An international actor in the truest sense, Daniel Brühl was born in Spain and raised in Germany, and has performed in German, English, and French. His résumé includes many historical figures—a German war hero in “Inglourious Basterds,” a WikiLeaks employee in the thriller “The Fifth Estate,” and Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda in “Rush,” a role that earned him Golden Globe, SAG Award, and BAFTA nominations. He now reprises another period role as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler alongside Dakota Fanning and Luke Evans on TNT’s “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness.”
I know one of your earliest roles was on a German soap opera. Was that your first time on a professional set?
[Laughs] It wasn’t the first time. I did something better before that—a TV movie when I was 15. That was my very first experience, and it was actually not that bad. The soap opera is something I prefer not to mention, but it was a good experience because I learned to be very efficient and to be very precise, because you weren’t given a lot of chances; you weren’t given a lot of takes. Even if there was a mistake, they didn’t care; we had [limited] hours to shoot in a day. You had to be very well prepared. The result wasn’t magnificent, I would say, but it was a good lesson.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Now I can look back—I sound like an old man. I’m 42, but it’s been over 20 years that I’m doing this. It is tough because you’re being judged by many people—by the fans, by the industry, by agents, by producers. You’re rejected. You go to auditions and they say you were great and you don’t get the part. To stand up and go on you sometimes need to turn down the volume of all these voices you have in your head and all the judgements you have all the time and focus on what you really want and follow your instincts. Believe in yourself and carry on your path, even though other people might say this is the wrong choice, this is the wrong way, listen to yourself and find out which path you really want to take. It’s not easy to say no, but it’s very important to say no to certain things, because it’s sometimes very easy to say yes. Stick to that. And also, [learn] to overcome failures. If you think you said yes to something that doesn’t turn out to be as great as you thought, to still be proud and think in that moment [that] it felt like the right decision even though it wasn’t that great. Going back to that soap opera, I’m happy I’m not doing soap operas anymore, [but] I feel like that was a step back then.
What is your worst audition horror story?
When I did my audition for “Inglourious Basterds,” it didn’t feel good. I was very nervous. I had Quentin Tarantino in front of me and [producer] Lawrence Bender and I don't know who else. The script back then only existed in English, but I knew I would play a German character who also speaks French, and I had to do these scenes in which I’m a bit flirtatious with the character that Mélanie Laurent played, Shoshanna. In English, it didn't flow and I had to do it with Quentin and he was feeding me the lines for Shoshanna. I think everybody in the room felt it wasn’t that great. And then Quentin said, “It’s a shame we still don’t have the French version,” and I said, “No problem, I can translate it right away.” That was a bit of a fake, because I’m half Spanish. My French is OK, but all the words I didn’t know in French, I said them in Spanish, thinking they wouldn’t know the difference. So I spoke this weird mishmash of Spanish and French and somehow it flew. It worked, and I guess that’s the reason I got the call the very same day [that] they offered me the part. That’s an experience that went well eventually. I still remember sitting in the car driving back home and thinking, Oh no, I won’t get, it won’t work. Surely they must’ve realized this was not French. But then it worked.
What’s the wildest thing you ever did to get a role?
I just saw a trailer and it looks great—they made this film about that trashy song competition we have in Europe, Eurovision. I just saw the trailer with Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell in Iceland. It’s a hilarious trailer. Back, back, back in the day, it was a project that was around—maybe it was a different script. It was the same subject matter. It was about Eurovision, and I got a call that a company in England wanted to do it. I was very, very young and I took it very seriously. So I dressed up and shot two music videos here in Berlin with friends of mine from film school. I dressed up as a werewolf with blood all over me and was singing a song I made up and ran through the woods in Berlin. I did another clip in my apartment in my bathtub. It was completely pathetic. But I heard they were really impressed. I knew perfectly they’d either think I was completely desperate and crazy or they’d like it and find it funny, especially coming from a German actor to be willing to be so ridiculous and, I think, quite funny. I was just hoping that the English would understand and appreciate the effort. Years later, I met the producers, and they in fact had seen this video many times and said, “That was the craziest audition tape we ever got.” [Laughs] Unfortunately, I didn’t get the part; the film was never made. And only now, I think, almost 15 years later, I cannot wait to see [“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”].
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