A Barcelona boy at heart

German-Spaniard Daniel Brühl is fashioning an eclectic film career as a European star who is enticing Hollywood directors to use his talents

Daniel Brühl in 'Rush,' directed by Ron Howard.
Daniel Brühl in 'Rush,' directed by Ron Howard.

"This is the light that I miss when I am in Berlin," says Daniel Brühl shortly after we meet for breakfast in a crowded bar just round the corner from Barcelona's L'abaceria market in the central Gràcia neighborhood. The actor, who has been on our screens most recently playing Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda and WikiLeaks co-founder Daniel Domscheit-Berg was born nearly 35 years ago to a German father and Spanish mother, and spent his summers in the Catalan capital as a child.

Brühl says that for him Barcelona meant freedom from the rigors of studying in Germany and visiting his extended family: "There's around 30 or 40 of them, like something out of Fellini, all talking at the same time: coming to Barcelona was always like coming home, but without homework, always a holiday," he says in perfect Spanish.

He says that the feeling is still the same each time he manages to escape from his hectic shooting schedule -- which has seen him work with directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Michael Winterbottom and Ron Howard -- staying in the spacious duplex apartment he has bought himself in the city, and from the balcony of which hangs a Barcelona FC flag. The actor has recently written a book in the form of a love letter to the city in collaboration with writer Javier Cáceres called Un día en Barcelona (or, A day in Barcelona). "I wanted to write something sincere about this marvelous city, not a romantic cliché like Vicky Cristina Barcelona," he says in the prologue.

Even if I put on an American accent, I

will always be a European actor"

Even if I put on an American accent, I will always be a European actor"

Over the course of the rest of the day we walk round the city, taking in the Putget Gardens before eating in La Pepita, close to his apartment in the Gràcia neighborhood, and where he is well-known. Walking up Verdi street we come across the movie house he usually goes to while in Barcelona, and where a poster announces The Fifth Estate, his movie about WikiLeaks.

Brühl says that his father, who worked in the film industry and who died three years ago, initially opposed his son's decision to become an actor, but supported him when he saw that he was serious.

"I made one of my first films with him. He was very supportive, both as a father and as a creative mentor. The film that launched my career was Hans Weingartner's The White Sound, in 2001. I made The Edukators with him as well. Wolfgang Becker saw it, and asked me to act in Goodbye Lenin, in 2003. Then my name began to circulate. But it was for playing the young man suffering from schizophrenia in The White Sound that my father called me up soon after the film came out. He was very impressed with the role, and that was really when I realized that I had a future as an actor." Until then, Brühl says that his Plan B was to go into journalism or to write screenplays. He spent most of his adolescence, when not studying, playing in a rock band and going to the movies, but never attended acting school, instead training with personal coaches. He also has a confession to make: "I'm a terrible hypochondriac. I am embarrassed to admit it, particularly to my girlfriend, but I suddenly get these panic attacks and I am sure that I have come down with some dreaded disease. I have been to the doctor for the most stupid reasons. But as my girlfriend is a psychologist, she understands that it is pathological. She psychoanalyzes me, and my profession has helped me confront my fears. But when I read the script of Rush, I shit myself."

'Salvador' made me realize how recent democracy is to Spain"

He's just returned from what he describes as a "brutish" promotion tour for the movie in which his performance as Nikki Lauda has earned him praise from Hollywood. "Daniel is so consciously European, and so chameleon-like that he gives each character he plays a unique quality. He is every director's dream," Rush director Ron Howard told EL PAÍS a few weeks ago.

"I'm never going to be Tom Cruise," says Brühl, aware that he's unlikely to start getting all-American hero roles. "My roles, even when I put on an American accent, will always be Europeans or foreigners. I am limited. Setting myself up as a European actor and being able to work every now and then with US directors I like would be ideal. My idols in Europe, in terms of the way that they have developed their careers are Javier Bardem and Christoph Waltz."

Brühl has worked in Spain: he was picked by Catalan director Manel Huerga for the role of Salvador Puig Antich, an anarchist who was garroted in 1974 for the killing of a civil guard. "Playing Salvador was a history lesson for me. I was in touch with his sisters. The film made me understand how recent democracy is to Spain," he says.

Over tapas in a local bar, Brühl explains that his love for Spanish snacking led him to open a bar in the fashionable Kreutzberg area of Berlin. "Everybody said that it would be a posh affair... well, we have nine employees and it helps me to keep my feet on the ground. Keeping the place running makes me prouder than any of the roles that I have played. If I don't get any more acting work, then I might just think about opening a tapas bar in Barcelona."

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