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Thursday September 26, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday September 26, 2013 MYT 11:42:41 AM
by alex godfrey
On screen, actor Daniel Bruhl embodies Niki Lauda, the F1 driver the actor plays in Rush. He not only looks like Lauda but also sound like the driver and projects his single-minded determination. -- AFP/Tiziana Fabi
In Rush, Daniel Bruhl plays Niki Lauda, the F1 driver who suffered a horrific and disfiguring crash.
On the day Daniel Bruhl comes to London to meet me, Niki Lauda is in Germany at the Nurburgring racetrack. Lauda is there for the Grand Prix, in his capacity as non-executive chairman of the Mercedes Formula One team, although Nurburgring is also where, in 1976, the Austrian had the crash that almost killed him and left him disfigured.
The accident is the epicentre of Ron Howard’s Rush, which dramatises the rivalry between methodical champion Lauda (played by Bruhl) and his womanising, booze-guzzling nemesis, Britain’s James Hunt (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth).
Bruhl is stuck here talking to me about Lauda and the crash, while the real deal is over there where it all happened. “I know!” he says, springing forward. “Ron called me, super excited, because they organised a screening for the drivers and the actors, and Niki at the Nurburgring, and the reactions were overwhelming. Lewis Hamilton, Alonso – everyone came over to Ron and there was a standing ovation.
I was very sad to miss it. When he called me, I said: ‘What the f***!’ I wish I’d been there to see it with Niki, to watch him watch it, together with all those drivers.”
Set in the 1970s, when Formula One was significantly more dangerous than it is today, Rush explores its racers’ blind ambition, mythologising Lauda and Hunt as two sides of a coin: head versus heart. It’s a big film, and a big deal for Bruhl.
Born in Barcelona to a German father and Spanish mother, he was raised in Cologne. His breakthrough came in 2003’s Good Bye Lenin!, a touching Berlin Wall comedy. Inglourious Basterds, in which he played the lovelorn Nazi sniper, gave him blockbuster exposure. But Rush, an enthralling thrill of a ride in every sense, is his A-list graduation.
On screen, all traces of Bruhl disappear – he looks like Lauda, sounds like Lauda, and projects Lauda’s single-minded determination with a force that has the edge on Hemsworth’s testosterone-fuelled Hunt.
He gives nuance to Howard’s broad strokes, conviction to Peter Morgan’s brutally economic dialogue, and is so convincing in the role that I half-expect to meet Lauda himself. It’s almost a disappointment to discover Bruhl is a perky, giggly chap in a beanie hat and jeans. However, he litters his anecdotes with Lauda impersonations, uncannily channelling the driver as he does.
Lauda is an icon in Germany and Bruhl found the audition intimidating. “Normally, they let you rot for two weeks, then they call and say: ‘You were awesome, but it’s not you,’” he says.
“Three days after the audition, I was on holiday in Spain with my girlfriend, and I was overtaking a truck, and she was screaming at me: ‘You are not a rally driver! You are not a good driver, stay behind the truck!’ And at that moment, I got the call saying it was me.”
He had begun working on his accent when Lauda called. “The phone rang at 8am. I saw the number and thought: ‘Oops, that’s him.’ He said: ‘Yeah, it’s Niki. I guess we have to meet.’ I said: ‘Yeah, it would be good.’
“He said: ‘OK, come to Vienna. Just bring hand luggage, so if we don’t like each other you can p*** off.’ It was so brilliant. I thought: ‘Oh my God, that’s the way he is, OK.’ So I packed my little bag and went to Vienna. Fortunately, he did like me, and I had to buy some clothes because the trip was extended.”
Bruhl admires Lauda’s straightforwardness, both on and off the track. “He’s very sharp and honest,” he says. “He never repeats himself like I do. I’m a very redundant talker. Never would there be a word too much with him because that’s a loss of time and money.”
In turn, Lauda was awed by Bruhl’s performance, and the actor, clearly very fond of him, would like to stay in touch. “I’m very tactile,” says Bruhl.
“Maybe because I’m half-Spanish. I love to hug my friends, something that Niki doesn’t like at all. So I immediately felt a certain distance, because Niki is not a man who pretends to be friends after meeting someone a couple of times.
“He has a reputation for being cold and strict, but I had a perfect time with him, he supported me with everything I needed. People close to him said it was surprising how gentle and nice he was to me. I had the impression there was good chemistry between us, and there is.”
Meanwhile, Bruhl is forging ahead with a slew of big-hitters. Next month, he co-stars with Benedict Cumberbatch in the WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate; Bruhl plays Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s former righthand man. — Guardian News & Media
> Rush opens in cinemas nationwide today.
Chris Hemsworth gives viewers an adrenaline rush
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Entertainment, Daniel Bruhl, Ron Howard, Niki Lauda, Formula One, Rush
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