Playing Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda in ‘Rush’ might be the highest profile role of actor Daniel Brühl’s career, but it’s certainly not the most glamorous.
A cold man and a stickler for details, the abrasive Niki Lauda was not the most beloved man on the F1 circuit in his 1970s heydey. Nor was the Austrian champion famed for his good looks — his rodent-like features earned him the nickname ‘The Rat’, and that was BEFORE the horrific crash that did severe damage to his face.
Playing a role like that would be enough to damage most handsome young actors’ egos, but it gets worse for Brühl — he co-stars in ‘Rush’ with hunky Aussie Chris Hemsworth, who plays Lauda’s fierce rival, rock star McLaren driver James Hunt.
"It was terrible sometimes,” Brühl laughs. “I tell you, I suffered. Especially these moments when I got the prosthetic make up, which took six to seven hours, and my pick up was at three a.m., and sometimes I'd look at the call sheet and it'd say, 'Chris Hemsworth, pick up at 10... The first scene is Chris Hemsworth kissing a nurse, the second scene is Chris Hemsworth making love on a plane, the third scene is [Daniel Brühl] checking his tires.
“These are tough moments and it helped me to create that rivalry with Chris because by the time he stepped on the trailer and said, 'Hey buddy, good morning,' I was like, 'oh, fuck you'. It's hard for the ego!"
Under those conditions, it was only natural that Brühl (best known for his roles in 'Good Bye, Lenin!', 'Joyeux Noel' and 'Inglourious Basterds') would start to take on some of Lauda's grumpier characteristics. “The caterers hated me,” he admits. “Sometimes I would put on Niki's voice and say, 'The food is shit, it tastes horrible', and they knew I was being serious. They'd bring me something better. It worked! It's a shame that this movie is now over so I can't do the Niki [attitude] anymore.”
Brühl got so deep into character, in fact, that when he encountered a problem while training for the film's driving scenes, he immediately knew who to blame. “I had an accident with my fake Ferrari,” he explains. “It was a Formula 3 Ferrari but it was a Formula 1 chassis, and a wheel came off and made [the car] spin. I had two or three uncomfortable seconds where I had to get the car under control, and in my paranoid German brain I immediately thought it was Chris who had manipulated my car.
Hemsworth denied the accusation, of course, but in the back of his mind, Brühl still suspects foul play. “When I finally stopped the car and turned around, I saw Chris with his mechanics, his McLaren guys. [They were] laughing and I thought, 'You assholes. You Australians are such assholes.'”
'Rush' is released on Thursday October 3.