The Operative (Die Agentin) press conference with Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman, Cas Anvar and Yuval Adler
The Operative, an Israeli spy thriller that perhaps doesn’t thrill as much as it planned to, received its world premiere at this year’s Berlinale. Diane Kruger plays Rachel, a foreign operative for Mossad who is sent to Iran to seek a backdoor into infiltrating the country’s nuclear aspirations. Martin Freeman, whose most recent effort Black Panther was nominated for best picture at this year’s Oscars, plays her handler Thomas, who tries to get a literal and figurative grip on the elusive agent. Kruger and Freeman, along with their co-star Cas Anvar and the film’s director Yuval Adler, faced the press at Berlinale.
The feature is based upon the novel The English Teacher by Yiftach Reicher Atir, and Adler spoke about his first encounter with the source material. “I read it two years ago and it was written by a guy who was in Mossad – he was in army intelligence in Mossad, and there was something very unusual about the book in that it explored the life of a spy in a first-person point of view.” He added, “The book was a starting point. The script is pretty far from the book.”
The depiction of Israel’s intelligence service was questioned, and there were queries as to whether there would be official displeasure about how Mossad is portrayed. Adler stated, “I don’t think it shows them in a bad light. Intelligence organisations are always exploitative when they get their goals, so I don’t think any other organisation acts differently. In the film, there’s tension between professionals who manipulate non-professionals, but again, that’s a universal thing when you have spies and non-spies.”
Diane Kruger spoke about what first drew her to the role, saying, “Rachel’s a character that I was interested in because she’s not a killer. She’s not Jason Bourne, she’s not James Bond, and it’s the reality of what a spy has to do. Years and years of observing, of being still, and often not even knowing what the mission is because they’re being kept in the dark for a lot of it. And I thought that was interesting, what that would mean. How do you live in a country for a couple of years, fall in love with somebody? You develop feelings, whether you have a family at home or not. How does one go about that? At the end of the day, we’re all human, so things get messy. And I was interested in finding a truth in that.”
The lead actress even underwent basic espionage training with Mossad while on location in Israel. “I did a little bit of Mossad training to prepare for the movie in Israel. I did silly things, I didn’t even want to hold a gun, but I did little things, like convincing a stranger in the street to help me to get from A to B. I knocked at someone’s door, literally, saying “I need your help, can I come in, and can I go on your balcony?” The mission was to move to the balcony and the Mossad people outside would see that I convinced somebody with a story.” She didn’t much enjoy her spy games, saying, “I felt terrible about lying to these really nice people, and there’s so much anxiety that comes with that. I mean, if I knocked at somebody’s door in New York city, I’d probably get shot.”
As Thomas, Rachel’s handler for Mossad, Freeman has a brief fight scene that required some physicality. When asked if he had to do any preparations for this action sequence, the British actor replied, “No, I didn’t. A lot of my scenes are sitting down, and I’m very good at that. I specialise in that – sitting down. Sitting down, drinking coffee, and eating pastries. I was fine. I’m very fortunate in that I get to work on projects that I like, whether that’s something that’s kind of funny, or kind of serious, or a bit actiony. But no, for this there was no action. My first conversation with Yuval was – because it’s written that Thomas chases after Diane’s character and heads off a couple of Mossad agents – ‘Is that going to be like Jason Bourne? Is that going to be a fight?’ And he said no, that it would just look like me or you. It’s meant to look… not great. It’s meant to not look very professional, because Thomas is not a fighter. His whole deal is sitting down in coffee shops, grilling people, prepping them. So no, no prep was needed. But thank you for thinking that there might have been.”
Photo: Sebastian Reuter/ Getty Images
The Operative (Die Agentin) does not have a UK release date yet. Read our review here.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from The Operative (Die Agentin) here: