Daniel Brühl (‘Rush’) interview

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Set against the sexy, glamorous golden age of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s, Rush is based on the true story of one of competitive sport’s great rivalries as the charismatic English driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) competes against the methodical and brilliant Niki Lauda (Brühl) to be top dog in a world where one wrong decision can ultimately lead to death. Focusing on the astonishing and now legendary 1976 Formula 1 season, Rush throws the two drivers’ personal styles into stark relief as both put their all into winning in a world that doesn’t allow for margins of error.

Here actor Daniel Brühl chats about his role in Rush

What knowledge did you have of Niki Lauda before this film?

“I grew up in Cologne in Western Germany, which is not too far from the race track where the accident happened. So when I was a kid, we all knew who Niki Lauda was. He was a hero and an icon. So it felt quite strange when I was sent the script and asked to play him because I had a lot of respect and it was a huge responsibility.

“We don’t have that much in common, which scared me at first because I really didn’t know how to play this guy. But thanks to the support of Ron (Howard, Director) and Peter Morgan (Writer) and Niki himself, it worked out well.”

You got to know him quite well eventually, didn’t you, and even had him on speed dial?

“Yeah, I could call him 24/7 and the most important time in the preparation was all that time I spent with Niki – that was the most important aspect of the preparation. He even took me to the Brazilian Grand Prix and introduced me to modern drivers. And he was so open to answer any question, even the most delicate ones, because I didn’t know at first if I could dare to ask things about the accident and about death and fear and vanity and what it is like to live with this concept, for instance, with the accident.

“But he wasn’t restrained at all. He just helped me with anything he could. And even now he was so happy because we got these [Golden Globe] nominations. He texted me that he took off his cap [Lauda rarely removes his cap since the crash as it hides his scars] and that he’s willing to fly me in a private jet to LA, which sounds good to me!

The more you got to know Niki, did you feel you had a certain affinity with him? Were there similarities between you both that you discovered?

“Not really! I’m happy that I met him now, in his early sixties, because he’s milder now than he used to be. And he got very emotional in fact when we watched the film together, which was quite surprising to me because the fist time I saw him he seemed to be quite cold and still a bit distant. And of course he is that calculating mathematician, analysing kind of guy, in comparison to this flamboyant, playboy James Hunt, which was what made it so interesting in the script because he’s a different sort of man.

“But still, now and then he would open up and [show] the man, the human being behind this tough façade. That’s what I wanted to show in the film as well – to make him more transparent and emotional, especially towards the end; but [there are] no similarities. But I have to say that I admire him and respect him. And I envy him in a way because he is so straightforward and 100% honest and sometimes I wish I could be like him, because he never avoids conflicts and if he feels something, he says it straight to your face.

“It can be shocking sometimes and I was also quite confused when we first met. I’ve told it many times but I find it so funny – he said on the phone that I should just bring hand luggage to Vienna in case we didn’t like eachother , so I could piss of right away. Not many people would say this but I find this quite unique and refreshing.”

So you had that phonecall and then you had to go to meet him! So at what stage do you think he warmed to you?

“After the first long conversation we had I saw a smile on his face, and I thought: ‘Ok, I think the guy likes me!’ And then I spent much more time than expected in Vienna, so I had to buy extra luggage! Then on the very last day he said: ‘You now what, I really like you. Do you want to come to the Brazilian Grand Prix in my private jet?’ So I said: ‘Of course!’

“And then all of the way through, as you said before, it was true, I could call him, so that was a big help. Not only for me but also for Peter Morgan and Ron Howard,  so whenever we were stuck on set and had a question, we could always call him. Even if it was 6 o’clock in the morning, or 2 o’clock in the morning. And then it was very nice to see that he was also so supportive once the movie came out.

“It was so good for me,  such a relief for me to know that he liked the movie and was fond of my performance as well. Because he would have told me, you can imagine: ‘That was shit! Never come to Vienna again, you arsehole’!”

Do you think his methodical mind helped him make sense of what is essentially a dangerous sport?

“Yeah, because he was one of the best when it came to understanding the car. He was technically very skilled. Still, he said the first thing is to be fearless. Every one of these guys had to be fearless, so I could never do that, I could never be a race driver – I would be too fearful. On top of that  he had this extreme talent and understood the machine, the car.

“He was kind of a pioneer, because I think drivers back in those days weren’t really working like that and now you have guys like Michael Schmuacher or others who are more professional and more involved in the technical aspects of the sport. And what I find very positive is that he was always so keen in improving the safety of the cars, not only for him but for all the other drivers.”

Do you think he and James Hunt would have had the careers they had if they hadn’t been around at the same time as they had that rivalry to inspire them?

“I think so, they pushed eachother beyond their limits and made each other better. And that’s the nice essence of the film. That despite the fact that they were heavy rivals and [had] that tough competition and they were risking their lives, that underneath there was such huge respect. They really made each other better in what they did, as drivers.”

What sort of director is Ron Howard? He seems like a real actor’s director?

“Because he’s been an actor himself, he knows exactly what he needs. So he lets you do your thing but he always feels, he anticipates when there is a complicated moment, or when an actor feels uncomfortable, or when a scene is tricky. So he was always working very closely with Chris (Hemsworth, James Hunt) and me but also with Peter Morgan.

“It was very interesting for me to witness that – a director and scriptwriter constantly improving the script. And to me, the script was perfect from the beginning! For me, I had nothing to complain about – Niki’s language was so well captured, it was fantastic. But they were relentless – every day they made it even better. And Ron, working with him, was probably the best experience I’ve ever had. And other directors will hate me for that!

“He’s extremely experienced, so he creates that quiet calm but very concentrated atmosphere on set. But he’s still very fresh and juvenile in a way, because he constantly reinvents himself. Rush, he said to me, was one of the most complicated movies, because it’s not a world he knew. It wasn’t a way of making a film that he was used to.  And I have to say, I enjoyed every single moment.”

Was there much driving involved?

“There was actually… And it was very funny seeing Thor trying to get into a Formula 3 car! I think they had to build a special car for him because he couldn’t get out the first time. But it was very important for us, in order to feel like a race driver, to at least do bit of it.

“As it always is, on the very first day they were so concerned about safety, that they said we could just get in and out, and not much more, just driving in the pits. But at the end they just said: ‘Let’s go for it, let’s drive faster and faster’. It’s nice to see, because I know the exact moments in the film where it was Chris and me.”

How did you and Chris get on when you were off screen?

“Chris fortunately has the same attitude and works in a similar way. It’s very important for me to laugh and to work in an atmosphere, a joyful atmosphere, to really enjoy working. Chris is a very funny guy, I must say. Chris and I developed our own bromance!”

To celebrate the release of Rush on Sky Store , Sky are offering an all-expenses-paid trip to the Silverstone Grand Prix, and are throwing in exclusive pit lane access!

What did you think of Rush? Let us know below…