Daniel Brühl on Horror Film, Tennis, Midlife Crisis, Franchise: KVIFF

There was no rain after a morning drizzle. Instead, German-Spanish star Daniel Brühl (Becoming Karl Lagerfeld, All Quiet on the Western Front) was showered with love, appreciation and much applause as he arrived on the red carpet at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) on Thursday afternoon. The love fest continued inside when he received the KVIFF President’s Award in the jam-packed Grand Hall of the Hotel Thermal, which serves as the fest’s headquarters, and presented his 2021 directorial debut Next Door.

After charming the audience with a Czech thank you, followed by a German thank you, and an English thank you “from the bottom of my heart,” Brühl told the people in attendance: “This is the most beautiful statuette. It’s more beautiful than the Oscar.” The crowd erupted into loud applause and wild cheers.

The star then joked that the name of the honor “sounds so big that it helps me with my midlife crisis,” adding: “To receive the President’s Award out of the hands of the president, who has been running this festival for 30 years and is responsible that this magnificent town, Karlovy Vary, has become a temple of cinema, honors me deeply.”

Brühl added that seeing all the people working for the fest and “the audiences visiting this festival gives me hope, and encourages me, to continue doing cinema, because this is magic.” To laughter and applause, he then took a photo of himself standing on stage in front of the crowded audience for his mother.

The star also shared his experience on Inglourious Basterds. “I just admire the way that Quentin Tarantino creates suspense between actors in one room,” Brühl said. “I wish I had his talent, but at least this was a source of inspiration.” He added that bringing the film, in which he also stars, to KVIFF was lovely because it had “a very short life in theaters.” Explained the actor: “I shot it during the pandemic. And then it was released during the pandemic. It was at the Berlin festival in the competition, but it was the edition where there wasn’t a festival. So the film didn’t have a long life on screen. So I’m very thankful.”

The fest kicked off on Friday with Viggo Mortensen getting the same honor before screening his feminist Western The Dead Don’t Hurt. The 58th edition of KVIFF wraps up on Saturday when the jury, including Christine Vachon and Geoffrey Rush, hands out its awards. At the closing ceremony, British actor Clive Owen will also receive the KVIFF President’s Award.

It was on Brühl to bring the star power and excitement to the fest on Thursday, or actually from the moment he arrived in town on Wednesday when he was greeted by selfies-requesting fans.

Before receiving his KVIFF honor on Thursday, Brühl sat down with groups of reporters for roundtable interviews. Read highlights from the roundtable that THR participated in below.

Brühl Thank you. I can look at the pictures. (after a Czech journalist hands him a Czech magazine)

There is a language that Daniel Brühl doesn’t speak?

Brühl (laughs) That would actually be my super-power, a chip that makes me understand all sorts of languages.

Where does your fascination with language and languages come from?

Probably because I was born into a family of different cultures. My mum Spanish, my father German, two of my aunt French, so we grew up all together. It was very natural for us to switch. And it always fascinated me because the cultures were kept alive. Although we grew up in Germany when I spent the weekend with my French cousins and we slept there, I was in France because they listened to French music, they were cooking French, they were talking in French about French subject matters. In Spain, my mother kept the Spanish language very alive. So, it was interesting to live several things at a time and not being limited to one language and one culture. So when I started working, ultimately, I of course dreamt of you breaking boundaries and moving around and exploring different film cultures as well.

Does it affect your approach to movies that you can speak many languages and you have this multicultural background?

Yeah, it’s always such a precious tool to me, languages. The way how someone expresses himself gives you an idea of who that person is. Sometimes language is just so right for it. So when I played [Austrian Formula 1 legend] Niki Lauda [in Rush], for example, when I first met Ron [Howard], he said “Don’t you worry about it. We got to do it in English, and if it’s a German accent or an Austrian accent doesn’t matter.” And I said, “No, no, no, it does.” Because there’s an arrogance, there’s something about the Austrian that explains the character. There’s something about it that made me understand the character better. It would have been completely wrong to do it with a boring German, neutral accent – completely wrong.

The same goes for Becoming Karl Lagerfeld. I would have said no if it had been in English or German. I wanted to do it in French and with French people. But I was happy for the scenes in German to then also switch. In German, I wanted to sound remotely like someone from Hamburg or Schleswig Holstein in the North, because if I hear that accent, I think of wealth, of old money, of a certain kind of arrogance and old bourgeoisie. You don’t have that, for example, in my accent, which would be Cologne. This is a good accent if you want to go to a pub. But it would have been wrong for this. I love that about accents.

Any accent you wouldn’t do?

There are some that you cannot hit, characters that I would say no to because I wouldn’t believe myself playing them. I wouldn’t see myself playing a guy from Texas. Definitely not. Or a Czech.

Where did you practice the Lagerfeld voice and accents?

I started on my own in the countryside in Spain. We moved to a house in the mountains where there are donkeys from my neighbor and sheep. And they were the first spectators and they always approved. The sheep gave me good feedback. [Imitates sheep chewing.] I started to talk to myself in gibberish French while walking up and down.

And being half-Spanish very quickly I had this idea of the bullfighter, which I have talked about before –masculine and feminine at the same time, proud but also elegant and graceful. Slowly, I found the language that I believed myself because I thought that if it ends up being a caricature everybody will think “What is he doing? This is a clown or a cheap copy.” That would have been a disaster.

