The Verge: Daniel Brühl
In Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Daniel Brühl plays a Nazi war hero who's become a huge German movie star, and while the role of an S.S. soldier might be foreign to Brühl (in fact, he objected to and then declined the obligatory military service asked of every German adult), playing a movie star surely isn't. In reality, Brühl is one of Europe's hottest actors, a position he cemented with his leading role in 2003's wondrous Good Bye Lenin! Since then, Brühl's become a fixture in both German and Spanish cinema, and though he's acted in English language films (including a small role in The Bourne Ultimatum), the romantic Nazi he plays in Basterds is likely to augur his American coming-out party.
I talked to the 31-year-old actor about his eccentric Basterds audition, the reaction to the film in Germany, and his upcoming reunion with Lenin director Wolfgang Becker.
It's not going to be apparent to anyone who goes to see Inglourious Basterds, but you actually speak fluent English. Why don't you do more American films?
Actually, it makes sense for me to stay in Europe, as I very much consider myself a European actor -- also, I'm half-Spanish, and over the last few years I've tried to get into the Spanish cinema. So I stay here because the offers that I get for bigger parts came from Europe, not the U.S, but I'm always open to the idea. In the case of Inglourious Basterds, it just made total sense to be in it. I found it to be a very good idea of Quentin's to choose German and French actors to play these European parts. As I said, though, I'm open to any good project, no matter where it comes from.
Was Quentin already familiar with you and your work?
Well, I was very happy to know that he enjoyed Good Bye Lenin! so much. I think it's one of his favorite German movies of the past few years, and he said that to him, it was the kind of movie that's started a renaissance of new German cinema. He was also in the jury at Cannes when we showed The Edukators in competition, which I think he also liked. I think he was very clear on certain parts. It had never happened to me before that I got a call on the same day as the audition of the director offering me the part, so I was very thankful that he didn't let me wait and make me too nervous.
Were you nervous beforehand, though?
I was totally nervous! I'm always nervous doing auditions -- to be honest, I hate it. [Laughs] I always envy the actors who are so cool and cold-blooded when they go in for an audition, especially if it's for a part that you would really love to play. So of course I was nervous -- plus, he was playing the scenes with me in a female voice.
He was acting out Shosanna opposite you?
Well, he was very convincing! But of course, it's very hard to imagine falling in love with Shosanna when there's a man sitting in front of you. So that made me quite nervous too, but I was very happy to have fooled Quentin and [producer] Lawrence Bender when they wanted me to act in French. There was no French version of the script, so I pretended that I speak perfect French and translated them right away; the words I didn't know in French, I said in Spanish, which I speak quite fluently. They didn't notice that and they really enjoyed the fake French, so I think that was the important moment where Quentin thought, "OK, I want to do [this role] with him."
What's his energy like?
What I love about him is that I can't remember working with any other director who's so passionate and so obsessed about what he does, and cinema in general. To him, I think cinema means everything, and it's just very contagious for everyone around him. It's inspiring, how he gives so much energy to everybody. What he did before we started shooting, for example, was to show movies every Thursday -- he had these 35mm copies shipped from his home to Germany, and he showed these films to the whole crew to get everyone into the mood to shoot Inglourious Basterds.
Did he give you a lot of reference points for the role?
He told me that he was inspired by a real war hero named Audie Murphy, who became an actor and acted in a lot of big famous movies, like John Huston movies. He was always beside a bigger star; I remember him acting opposite Burt Lancaster, I think. He also recommended a lot of movies I had never heard of -- German movies, which was quite embarrassing. [Laughs] I've seen a lot of German movies, but it's impossible to compete with Quentin because I think he knows every movie that was ever shot.
You yourself were a conscientious objector who chose to do civil service instead of enlisting, and now here you are playing this war hero.
Of course, it is strange; playing a Nazi war hero makes it even harder for me. But in this fantasy of Tarantino's, to me, that was totally OK. I didn't have any problems with my conscience. In this movie, though, [military experience] was only important for a little bit, for shooting Nation's Pride [the pivotal film-within-the film in Basterds]. The rest was about being flirtatious, charming, and being the nice and likable German in the movie.
Without spoiling things, there's a pretty fantastical rewriting of German history in this movie. How do you expect Germany to take to Inglourious Basterds?
It's such a relief, I can tell you, because we just had our premiere in Berlin. Not only was I nervous, but so was Quentin, because we didn't know what the reaction of the German audience and journalists would be like. I had a lot of friends and family members sitting in the theater and that's always the toughest premiere for me, at home, because you have the hardest critics. But the reaction was overwhelming -- it was one of the warmest, most incredible premieres I've ever been to. I think there was one German journalist who wrote that this film is very important for Germany, because finally, after feeling this guilt [over the war], Germany and the Nazis get what they had deserved.
I've been waiting for Wolfgang Becker to direct another film since Good Bye Lenin!, and I know that one just recently came together in which you star. What can you tell me about it?
By the way, Wolfgang was one of the directors at the Inglourious Basterds premiere and he enjoyed the film very much. I was happy, because he's one of my close friends and a film director with a very specific taste. Anyway, we are now preparing an adaptation of a book called Me and Kaminski, and it's about this young writer who meets a very old, grumpy painter, and a strange road movie begins between both of them and there's also this love/hate relationship between these two guys. I mean, nothing sexual, but... [Laughs] It's not a brilliant pitch, is it? It's hard for me to explain in English.
Well, I'd read that your character is actually hoping that the old painter dies so that this article he's writing about him will become more valuable.
Yes, exactly. The young guy is the opposite of what I normally play -- he's a very arrogant, quite stupid asshole. It's a wonderful part to play, especially after the part I played in Good Bye Lenin!, which was this caring, likable son doing everything he could for his mother. In Germany, I became like the ideal son-in-law [after that film's release], and all the elderly women on the street were very friendly to me because they still think I'm that character. It made me quite popular among mothers. So I'm really looking forward to being quite the opposite in my next two roles. ♦