OUR INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL BRÜHL
By Crash redaction
Photo : Daniel Brühl is wearing a Brioni navy polo shirt and an APC denim jacket. © Marc Hibbert
Discovered fifteen years ago in Good Bye Lenin!, Daniel Brühl has put together an impressive filmography. His masterful performance as a young Nazi in Inglourious Basterds earned him international acclaim and sealed his reputation as one of the greats on screen. He tells us about his career, his acting experiences, and his upcoming projects for 2017, when we will see him opposite Vincent Cassel and Rosamund Pike in José Padilha’s Entebbe.
Tell us about yourself…
I grew up in Germany mainly, but I am the son of a Spanish mother and a German father. And interestingly I have two French aunts, so I also grew up in a French family in Germany with cousins that are half-German, half-French. So it was a very multicultural environment. Professionally speaking, I started playing in school theatre as a child. So I got in touch with the film universe and it was always something that interested me because my father was a documentary filmmaker and TV director. And then by the age of 15 I did my first film. I was immediately fascinated by it so I wanted to become an actor at that time.
Your career has led you to play very different roles: Alex in Good Bye, Lenin!, Fredrick in Inglourious Basterds, Niki Lauda in Rush, Thomas in The Face of an Angel, Daniel in Colonia, or Tony in Burnt just to mention a few…
I guess for an actor it’s interesting to explore all these different sides. That’s what makes it interesting and keeps you fresh and curious. Like in life, we are many things at once as human beings. So I was happy to be given the chance not to be typecast as just one thing. But it’s not easy to get the opportunity because people want to put you in a box, you know. And I suffered from that a little bit at the beginning. It was from a film which was the nicest gift and privilege and a little bit of a curse at the same time, it was Good Bye, Lenin! which just put me on the map and helped me in so many ways up until now. It’s a film that I am extremely fond of but because it was so successful, people then really thought that I am the guy from that film, that I am the nicest German guy that would do anything for his mother. So people would see in me like an ideal son-in-law who would help old people cross the street.
After that in Germany I always got so many scripts to play this nice guy and that really annoyed me after a while. I really had to fight to get other opportunities and different parts. Oddly enough these opportunities to play villains came from other countries! They didn’t have that bias or impression of me… And I was so surprised when I got the call that I got the part in Inglorious Basterds or Rush for which I was playing the part of Niki Lauda – this German-speaking Austrian character. If somebody from Germany would have done this film they probably wouldn’t have chosen me because they would have thought, “Oh no! He is too nice.” And then Lauda is a bit of an asshole in that film. He’s quite cocky and arrogant. I only had one meeting with the producers in London. After that meeting they gave me the part. I remember how surprised I was on the phone and John said, “No, no. I can see you playing that guy. I can feel it.” I’m very thankful for getting that unbiased look as an actor.
What was the most difficult part for you to play? Which movie was the hardest in terms of interpreting your character and why?
There were one film that I did – one of the first I did when I was 20. I played a schizophrenic in a film called The White Sound directed by Hans Weingartner, who also did The Edukators, which was invited to Cannes. That was the second film we did together. But the first one was a very experimental, intense film. I played a character who was based on one of the director’s friends who actually suffered from schizophrenia. I prepared myself with that guy, but it was very hard for me to get there because it’s a mental disorder that is very hard to understand from the outside. It was just an attempt to get close to it without fully understanding it, so there was always that feeling of it being off. It was important for me to explore my own madness that was within me, to believe in what I was doing, to convince myself. But I would suffer from that disease so it was quite difficult, one of the hardest roles.
Lately we have seen you on the screen in Me and Kaminski and Captain America. How was it to be reunited with Wolfgang Becker after all those years?
With Wolfgang we have been friend ever since Good Bye, Lenin! We became very close friends. We have always been in touch and we always wanted to work with each other again, and so luckily we did. I think he is going to visit me next week here in Budapest. So yes, we are very close!
Captain America to me was like going to a different planet. It is a completely different acting experience. I was very impressed by the quality of the Marvel films, because it is entertainment on a higher level. It is extremely well done and there are so many fantastic actors involved in these films. Then when I met Kevin Feige he was an incredibly smart man who holds that whole universe together. It was very inspiring to listen to him and his passion for the comic world was contagious. I felt like a little boy when I went to the set in Atlanta for the first time and saw the scale of it, how huge the production was, and how incredibly professional everybody was. To have the luxury of working with all these fantastic actors like Chris and Robert Downey, Jr. and all the others. I really enjoyed it!
