Daniel Brühl and the Art of Collaboration and Being a Proactive Actor

Daniel Brühl’s career is long and rich. Some will know the Spanish-German actor for his work in the MCU. Others will know him as Fredrick Zoller in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Some will remember him as Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Rush. Some might even recall his early work such as Goodbye Lenin! Maybe it’s his appearance in Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife or working with Emma Watson in Colonia. It could be his villain roles; it could be his hero or (anti)hero roles. Whatever Brühl does, he gives one hundred percent. Including being an actor in, and producer via Amusement Park Films of the Academy Award winning Edward Berger version of All Quiet on the Western Front. Behind the camera as a producer, or a director, Daniel Brühl’s output relies on a certain quality. His collaborative spirit.

This year’s Race to Win: Audi vs. Lancia has him working with long-time friend Riccardo Scamarcio (who he also worked with in Burnt in 2015). In his directorial debut Next Door, he played a fictional version of himself which circled back to his breakthrough feature Goodbye Lenin! and starred Peter Kurth. A cameo by Vicki Krieps in Next Door is not only a glorious metatextual flourish but reminds us that he has worked with Vicki in Colonia.

Through Amusement Park Film he has worked as an executive producer to Julie Delpy’s later directorial work such as My Zoe. Daniel was in her third feature The Countess and has worked with her several times. For Brühl there are no small parts. Directors keep coming back to him. Actors trust him. His production company has been responsible for Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man.

Nadine Whitney chats to Daniel about his found film family and being energised by the people around him.

DB: So many of the people I’ve worked with are very dear to me in my personal and professional life. It’s always great when you can create long term relationships because by the second or third time you are working with someone you can go deeper.

Loyalty is something that is rare in my business. Right now I am in Australia working with Ron Howard (on the upcoming film Eden) because ten years ago in Germany when we were shooting Rush he said to me I have this project set in the 1930s on the Galapagos Islands and I’d really like to do that with you. I thought, yes great, but will that ever happen? Ten years later he comes to visit me in Paris and asks me to read the script. I thought, oh man, this is so cool. Ron hasn’t forgotten me, and he still wants to do the film.

The energy that Ron Howard has is so contagious. It shows me that it is what I am aiming for. I hope that when I reach his age I’m still as feverish and in the most positive sense, childlike. Passionate, thrilled, and enthusiastic about what we like so much – which is making movies. If I have that long breath that would make me a very happy man.

You already have a huge career behind you, and ahead of you. You’re only forty-five. You’re young!

DB: (Laughing) I am only forty-five, you’re right. You’ve made my day!

Will you be directing again?

DB: Oh yes! I enjoyed so much being the captain of the ship on Next Door and being responsible for every step and not be excluded from any of the fascinating aspects of filmmaking as you generally are as an actor. I loved sitting in the editing room and putting together the cuts. Sitting together with the scriptwriter at the beginning creating the story. To see how all the pieces come about is a wonderful thing and I want to do it again.

In fact I’m working with the same people, as you mentioned before. Daniel Kehlmann the screenwriter from Next Door has become one of my closest friends. And other one of my best friends is Malte Grunert one of the main producers of All Quiet on the Western Front.

We are so proud of Amusement Park Film because we are a little boutique company out of Berlin. There are five of us. We never dreamt of the success we had with All Quiet on the Western Front. It gives us all a lot of energy to keep on going.  

Malte Grunert is going to produce my next film. One of things I realised when I was a bit younger, I know I’m still young (laughs), is that I don’t want to be one of those actors who sits and waits for the phone to ring. I want to be responsible and proactive and find interesting material for myself. That is why I joined Amusement Park Film. I found my home professionally in that company. We share the same vision, values, taste and so on. That’s very comforting.

You can find your own work and you don’t depend so much on what might be coming around the corner.

Did you know that you have an extremely active, and dare I say it, rabid fanbase?

DB: (Quite shocked) I didn’t know that (laughing).

Oh, yeah. You have heard of ‘Dancing Zemo’? There are gif and videos of you dancing as Baron Zemo. There is a one-hour video of just footage of Zemo in the club. There are things written about you on social media which essentially call you a “thirst trap.”

DB: (Laughing and looking a little embarrassed his only response it to push back his hair).

The secret to Daniel Brühl’s success is of course hard work and an ability to laugh at himself. But much deeper is that he gives more than he takes. He has been in some of the biggest franchises on the planet from the MCU to Bourne and Kingsman. He has also worked with Michael Winterbottom and Lone Scherfig. Working with Benedict Cumberbatch came not through the MCU, but on The Fifth Estate where he played one of the founders of Wikileaks.

Whether the role is comedic, cerebral, dramatic, romantic, kind, or threatening – Daniel Brühl inserts humanity. Of course, I doubt he’d expect anyone to root for him as an out and out villain – and he’s played more than one of those. Yet he has that je ne sais quoi which keeps people coming back for more. The ‘I don’t know what’ really is that he’s Daniel Brühl. That seems to be enough.

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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