Daniel Brühl is known in the English-speaking world mainly for three movies, only two of which you’ve probably seen and even then you’d be forgiven for not making the “Oh, him” connection.
He was the oily Fredrick Zoller in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), the sniper about whom the propaganda film-within-a-film is made, and Niki Lauda in Rush (2013), where he was tough to recognise given the make-up he wore to mirror the Austrian F1 ace’s scarred face caused by a crash.
His third movie is The Fifth Estate (2013), the Wikileaks story that bombed at the box office, playing the foil to Benedict Cumberbatch’s scarily accurate Assange.
There are, of course, other speaking worlds, and Brühl – born in Barcelona, brought up in Cologne, Spanish mother, German father born in Brazil – fits into them seamlessly with his perfect Spanish, French, German, English and Portuguese. In 2011, he appeared in five films, speaking all his languages except Portuguese. Yet there are tongues the 36-year-old polyglot cannot decipher.
“Michael Winterbottom’s Blackburn accent was hard for me,” he admits. The Lancastrian film-maker was aiming his northwesterly breeze at Brühl on the set of The Face of an Angel. Brühl plays Thomas, a director in Siena writing a screenplay about the trial of an American student accused, along with an African man, of murdering her British housemate – a fictional take on the Meredith Kercher/Amanda Knox case with names changed.
Instead of getting his head around it, Thomas journeys into the dark heart of Italy, striking up a relationship with one of the journalists covering the trial (Kate Beckinsale) and a friendship with an English student/waitress. The latter girl is played by Cara Delevingne, who, if she keeps up the good work shown here in her first sizeable film role, might be remembered as that actress who used to model a bit.
“Cara is great in this,” says Brühl, using words that could describe his own performance. “Michael asked us to improvise, the first time for me in English. It’s tough to do that not in your first language. You have to be very quick. Especially if you work with a volcano like Cara Delevingne, with the constant eruptions of the things she said.”
On set, Winterbottom also erected his own, secret language barrier.
“Kate Beckinsale is a language genius: she can read Chekhov in Russian and speaks impeccable German. No accent. So whenever we had conspiracy moments and talked about Michael, we spoke in German. But we were always miked – it was like The Lives Of Others, you know? One day we were shooting a car scene, on a trailer. Kate and I were speaking German and Michael said, in German, ‘I do understand what you guys are saying.’ He never told us he spoke the language.”
The Face of an Angel marks a real watershed for Brühl: Winterbottom didn’t pick him to be “the German guy”. The character of Thomas just happens to be played by a fine actor with a German accent.
“This is great for me,” says Brühl. “After Rush, many things have happened. Last year was a good year [he filmed Woman In Gold with Helen Mirren, and an untitled Bradley Cooper movie, which sounds like Ocean's Eleven meets Chef] and I have an exciting year ahead.”
Before the thrills kick in – making the German resistance movie Alone In Berlin and being villainous for Captain America: Civil War, which he says is “so secret I hardly know anything” – he’s taking a well-earned holiday.
“Me and the missus are going to Patagonia,” he says. And he did say “missus”, pronounced perfectly. Of course, Daniel Brühl speaks British, too.