But I love that, the feeling of, potentially, failing. I’m struggling because I’m 46 now I’m having my first midlife crisis. And I realized I’m too old now to always play safe hands. I was a bit more like that when I was younger. I was too afraid also of criticism, of critics, of judgment. And now I think, “Well, fuck it. If it goes wrong, you know life goes on. I have my family. I have my donkeys. I have my sheep. It’s not fun to always drive in second gear.”

Your next directorial project, Break, about 1930s German tennis star Gottfried von Cramm was just announced. It’s a World War 2 tale of athletic rebellion and everything. When dealing with other actors, how do you translate your sense of truth?

I don’t want that to be too visible. So that will be the challenge, I don’t know if modern is the right word, but to tell it in such an intimate and truthful way that you avoid the typical waving of swastika flags and the big symbols – let’s say the normal, formulaic storytelling. That would be the challenge. I don’t know if I will be able to achieve it. Again, it’s extremely outside my comfort zone. And it’s thanks to my partners and friends who have been encouraging me to do it.

Daniel Brühl arrives in Karlovy Vary

Courtesy of Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary

Is this another instance of not staying in first gear, but saying, “Let’s fucking do it!”?

Yeah, a little bit. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Otherwise, I would be bored by myself because I’ve been doing this for too long. My inner compass is more accurate now, the needle is more precise and guiding me. And with a family with three kids now you ask yourself: “Is this project worth being away from home for such a long time?” And if it’s not something that is new and refreshing and you are not getting the kick because you could fail, then I’m not interested anymore. Back in the days when I didn’t have that structure and that family life I thought, “Oh, this project could be nice. Another opportunity to be away from home and spend, I don’t know, four months in London. Let’s see what happens.” Now I have to have a stronger hunger, sometimes it is also fear that is driving me to do it.

When you directed Next Door, what was the biggest thing you learned you should avoid in future directing work?

It’s nice that in the next film, I’m leaving the bar [since most of Next Door played in one]. I’m very honored that they give me this President’s Award, but it makes me also feel a bit strange. It has such a big name: President’s Award. It reminds me of my midlife crisis. I haven’t watched [Next Door since its brief cinema life]. I might think, “Oh God, I shouldn’t be doing this.”

Well, it starts with not acting. This is one of the main things I would change. So I will not play any part in the next film.

And I’m actually preparing another one if this now is not a total shit show and they let me [direct] another one. I actually have a horror movie in mind. That is a very personal idea of mine that I’m developing with an English writer. So this would potentially be the next step.

But this one just came along, and I’m a big tennis fan. Now everybody’s doing tennis films apparently. But years ago, I wanted to do something very different with tennis, and it couldn’t [happen], and now this came along with these wonderful people, and various people said you have to do it. And then I thought, “Well, I always wanted to do a tennis film. I just got to try it.

I’m very curious about your role on the Sam Mendes, Armando Iannucci show The Franchise, which seems to kind of bring together two threads of your work, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and smaller projects. What is your role? What is it about?

I have a strong feeling about the show. I am very confident because I fucking loved being part of it. And I said thank you multiple times for being invited to such a celebration, to such a dance of comedy and the best possible marriage of English and American humor. As you know, I’m not coming from a country which is famous for its jokes. So I said to Sam Mendes, when we were first Zooming, are you sure that you want to invite a German to that dance? He said, “No, “Well, you’re a funny German.”

It was just a dream for me to work with these actors who are just stellar, coming from Broadway, coming from stand-up comedy, coming from TV, cinema, England, America. Fantastic casting by Nina Gold. And then these three brains, this triangle of Sam Mendes, Armand Iannucci, and Jon Brown from Succession, and the quality in the writing! So I was given gold.

I’m playing a director, sort of the alter ego of, in a very silly or heightened way, Sam Mendes. He is a European guy who wants to do something decent, wants to do some art, and is then swallowed by this franchise machine and is just eating shit. There’s so much truth in this and there’s so much wonderful, but also heartbreaking comedy because it’s about a crew that just wants to survive and just wants to do something decent. I think it’s very timely, it hasn’t been done. It’s so rare to be dealing with something that hasn’t been done before. I mean, there was Entourage, obviously. And there was Call My Agent and there have been satires and comedies about the world but nothing that is as specific as this. Even my friends at the MCU will take it with a lot of sense of humor because they have a sense of humor.

It’s a show that I think could become a little hit, and not only for the people who are from the business or from the industry, but hopefully also for everyone. I think that will happen.

When is The Franchise coming out?

We finished it earlier this year. Actually, I don’t know when HBO wants to release it. We started [shooting] last year. There was an interruption because of the strike. So we finished it like two months ago.

You have said that when you were younger, you sometimes struggled with criticism or bad reviews. Is that easier for you these days? Do you still read reviews?

You still have a peek. You never want to but then you do. Of course, you check but less so. You try to avoid it just to not feel too depressed. Now with social media, it’s just more of it. We love to put people down and we love to spread poison. We feel envy and jealousy, and I also have it in myself. I have this dark side, too. It’s just the quantity that has increased. You have to [differentiate between] criticism that you understand and that makes you learn, and that is coherent. There are points about my work that I have read that if they were negative I could understand.

Sometimes it’s just too personal. Nowadays, people are not serious. There are all these pseudo-journalists and bloggers and nutters that just write some shit. That is a bit disturbing sometimes. So I try to avoid all that – or personal comments on Instagram or something. And my God, is there hate on the net?!

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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