Daniel Brühl • Director of Next Door
“Famous people always say how horrible it is to be recognised and approached, but what's worse is not being recognised or approached”
by Marta Bałaga
- BERLINALE 2021: In his directorial debut, starring himself and Peter Kurth, the German-Spanish actor finally takes his revenge
Preparing for an important audition, well-known actor Daniel (Daniel Brühl) stops off at a dingy bar before heading off to the airport – only to find Bruno (Peter Kurth), the man who has been actively hating him for years, already sitting there. Brühl’s directorial debut, Next Door [+see also:
interview: Daniel Brühl
film profile], is screening at the 2021 Berlinale.
Cineuropa: It must have been appealing to play someone who could be you, or the worst version of you. The self-satisfaction of this guy is really hilarious.
Daniel Brühl: I felt cleansed after making this film. I could take revenge for all the things I have been told in my life. This is the price you pay as an actor, and I was happy to pay it – I still think it's a wonderful profession. But in these last couple of years, people have not been keeping their distance. They observe you, judge you and interrupt your conversations. Some of them have this desperate need to tell you how horrible they find you! It was a way to deal with that, and to break the image of me. Since Good Bye, Lenin! [+see also:
interview: Wolfgang Becker
film profile], many people think I am the nicest guy, helping the elderly to cross the street.
One of the themes that interested me was gentrification. I always felt like an invader in Berlin or Barcelona, my second home, so I tried to adapt. Once, I was sitting in a restaurant there, talking to the waiters about football, trying my rusty Catalan to show everyone I was one of them. And then I saw this man, a construction worker, staring at me. I could tell that he hated me: with my little suitcase, talking about “Barça, Barça!” I imagined him as a scaffolder working on the facade of my house, observing my apartment and then starting this duel one day. I am a miserable writer, so I approached [screenwriter] Daniel Kehlmann – he is half-Austrian, meaning he is funnier than the Germans. I was feeding him all of these experiences, but believe me – there are many fictional elements here. I hope people know that! I made this guy a vain douchebag, which is only partly my problem.
Would you say there is this need for stars to prove they are “just like us” now? Even Kevin Hart recently lamented the fact that being famous is ruined.
My colleagues and friends ask why I spend so much time talking to people when I am approached. I’ve always had this conviction that, at the end of the day, I am doing this job for them. I have never met a Bruno, but there are others, like this guy who just won't go away, even if you are on the phone. Still, there is this funny quote that I heard years ago from one star, that famous people always say how horrible it is to be constantly recognised and approached, but what's much worse is not being recognised or approached. For someone like Daniel, it has to do with vanity. He takes a picture with two young women also to show off in front of Bruno. But ultimately, it can be joyful, and I don't believe it when actors say, “Oh God, I don't want to be recognised,” and then dress foolishly, with a big baseball cap and sunglasses, with the exact opposite intention [laughs].
With Bruno, it's like we’ve seen him before – in countries like ours, I guess there are many people who feel left behind?
That's true, and that was the problem in the first version of the script: these two characters were not fully formed. I had this fear – since it's my movie, and I tell this story from my perspective – of portraying an Eastern German guy like a Stasi- or Mephisto-like mastermind. He has his motivations. His biography is full of failures and disappointments, and tragedy, and this is what I experienced many times in Berlin or when you head out to the countryside: there are people who feel betrayed. By the system, by the past. People who haven't found their place. It explains some of the huge conflicts we have between the East and the West, since the West steamrolled over the East back in the day: it wasn't a healthy process. In my own house, I meet some of my neighbours, and it's apparent how different we are. But I think they like me, or maybe they just pretend.
It was also to criticise the superficiality of someone like me, or that heightened version of me, living a supposedly successful life in a wonderful apartment with a wonderful wife. Everything is great, and then some guy you don't even know scratches the facade, and it falls apart. Daniel really doesn't expect this “important day” to end like this.
In Julie Delpy's films, such as My Zoe [+see also:
interview: Julie Delpy
film profile], in which you acted, she tells stories that are personal, not autobiographical. Did you want to do the same?
She actually gave me this advice: “Make it personal, not private.” That's what this film is. She was a major influence and encouraged me to try directing. She can write, and she even composes the music sometimes – it's a one-woman show! I was so cautious, and she told me just to jump into the cold water. I told myself that if directing this film turned out to be a traumatic experience, I would never do it again. Now, I think it was probably the best. My wife is a psychologist, and she said: “I rarely see you so exhausted and so happy at the same time.” Hopefully one day, I might try to make something else.
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