Rush is out now in Cineworld, so we're bringing you our full, unedited interview with its star Daniel Bruhl. He talks to our reporter Alex Drew about the challenges of playing Niki Lauda and what it was like to hang out with the famed racer off-set.
You met Niki Lauda and apparently he’s remarked on how much he thought you look like him when he was younger…
That’s sweet. We got on really well. The first time we spoke on the phone, he was so frank – he wanted to meet in Vienna, but just in case we didn’t like each other he said “well, just bring hand luggage” just in case he didn’t like me and wanted to send me home. But we liked each other from the first moment on – he was very open and honest, would answer every question that I had. I’d read his biography so I was well prepared and that impressed him.
Then we spent three days in Vienna and on the last day he invited me to go to Brazil with him in his private jet – which he flies himself – and I said “why not” and he took me to the Grand Prix in Sao Paolo, which was a phenomenal experience for me because I could not only see the race, but I could also be in the pit with the Mercedes team. I met Vettel and Rosberg and they gave me headphones so I could listen to the radio – all experiences that you wouldn’t normally have if you don’t know Niki. I met some of the old drivers – I saw him chatting with Jackie Stewart – so that was a very good experience for me, very important.
Being close to him, does it give you the freedom to compose/create your own Niki?
Yeah, because there are things in the film and the script that are invented. That’s what makes it interesting, because it’s not a documentary – it’s a fictional movie based on real people, so some things are emphasized, such as the conflict between him and James. It’s a perfect script and I think you can tell – and I feel very lucky to have this part in particular – because I think you can tell that the writer knows Niki. Peter Morgan knows Niki well, so the dialogue he wrote is just how Niki would speak, so that’s a real luxury for me.
How would you describe the relationship between Lauda and Hunt?
The essence of the movie is that they are enemies, but sometimes in life it’s your enemies that push your further and who actually make you better at what you do. Underneath it all there’s a sort of friendship and a mutual respect, but there’s also envy. Niki sees James there with hundreds of girls – he’s there alone with just the mechanics. And then there’s James there envying this guy for being so precise and such a good worker, with such a great mind, and they both brought each other to a point where they were really going for it, going beyond their limits and reaching for new things.
One of the key moments is the accident in 1976 where he said he was not close to death but beyond death…
Yes, and that’s a very crucial moment within the film, because it’s incredible to see how these drivers – especially Niki – overcame this fear, being so close to death. It’s interesting what he says about it, because I’m very interested in fear and in analyzing fear and overcoming it.
He said there were some moments – and this is going to be in the script now – there were some moments in Monza and Fuji where he had short panic attacks, but then he would lie down for an hour, think about everything and overcome it, and then get on the track and still come fourth. Again, for me as a normal person it’s incredible how he did it. Also, the memories he has of his accident are non-existent, so whenever he had trauma flashbacks they were always of someone else being hurt, never himself. He would never see his own accident, as though it had been erased from his memory.
Was he different to you in private then he is in public?
Yeah, I think so. I was also hanging out with friends of his, and his brother-in-law would say how nice and friendly and charming Niki was to me, so I was really lucky that he liked the idea of me portraying him. He’s very charming and you can tell he’s from a good family. On the other hand he has no time to lose – he’s a businessman, he’s tough, he’s always in a hurry, so I was always trying not to take up too much of his precious time. Especially on the flight to Brazil – he was always coming back to me and inviting me to ask questions. It was great!
What’s it like driving the cars, as a fan?
I did a Formula 3 course on my own before the shoot because I wanted to have that experience and it was great fun to drive around in these Renaults and now we have these replicas, which obviously aren’t as fast or as powerful as the original ones, but still fast enough to give us the feeling of really driving. And it enables us to say in these interviews to say that we’ve done a bit of it. [laughs] It would’ve felt terrible to have played an F1 driver and to hear “cut” every time any driving needs doing. There’s some beautiful stuff as well that we shot using helmet cameras where it’s our eyes, really driving, and the track flashing by.
