German actor Daniel Brühl might be best known to American audiences nowadays for playing Helmut Zemo in Captain America: Civil War or more recently as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler in TNT’s drama series The Alienist.
Brühl was a prolific young actor in German films for many years before breaking out in American films like The Bourne Ultimatum and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and in 2013, Brühl received Golden Globe and SAG nominations for his role in Ron Howard’s Rush, and since then he’s bounced between bigger studio movies and smaller ones.
Brühl’s latest film 7 Days in Entebbe, directed by José Padilha (Robocop), is based on the true events that happened in June 1976 when an Air France plane travelling from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by two Palestinians and two left-wing German radicals wanting to get Israel to release a number of jailed members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The plane eventually landed in Uganda where the country’s dangerous President Idi Amin gets involved in the negotiations with Israel. (You may remember this happening in The Last King of Scotland in which Forest Whitaker played Amin.)
Brühl plays Wilfried Böse, a German revolutionary who takes part in the hijacking along with Rosamund Pike’s Brigitte Kuhlmann, the two of them not realizing what they’re getting involved with when the Palestinian rebels threaten to kill the Jews on board if Israel doesn’t meet their demands.
The Tracking Board sat down with Brühl earlier this week to talk about Entebbe, but we also tried our best to sneak in a question to find out if Zemo from Captain America: Civil War might return to the MCU sometime in the future (maybe to lead the Thunderbolts?) but he was far too savvy. (Sorry, time was so limited, and I ran out of time before I could Brühl about The Alienist.)
You obviously weren’t born when this actually happened, so I was curious whether you heard about what happened in Entebbe before you got the script?
Daniel Brühl: Yeah, it rang a bell, but there was another plane hijacking of a Lufthansa plane in ’77, a year later in Mogadishu, and probably because it as a German plane and with German hostages, this is better remembered. It was another successful military mission in that case, and I think after that they stopped doing these plane hijackings. I knew about Entebbe, and what was interesting for me in general was going back in time and understanding a bit better where these young Germans, these activists and terrorists, came from. That’s something that always fascinated me and interested me, because as you say, I was born in ’78, but I remember conversations of my parents talking about the ‘60s and ‘70s, about the huge rage that my, that this generation in my country felt towards their own country. A huge feeling of guilt and the anger resulting of the fact that still many Nazis were in high-ranking positions and the politics and so on.
And then as an actor, it interested me to get into the mindset of someone who came from a safe background, being a publisher and being politically-active, to then go that extra step and become an extremist and a terrorist and participating in an operation in which Jewish passengers were hijacked on a plane, but being a left-wing terrorist fighting fascism in his own country. That was something unprecedented, and that interested me.
I was pleased to read the script, because it showed me an interesting multi-perspective version of that. I had seen one of the films, one of the versions. In both films or I think there might even be three films. The famous German actors portraying my part, Klaus Kinski and Horst Bucholz. The version I remember was very black and white, quite trashy as I thought, and that’s why I was thinking it would be interesting to make a more current and more complex version of this event to maybe hopefully attract also a younger generation and to remind them what had happened back then. To also understand better where we’re standing right now.
That’s partially why I like films like this and Munich. I was alive when both events took place but I was very young and probably didn’t watch as much news as young people do these days, so it would have been filtered through my parents. Did you do any research into the person you were playing on your own or was he pretty well laid out in the script?
No, we still had to do a lot research, Rosamund and I, and there isn’t that much that you can read about our characters. In Germany, there’s a lot of books and material about Baader-Meinhof and other terrorists, but not so much about them. The good thing was that Kate Solomon and Gregory Burke, the producer and scriptwriter, are real experts on terrorism in the ’70s, because they have been researching it for a long time for other movies and projects. I think Kate has been closely working with Paul Greengrass on various occasions, so she’s very dedicated. They had a lot of interesting material, which they shared with us, like long interviews with eye witnesses, the former boyfriend of Rosamund Pike’s character, and then unpublished texts and really rare stuff that you wouldn’t find on Amazon or in a book shop.
That helped a lot, and then also conversations with the real people, with Jacques LeMoyne who was the flight engineer. That, especially for me, that was a very important conversation and background information. The fact that he said to me that he was with him in the very last moments, and he looked into the barrel, and he could tell that it was really a deliberate decision of my character not to kill the hostages and not to kill anyone, was crucial for me in portraying this character, because also for me I had to take a certain path in portraying Wilfried Böse. I had to also make a decision for that very final moment.
