Berlin: Daniel Brühl on Playing a 'Vain, Mean' Version of Himself in His Directorial Debut

Berlin: Daniel Brühl on Playing a “Vain, Mean” Version of Himself in His Directorial Debut

3/1/2021 1:32:00 PM

Berlin: Daniel Brühl on Playing a “Vain, Mean” Version of Himself in His Directorial Debut

Daniel Brühl on mocking his own image in his directorial debut 'Next Door,' which premiered in competition at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival.

, his directorial debut.In the dark comedy, which premieres in competition at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival, and which Beta Film is selling at this year's European Film Market, Brühl plays a German-Spanish actor named Daniel. Daniel, like Brühl, lives in a luxury rooftop apartment in a hip quarter of East Berlin. Daniel, like Brühl, is famous for roles in big international productions. (When we first meet Daniel, he's rehearsing lines for a role in an American superhero franchise.) Daniel even has much of the same personal backstory as the real-life Brühl: he's married with two young children, he moved to Berlin from Cologne after making a big Berlin-based hit movie [in Brühl's case that was

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Goodbye, Lenin!in 2003], and many of his neighbors are old-school East Berliners who resent the gentrifying presence of newcomers like him.InNext Door, one of those neighbors gets his revenge. In a Berlin dive bar, over the course of a single afternoon, Bruno, played by

Babylon Berlinactor Peter Kurth, systematically destroys Daniel's life, marriage, and everything he felt sure of.Brühl spoke toThe Hollywood Reporterahead of the film's premiere about fame, identity and how much fun he had playing a"vain, unpleasant and mean" version of Daniel Brühl.

Inormally wouldn't start with a personal question but after having seen the film: is everything OK with you at home?Daniel BrühlEverything's ok, don't worry. But it was really fun to be able to put situations from my life into the film. It was a chance to take revenge on those people who've said certain things to me. What Bruno [Peter Kurth] says to my character in the movie, that I'm always the same in my movies, that I don't actually"act": a wife of a friend actually said that to me at a party! Some of the lines [in the film] are one-to-one from real life. But of course, a lot of it is fiction. We play with it. The character [of Daniel] is very close to me but it's a character. It's exaggerated. It's not me. Luckily, things are good in my

relationship and in my life.But a lot is true. My life is very similar. My apartment isn't quite the poser flat that we show in the movie. But I live in a rooftop apartment in East Berlin with a private elevator. A lot of the details are true but I wanted to avoid giving it an embarrassing autobiographical"coming to terms with my past" touch. It's always clear that this is a comedy and that I'm looking at myself with a wink and not taking myself too seriously.

Were there any other scenes taken directly from your real life?BrühlSure. What's really gotten out of control is how aggressive people have become —particularly since we have smartphones and selfies. The scene with the guy who just stands in front of me and won't go away while I'm on the phone, that's happened to me many times. I find that behavior unbelievable. That people lose any sense of personal space.

Another uncomfortable, but funny, real-life situation I put in the film happened to me in Barcelona. A Swedish couple came straight towards me, with their phone out. They looked very German — both blond — and I thought:"OK, I know what's coming." So the first thing I do is take the phone and put my arm around the woman. But they didn't know who I was! They were from Stockholm! The man thought:"who is

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thisguy?" They wanted me to take a picture ofthem. I thought it would be great to put that scene in the film at the moment when Daniel's relationship is in ruins. We put a lot of real-life situations in there, but I don't want to reveal all of them. I'd like the viewer to wonder what's real and what's not. But I have to say, my wife was very uncomfortable watching the movie.

When did you first have the idea for the film?BrühlOriginally it came to me in a tapas restaurant in Spain. I initially wanted to do it in Barcelona. This is about seven years ago. I was spending a lot of time in Barcelona and I wanted to show the people there that I belonged there. I'd make these

desperate attempts — always speaking extra loud in Spanish, to make it clear to people: 'I'm one of you.' Then I was sitting in a restaurant and a construction worker was glaring at me. I felt immediately: he hates me because he's seen through me. Me sitting there with my travel suitcase, talking too loud to the waitress about FC Barcelona, but I'm not really from here. I thought the construction worker could have been working on a scaffolding outside my home and for months was watching me in my apartment. That was the first idea.

From the start, the film was going to be about gentrification, about someone who feels like an invader. And then a confrontation between two men who couldn't be more different. Who come from completely different social backgrounds. I imagined it as a duel, like in a Western, taking place in a bar. It was clear from the beginning that I would play the victim, so to speak.

I couldn't get the film made in Spain and I couldn't write it. I can't write. Years later I joined a production company [Amusement Park Films] and we got a deal with Warner Bros. in Germany and they offered to make my directorial debut. I was asked if I had any ideas. And I thought about the story and about shifting it to Berlin, to the neighborhood where I actually live. That would make it a lot more personal and better because the East-West conflict here is what I actually experience. I still had the problem that I couldn't write it myself: So I got up the courage to ask Daniel Kehlmann. I thought he's half Austrian and maybe he would enjoy the darker journey of the film. A dark sense of humor is a very Austrian thing and that's exactly what I wanted. Thankfully he said yes after five minutes and we started right away. In a few weeks, we had the first draft of the script.

Did you know each other from your work onMe and Kaminiski[Wolfgang Becker's 2015 adaptation of Kehlmann's novel, starring Brühl]?BrühlActually from before. When I didGoodbye, Lenin!(2003), the director, Wolfgang Becker, and I were on a TV show in Austria with Kehlmann. I was 20 and Kehlmann was also really young. He was presenting his book,

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