Having spent years as the darling of European arthouse cinema, Daniel Brühl has finally broken into the multiplex. Brühl is sensational as Austrian Formula 1 racing driver Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Rush. And in Wikileaks drama The Fifth Estate he plays Daniel Berg, who became enamoured and then disillusioned with Julian Assange as the whistleblowing website gained notoriety.
Currently the actor is in Rome, shooting another story based on real events. In Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel, he plays a documentary film-maker commissioned to write a film based on a book by an American journalist (Kate Beckinsale) about the Amanda Knox murder trial. Also on the horizon is an adaptation of Daniel Kehlmann’s book Ich und Kaminski, while next up on our cinema screens will be Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man.
In between all these roles, Brühl is also a restaurateur. Indeed, the best place to run into him is at Bar Raval, the tapas bar he owns in the trendy area of Kreuzberg in Berlin. “It was always my dream to have a good tapas place in Berlin,” says the 35-year-old. “Sometimes I miss Spain a lot, because I’m half-Spanish, and I wasn’t really happy with the tapas place we had in Berlin. Plus, I’m a big fan of Barcelona, which is the best team in the world and so I have Spanish pay TV there, so I could watch Barça and eat tapas.”
Born Daniel César Martín Brühl González Domingo in Barcelona – his father was a German TV director and his Spanish mother a teacher – the actor is magnanimous about his role as a proprietor of a restaurant.
Indeed, he is nice about everything: “My partner [Atilano González] is the one that has to be there every day. That is hard work. He has to deal with the problems and I just go there and enjoy the food. We are not making that much money, people always think you get rich from a restaurant, but that is not the case. But also we are not broke. The bar works very well, but it’s tough, I don’t envy my friend who is there every day.”
The restaurant opened in 2011 during the Berlinale. Every year during the Berlin Film Festival he hosts a party there: when talking about the occasion, it’s the one time the actor shows any sign of conceit. “For the Berlinale, we have a tradition of having parties to celebrate our anniversary. It’s one of the best parties [of the festival], if not the best.”
His favourite dish on his own menu is the “Iberican pork tataki. It’s the meat off these pigs that you make great ham of, it’s fantastic meat.”
Brühl has taken advantage of his dual citizenship on screen, too, taking on Spanish, German and English-language roles. When I first interviewed the actor in 2005, it was two years after his international breakthrough in Good Bye Lenin!, in which he played an East German who pretends that the Berlin Wall is still up to assuage his idealist mother, who has just come out of a coma. He had just won the European Film Award for Best Actor for his role in the comedy The Edukators, in which he played an anti-globalisation situationist who breaks into rich people’s houses and rearranges people’s furniture to look like works of art. Having broken into acting through German TV, he had also taken tentative steps into English-language film-making, most notably playing a foreigner who is mysteriously washed ashore in Cornwall, opposite the two dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, in the twee 1930s period drama Ladies in Lavender.
Back then, he said this of his European everyman credentials: “I consider myself as a European, maybe. I never see myself as belonging to one country, or being from one country and of course it has something to do with my face, which is not particularly German. It is somewhere down the middle. I don’t look Scandinavian but I could be English, French, or whatever, so this is just luck.”
Since then, his reputation has burgeoned. He was the Nazi Fredrick Zoller in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He had cameos in The Bourne Ultimatum and 2 Days in Paris, before taking more prominent roles in the Julie Delpy-directed The Countess and the Clive Owen-starring Spanish horror Intruders, where he played a priest. But it is his two most recent outings, The Fifth Estate and Rush, that have turned him into a marquee name.
Playing Niki Lauda was a significant moment for the actor, and one that he thoroughly enjoyed. “I met Niki a couple of times in Vienna and then he invited me to go to the Brazilian Grand Prix with him on his private jet. That was quite something to have him as pilot flying from Vienna to São Paulo. Mercedes invited me to watch the race in the pit with their team. So I got to put on an earpiece and listen to conversations. I spoke to Sebastian Vettel, who took 10 minutes of his precious race preparation time to talk to me. It was good to feel the atmosphere.”
Brühl lost weight for the role, and had to endure seven hours of prosthetics every day as his face structure was altered to take on Lauda’s features. Brühl fell in love with the era: “I was intrigued even more by the Lauda story, because in the 1970s, Formula 1 was as it should be. They were very cool guys. Everything was more rock’n’roll. It was nicer back then.”
When I ask if what he means by it being “more rock’n’roll” is that it was easier to have women, he shoots back, “I can’t complain about that! No, but I was born in 1978, there is a nostalgia about the 1960s and 1970s that maybe if I had lived back then, or have been young back then, it would have been shit, but I don’t think so. I like the movies of that era, I like the music, I like the athletes. I think it was a fun time.”
Brühl has never been married. His girlfriend is the 25-year-old model Felicitas Rombold. Until 2006, he was engaged to the German model-turned-actress Jessica Schwarz.
For the upcoming A Most Wanted Man, set in a post-9/11 world of international terrorism that deals with money laundering, rendition and torture, Brühl got to work with one of his acting heroes. “It’s a great script, a very good adaptation of the book. I’m a supporting actor and fortunately all my scenes are with Philip Seymour Hoffman – and I would say that he is probably one of my, if not my very favourite actor of all. It was also great that it was shot in Hamburg, a city that I love and not far from home.”
‘A Most Wanted Man’ comes out early next year