In general, what interests me in historical subject matter is when there is different positions, different angles, and different perspectives, because this is how history is like. Especially nowadays when you mention watching the news, it is so hard to remind yourself that you are watching and consuming biased news. Even in Europe, when you think that this is a neutral piece of information, you always have to double check. It’s always important. And I learned that very soon in my family. I remember arguments between my father and my mother, because they were discussing about the same topic, but my mother was seeing it from a Spanish side and my father from the German, then we had some French family. I guess as a boy I already learned the complexity of perceiving history and to find out and see the truth. There is no such thing as one simple truth, and this is a good example to show that. You hear all these different voices. You understand the motivations of the Palestinians, of the Germans, and of the Israelis and this is important to show that in a film. In the previous versions Kinski and Buchholz were coldblooded, ruthless murderers and monsters, and then the soldiers were just the heroic superheroes, and I guess in real life it’s different.
One thing I like about your career is that as a German actor, you’ve been able to find different roles, because unfortunately, as a German actor, you’re often wanted to play Nazis. There can be a lot of range in that as seen in Inglourious Basterds in your scenes with Christoph Waltz. How do you look for roles and is it very conscious or deliberate to avoid those clichés?
You have to be careful to not be put in a box and to be typecast, and to have that image, because that happens really quickly. It’s interesting depending on the cultural background, as you said, for us Germans, that can happen, that you end up only being offered the Nazi parts. There were many that I refused doing. I only decided to participate in a project when it really convinced me, and when I thought this is a strong piece and a strong script. But I have South American friends who say they always have to play the Narcos, the drug dealers. I have Turkish friends in Germany, and an actor, one of my close friends, who said, “I’m so sick of getting offered parts for terrorists,” so I guess every one of us has these prejudices that we feel, or these images that people have depending on our nationality.
If you watch a lot of foreign films, as I do, you get to see a lot more range from foreign actors, as well. Getting back to Entebbe, I wanted to ask about working with José. Did he have a lot of those people you mentioned on set, like some of the survivors of the incident?
Yeah, and that was crucial also for the raid, because we were working with one of the soldiers, in fact the one who killed my character, and so he helped the other actors and extras to recreate the raid in the most authentic way. He was feeling a bit weird when he saw how we rebuilt this terminal in Malta, because he said it was so incredibly accurate that it’s made him feel, yeah, it was a strong huge impact on him, to go back there and to talk about this and to recreate the raid, and to see these extras playing the hostages, of course, was emotionally very intense for him.
I can only imagine what it must have been like, even forty years later. What about working with Rosamund? I’ve met her a few times and she’s always been a bit of an enigma. Not sure if you’ve found that working with her as an actor or not.
She’s enigmatic, but she is electrifying. She has a very peculiar energy and intensity that is very contagious. As a partner, as an acting colleague, I can only say that you receive so much from that energy and that courage. Also, what impressed me is that fact that she decided to shoot these scenes that we had in German. I was told that she was able to speak German, but I thought this is something that actors sometimes do, you know? Like we’re into horseback riding, and we can also speak German or we speak Japanese and then it doesn’t work out… but she got really into it and she was so convincing that on day two, I completely forgot about the fact that she’s actually not German. We both felt that this tension when we shot the German takes was much stronger than the English version that we always shot back to back. This alone just impressed me, the courage, because obviously this is not her language, but she was so good at that. Yeah, I’m a huge admirer of her work and even more so now after having worked with her.
We’re planning one right now. We’re going to shoot it pretty soon, and I think we’re starting in May. I’m very proud that she wants to work with me again, and in this case, I will also be coming aboard as a producer because she’s doing it with a production company in Germany that I joined, as so I’m very happy that we can help her out. We’ll shoot most of it in Berlin, and it’s another wonderful script she wrote, and I’m happy to also be in it as an actor.
Before you go, you played Baron Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, so does Marvel give you any heads up to keep time free to appear in other movies down the road? Do they tell you anything?
Even if they would have told me, I wouldn’t tell you, but they didn’t kill me, so he’s still alive.
Okay, I’m sure someone must have told you that Zemo starts the Thunderbolts, and that’s a really cool comic, so I had to ask.
7 Days in Entebbe is released nationwide on Friday, March 16. Look for our interview with director José Padilha very soon.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor