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He's co-starring alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in the Wikileaks movie "The Fifth Estate," which is being released this week, and he also led racing movie "Rush" with Chris Hemsworth back in September. In "The Fifth Estate," Brühl plays real-life character Daniel Berg, who's portrayed as Assange's right-hand man, and also as the entity who tempered the fire of the internet icon.
Moviefone caught up with Brühl at the Toronto Film Festival, where he chatted with us about taking on real-life roles, what Daniel Berg is like in real life, and how the relationship between he and Assange grew, and ultimately fell apart.
How early on were you aware that this movie was going to be from your perspective as opposed to being from Julian Assange's perspective?
Daniel Brühl: I didn't know it when I received the script. I didn't know it beforehand. I knew who Daniel was, being German; he was in the media a lot so it seemed to me that he's a very reasonable, interesting guy. When I first heard about WikiLeaks a couple of years ago, I was sure that sooner or later they were going to make a movie about it. So it was strange to then participate in that project and to play Daniel. Again, [as with "Rush"] I was playing a real person. It was very helpful to spend time with him. He invited me a couple of times to his place, and explained to me a lot about his intense relationship with Julian, but also about his future plans. As I've said a couple of times, I didn't have any reason not to believe in his integrity. I had empathy with him. I share most of the opinions he has on things, so it was easy for me to portray him, and like him.
When you met him, what were a couple of the things that you needed to find out so that you could play him accurately?
Most of it is well-captured in the book he's written, so we focused on talking about the book. I also wanted to know how the dynamic was in his relationship with Julian, and what this moment in life meant to him. I realized that this was maybe ... or probably, the most significant moment in his life. And he was willing to do anything, as we see in the movie, to leave his job, to do anything to support WikiLeaks.
What did you discover about their relationship?
I think [Daniel] admired him because Assange is a very bright and intelligent man. Daniel just loved the idea behind WikiLeaks, and found it to be very important on a personal level. Daniel is a very patient, reasonable man, and at first he could cope with some inner conflicts that they had for the greater good. How available did Daniel make himself to you? I read that you spent 4 days with him.
It's difficult with these guys. He didn't have a mobile phone number [Laughs]. He also had a strange email address [Laughs], so it was hard and tricky. He doesn't live in Berlin anymore, he lives outside [the city], like an hour away, in a house. I visited him there, and we were having a conversation down in the kitchen. All of the sudden, two pale guys came inside and spoke French and I asked, "Who are they?" He said "Yeah, they're two French activists, IT guys working on the upper floor."
So he has a whole floor which is fully equipped with computers and everything. He would invite activists that he likes over, and they stay there for free and just work. That was my first impression: that he's a true activist. He didn't stop after that painful experience with WikiLeaks. But he goes on, you know. And I admire that. I love playing characters that I partly envy, because I also have a political conscience, but I was never that active. I didn't know how to do it. And it's a problem of our generation, I guess. Because it was easier back in the day, my parents' generation, they went to rallies and to demonstrations and you had clearer enemies. Today, it's all become a bit blurry and that's also what the movie's about: how we perceive information, what we should oppose, and so forth.
There's that part of it, but it also seems like it's the classic "bromance."
I always liked that structure. In a way it's similar to "Rush," because it's not the typical thing. You have the villain and the goodie, and you stay with one and only have empathy with one character. But eventually you have empathy with both, in both movies. I found that quite interesting; that's another parallel. And the movie doesn't make a final judgment. It's quite neutral, in a way. I found it very interesting, and a good idea to give Julian Assange the last word, to let the film end like it ends.
I assume that your relationship with Benedict also helped the quality of film's end product.
[Laughs] Benedict is the most British guy I've ever met. And the first time I met him in London, it was hysterical, because before he said "Hi" he could tell me what I had for breakfast, that I'm left-handed, that I was trying to quit smoking, and he even had a recommendation of how to better clean my shirts. And I said, "Hi, Sherlock, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm going to be Watson." [Laughs]
In the New York Times, you were quoted as saying something like 10 years ago for a German actor to have this kind of exposure would not have been possible.
This is so true, yeah, and I'm very glad that things have changed -- thanks to people like Quentin [Tarantino]. That was the first experience for me, in "Inglourious Basterds," and I heard that some of the American stars wanted to play certain parts in the movie, and Quentin said, "No, no, no. I just wanted to make it different and give German actors the opportunity to play Germans."
I found that very clever. It's also nice to see that more and more film companies, and Americans, are coming over to Europe, to Germany, to Berlin, to shoot their movies. Not only because of tax reasons, but also because of the facilities and the professional crews we have. And of the story, of the content of the story. So I find it very positive that if you're European or Asian or African, you should try and find actors who are actually from there. That makes cinema very interesting because you discover people that you didn't know before. So yeah, it gives us great opportunities. I hope.
Has acting in "The Fifth Estate" changed the way you think about media and Wikileaks?
Yeah, and it made me more curious and cautious. It's interesting to question information you gather from certain outlets, and I think it's a very good idea. The movie also refers to civil journalism, and to be more engaged as a citizen when it comes to getting your information and where you get it from, to widen your scope and not only trust one source. I can't say that I'm an activist again, but it changed the way I perceive news and information.
"The Fifth Estate" opens in theatres on October 18.