Now tell us about your upcoming projects for 2017… You will star as lead role in the series The Alienist along with Luke Evans and Dakota Fanning. What can you say about this experience?
It is the first time that I am doing a long TV show. I have wanted to play the part for such a long time after watching so many series. I just started a couple weeks ago, but I know already that I will be as happy after 6 months in September as I am right now. It is something that I am really certain of… It is one of those projects where all the pieces come together perfectly. First of all, it is based on a wonderful book called The Alienist and that book absolutely mesmerized me. I couldn’t put it down. I was reading it like a twelve-year-old boy. It takes place during 1896 and it’s a very dark and gloomy story about a psychologist and some other guys who are hunting a serial killer. It is very sinister and has a wonderful atmosphere and quality. The adaptation of the script is fantastic.
I would say the preparation is even more intense because there is so much more time that you have to spend with the character. So you have to really want to explore all the aspects. Because it is not a contemporary story, you have to dive into this universe and into that world of 1896 NYC. I read a lot about the city at that time and watched documentaries. I also read a lot of materials about psychology. I really spent many hours reading Freud and all those guys. So there is a lot to do. And obviously you have much more text and lines, so I spent time preparing my theme in advance. And then because you sometimes jump from episode to episode and you’re not always shooting in a chronological order, you have to be well prepared because you have to know what state your character is in and have that journey in mind.
There is also way more space to express one character. Sometimes movies can be like a corset. You have to get to a certain point in ten minutes and so you feel limited sometimes. If you have a fascinating character you can get really disappointed because you think, “Oh, I’d love to explore more about this or that aspect of him.” So it is wonderful to have the privilege to do so in a TV series and not hear the clock ticking in your head. It is nice to have the luxury of time. I was approached by the Belgian director Jakob Verbruggen, who is a wonderful and passionate director, and all the producers involved in it are fantastic. Overall it is just a fantastic project to be involved in.
Now onto film: we’ll see you next in José Padilha’s Entebbe, along with Rosamund Pike and Vincent Cassel, as well as Cloverfield Movie, directed by Julius Onah… What was new for you about filming these movies?
It is always new and different. In Cloverfield Movie we were in a spaceship and shot that at Paramount. It is a sci-fi thriller that happens in the future. So that was obviously a completely different experience from Entebbe, where we went back in time to the 70s and I played a terrorist hijacking a plane. I had the honor of working with Rosamund Pike who is one of my favorite actresses. They are very different films with very different settings, but I have to say that both are equally demanding and exciting.
José Padilha is a fantastic director and I have been a fan of him since I watched the first and second Elite Squad. And obviously Narcos was amazing to watch. I think there is so much great cinema coming from South America. I don’t know what it is, “Latino Fire” maybe, but José definitely has it! He has a brilliant style of shooting, sometimes improvising things on the day of filming. I have been doing this for a long time but loved it. It was a documentary style of producing and approaching a story, so it was very energetic and fresh and fast. Cloverfield Movie was much more technical and visually demanding, because we were in a futuristic world.
And now I’m very happy to be in 1896 New York, wearing one the fabulous suits they tailored me and being driven around in a horse-drawn carriage to recreate that wonderful city and time travel. It’s so nice to do this job! It makes you feel like a child sometimes. It is almost like in a dream. Yesterday we were shooting wide shots with probably fifteen carriages. People were going to an opera all dressed up among old buildings, gas lanterns, you know all of it. And I was sitting in the carriage and looking outside. Because it was a wide shot you needed a big space where there is nothing from nowadays. And it was absolutely breathtaking to really think for a couple of moments, “Oh my god, I’m in 1896. I’m in the past!” It’s wonderful.
What would you like to change in our society today? Does cinema allow you to get involved in one way or another?
I want to believe that Cinema can help and make people aware of certain things. That is why I am happy to be involved in films about social issues. Many things nowadays should be changed, but if there is one thing that I want right now it is for Europe to stick together. That means a lot to me. I grew up in a wonderful open-minded place that shares values and stands in unity. So I would love it if that would continue to be the case in the future.
Interview by Anna Ceravolo.