: One of the characters asks what Corcoran sees in Eva. How do you see their relationship?
Franka: You'll see it unfold more and more over the season, but they're friends with benefits, f*ck buddies, whatever. More complex layers come later and while I don't think Eva would ever admit this, she's more romantically involved than Corcoran is. They enjoy each other physically, there's some business in there, but Eva isn't working as a hooker any more save for a few exceptions, and Corcoran is definitely one of them.
Insider.com: Throughout your career, from Run Lola Run to The Bourne franchise, you've never really played the woman who needs to be saved by a man. Does your personality just not mesh with that characteristic or are you just not attracted to those scripts?
Franka: The most interesting thing to look for in a script is the weakness in a person. Where do they hesitate? Where do they stop? Where are they frightened? Those little moments lead to strength. Take someone like Superman, who is perfect, knows it all and does it all faster than everyone else -- that's super boring. I think that's how it configurates. I think you can take almost any character and give them a certain aura of strength if you look for the imperfections.
Insider.com: Can we expect the same strength from your upcoming role on American Horror Story?
Franka: I can turn her into that, I think. I think there will be something about that part that is very sensational. I think the question of strength is not even on the surface for a while. I can't really talk about it, they're totally going to sue me if I say anything. Honestly, if I gave it away, like there's one thing, if you knew that, it would make the two episodes boring. It’' going to be cool. The character has a secret where you'll be like, "What? Wow! Really?" [laughs]
Insider.com: Were you a fan of season one?
Franka: We watched it religiously every week. I liked the texture and the tone. It was so creepy, and that's not easy to achieve. I'm curious to see what they do with the insane asylum situation. I'm grateful I get to act with Jessica Lange, she's so awesome. To have the chance to watch a great actor at work, I'm excited about that. It's a treat. I start working in the next few weeks on episodes 4 and 5.
Insider.com: You've done a lot of TV work in America and in Europe lately. Why did you make the shift?
Franka: I think television is super exciting right now. Also, there's less arrogance towards TV now because, Jesus, all the big movies actors have their own TV shows. I think everyone wants to be part of something that's creative and that they love doing. I don't know what happened with movies, maybe there's just not as much money in film as there once was. I don't think anyone wants to sit around and wait until opportunities come around.
Copper premieres August 19 at 10 p.m. on BBC America.