I notice you have different hair to usual, so I’m guessing it’s a wig. Does the 70s’ fashion appeal to you?
Yeah, it looked cool! I love looking around on set. It was a cool time – the clothes, the cars, the girls, the hair… Right now underneath the wig my hair is very short so that it works with the prosthetics I have to wear in later scenes after the accident, but who knows – maybe in the future… Maybe I can keep the race suits as well?
How much of this story would you say is fact and how much is fiction?
I wouldn’t know a percentage, but it’s quite real and Ron said to me at the beginning that I didn’t need to worry about the accent (because he’s American and can’t necessarily hear the difference), but it was crucial to me that I got the accent right, because I’m German and the accent completely changes the attitude of the character when he has that significant Viennese accent, so I really wanted to get it right.
Also the teeth were a big thing… but in terms of the plot, it does feel quite realistic, but then Peter Morgan is so great – a genius. He has the creative freedom to give this story the ingredients that it needs to become a real drama and a great piece of cinema. I love what he did with The Queen and also in Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland. I find it amazing how he manages to invent things that could’ve happened, but that maybe didn’t.
Do you get to speak German in the film very much?
It’s nice that in the very private moments with his wife he speaks German. And he speaks Italian with the mechanics sometimes. That’s what he did. And I really appreciate that this is included in the script. I like acting in different languages. And that’s a logical thing for me to do, because he would speak in German to his wife. But being Viennese, his German accent would be different to mine, so it’s not easy. I will probably have to dub the film into German, so again that’s going to take me more time than usual because it’s tough to get the right accent.
What did he say about James?
He liked him. He found him very funny. I think they shared a little apartment when they were young and racing together, so they were mates. There were also drivers that he definitely disliked – I shouldn’t mention them though. But there were lots he liked and a lot of them he’s still friends with.
Do you think the relationship between Niki and James resembles that of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna?
I’s similar. The rivalry… Probably in all sport there’s an element of rivalry and competition, but perhaps more so in F1. There’s so much pressure on these guys. You must be so disciplined and so focused with a lot of self-control. Niki was a combination of all of that and was also technically very skilled. He would understand cars and the technique very well, but also the politics. And he was a good businessman too – that’s why he was so successful. And still is.
Does the film mainly focus on the ’76 season?
Yes, which has everything integral for this story – the competition between the two characters, then the accident and James winning more and more points and, eventually, the World Championship. It’s all very dramatic and full of fantastic moments. So for an actor, even though it’s a difficult part because it’s so complex, it’s also a dream because there’s so much great material to work with. It’s really a privilege.
You said you were interested in fear. Can you explain that?
I think it’s because I’m a fearful person and in many situations where I’ve compared myself to Niki, I would’ve been petrified. There’s one moment in the movie when he says that in every race there was a 20 percent chance that he would die. I would never have chosen that job! So it’s fascinating as someone who is afraid of certain things, in particular death, but I guess it’s not that unusual that I’m afraid of these things.
Did you talk about how things have changed in F1 since the 70s?
I think he feels like he was living in a good time. That it all became a bit sterile. He even said that driving the cars today is easy, which I can’t totally agree with – I’m sure it’s still very tough to be a driver – but there was less safety and I think conditions were harder back then. And on the other hand, that’s why I like that it’s set in the 70s – it’s much sexier. The guys were more extreme back then. Now they’re all perfect athletes – no scandals. And I found it hilarious when I read the stuff about James Hunt – having a fag and bottle of Champagne on race day, having fun the whole night through before a race day and it’s fascinating. I love that.
After your time on the track do you feel any different when you drive normally?
Yeah, I like to drive fast anyway and as you know in Germany, we have the Autobahn so sometimes there’s no limit and I like to drive fast in my Audi, especially at night when it’s quiet. I’m careful, but I still like to go fast. But it’s completely different than driving one of these racecars, because even if you’re not driving that quickly the impression of speed is far greater because you’re closer to the ground. It’s great fun!
So you haven’t turned into Niki Lauda a little bit in real life?
No. Well, for now, yes. [Laughs]