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'Troy' Beauty Beat Out Hollywood Heavies for Role

When her face was chosen as the one to launch a thousand ships, Hollywood's reaction was unanimous: "Diane who?"

But willowy former model Diane Kruger (search) - who stars as the legendarily lovely Helen of Troy in the swords-and-sandals epic "Troy," (search) which hits theaters next week - has certainly seen the last of those days of anonymity.

The German-born blonde was plucked from obscurity to play the most beautiful woman in history - beating out Julia Roberts (search) and Nicole Kidman (search), who were rumored to be gunning for the prized role, opposite Brad Pitt (search), Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana.

But director Wolfgang Petersen shunned the Tinseltown A-list for a compatriot, who had appeared in just a few European films.

"Diane is not only a stunning beauty but a gifted actress with tremendous emotional depth and presence," Petersen said at the time.

He searched long and hard for his Helen, interviewing more than 2,000 actresses around the world, and put Kruger through four months of screen tests.

"Some people will think they found the right person and some will think, 'What the hell!'," she told People magazine, which cemented her newfound acclaim by crowning her one of the most beautiful people in the world. "There's only so much I can do."

Petersen saw in Kruger an ethereal, slightly melancholy quality that was perfect for the female lead in "Troy," which is based loosely on Homer's "The Iliad."

Married off against her wishes to Menelaus, king of Sparta (Brendan Gleeson) - a man three times her age - Helen feels cursed by her beauty and spends much of her time weeping.

When the Trojan prince Paris (Bloom) kidnaps her, the Greeks lay bloody siege to Troy, pitting the Greek hero Achilles (Pitt) against the king of Troy's eldest son, Hector (Bana).

While "Troy's" male actors endured grueling training, injuries and months of sweating it out in the Mexican sun filming the epic battle scenes, Kruger's challenges were more internal.

"It was intimidating," she has said. "Not because I didn't think I could do my part, but because I was worried about not being as strong a performer as people who have been in the business for a long time."

Kruger, who now lives in Paris with her husband, actor-director Guillaume Canet ("The Beach"), once dreamed of becoming a ballerina, but after a knee injury, she decided to pursue a modeling and acting career instead.

The face that launched an armada has now been launched in Hollywood: Up next, she'll star opposite Josh Hartnett in "Wicker Park," and in November she appears in "National Treasure," with Nicolas Cage (search) and Harvey Keitel (search).

But Kruger says she wants to keep making independent movies in French and English along with blockbusters.

"I would do anything for a part, nearly anything," she has said. "Being in movies doesn't mean being pretty."