By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire September 27, 2013 at 11:7AM
Best known stateside for his role as a devious Nazi in "Inglourious Basterds," Daniel Brühl is far from being a known name in America, despite being a bonafide celebrity in Germany thanks to the hit comedy "Good Bye, Lenin!" That's likely to change when Ron Howard's "Rush" opens wide today.
In the acclaimed drama based on a true story, Brühl gives a widely-lauded performance opposite an equally invested Chris Hemsworth as Formula One driver Niki Lauda, who shocked the world after returning to his sport following a catastrophic crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix that left him disfigured. For Brühl the role was a godsend, one he deemed responsible for netting him the part of WikiLeaks' former spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg in Bill Condon's upcoming "The Fifth Estate."
Brühl sat down with Indiewire and a select few other outlets at the Zurich Film Festival, where "Rush" last night served as the opening night film. Below are the highlights of our talk.
Brühl knew of Niki Lauda before getting the part.
"I grew up in Cologne, which is not that far away from the race track where the accident happened. When I was a kid, I knew who Niki was. He was and still is an icon in Germany."
"It felt a bit weird at first to play him. I was excited when I got the part but I also panicked. We don’t have that much in common, to be honest. I’m just thankful that Niki supported me throughout the whole process… We talked about serious stuff. Death, overcoming fear, vanity…"
Lauda has seen the film numerous times.
"It was strange for him to see the film and relive these moments. He told Peter Morgan [the screenwriter] that the third time he saw the film he couldn’t sleep that night because it moved him so. He’s human."
How Brühl got the part.
"I went to the audition and I was quite relaxed because I thought I would never get the part. That helped; normally I’m very nervous. I thought they’d let me suffer for two weeks, call me to tell me it was 'awesome,' and then give the part to someone else. So I was quite surprised I got the call only three days after our first meeting."
"They were very keen on offering the part to a German speaking actor, so that was an advantage, and also me and Ron [Howard] connected instantly. We mainly talked; I didn’t have to act. I talked about racing movies I liked, cars and playing this part."
"Three days after the audition, on a motorway, I was overtaking trucks and my girlfriend was screaming at me, 'You are not a good driver!' I looked at my mobile and there were three missed calls from England. That was a good sign. They wouldn't tell me three times no. I called them and Ron offered the part. I pulled over (laughs)."
Brühl did some of his own racecar driving.
"More than expected. At first they were extremely concerned insurance-wise, which I can understand. But Chris [Hemsworth] and I weren't that clumsy so we were in sort of Formula 3 boot camp for a month. But of course all of the precision driving was done by professionals."
And had an accident on set.
"A wheel came off the first time I tested my Ferrari. I spun. I was a bit nervous for three seconds, but then I turned around and I saw Chris and his mechanics smiling. And immediately in my paranoid German brain, I thought it was of their doing (laughs). I’ll never find out."
Brühl was jealous of Hemsworth on set.
"Only at the moments when I was picked up at three am to get the prosthetic makeup. I got mad because I’d sit there for six to seven hours. Sometimes I’d look at the call sheet and I remember one day it said Chris Hemsworth was to be picked up at 10 am. First scene was kissing a nurse. Second scene was making love on a plane. My scene was changing the tires."
Brühl wishes he was more like Lauda.
"I really envy Niki for his straightforwardness. It's really admirable. I'm a cautious, diplomatic, try-to-avoid conflicts type. Niki is just blunt. There's something attractive and brave about it. He taught me to lose fear. He told me at the beginning, 'Don’t give too much importance to what people say or think about you.' He said this because he knew that I was under pressure, especially as a German playing an Austrian. It was terrible at first. When I spent a month in Vienna trying to get the accent right, a lot of people who knew I was playing him would laugh, 'Good luck!'"
Lauda is unhappy with a scene from the film.
"I wanted to get some feedback early on so I could adjust things. He called me after seeing one scene, the one following the accident at the press conference. And he called me at six-o'clock in the morning. He was obsessed with details. He said, 'Oh, good, good, good but the wedding ring is bullshit. I never wore a wedding ring. I don’t want to see that ring again.'"
Brühl says "Rush" has opened doors.
"There’s a differing dynamic now. 'Rush' really helped me and Ron's support helped me get into 'The Fifth Estate.' I'm just realizing now that there is now interest from people I’ve always dreamt of working with."
Brühl owns three cars.
"I have one car that works, it's fast and safe: an Audi 5. And I have two old cars that never work: an old Peugeot convertible, and an Alfa Romeo Giulia. The Julia works better than the Peugeot."