Busy, busy, busy. Before Daniel Brühl turns 40 this summer, he will have amassed at least 70 film and television credits.
“It shocks me,” he said when reminded of the number in a phone conversation a week ago. “Funnily, I never feel exhausted” by the workload. “I make sure there’s enough time to recharge and calm down.”
Brühl broke out in 2003’s German cultural comedy “Goodbye Lenin!” and was introduced to a broad American audience in Quentin Tarantino’s World War II fantasy “Inglourious Basterds,” playing the scene-stealing role of a Nazi sniper turned propaganda film star. He switched gears again as the accident-scarred Austrian Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s 2013 “Rush,” and ever since, his acting career has been in overdrive.
The industrious actor currently is starring in three distinctly different dramas on various film, TV and digital platforms. In TNT’s Gothic mystery series “The Alienist,” he plays a trailblazing psychologist pursuing a sociopathic serial killer in late 1800s New York City. On Netflix, he’s a future astronaut in the third chapter of the sci-fi franchise “The Cloverfield Paradox,” battling dark alternate realities in space. And in theaters, in the reality-based thriller “7 Days in Entebbe,” he plays a German far-leftist radical who in 1976 hijacked an Air France jet en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, triggering a dangerous Israeli rescue mission.
In “7 Days,” he plays Wilfried Böse, one of the four armed terrorists who seized control of the flight. Interpreting a notorious criminal was an attractive opportunity because “I’ve always been interested in history as a way to understand the era we are in today. I was curious to know more about that generation before mine. I remembered the conversations my parents had about that subject matter, that young, angry generation in the ’60s’ and ’70s who felt so much guilt still toward their own culture and country.”
For the role he researched German anti-fascist activists such as the urban terrorist group Revolutionary Cells that led the Entebbe hijacking while insisting that they were humanitarian defenders supporting Israel’s oppressed Palestinians. In the film, while guarding his Israeli and Jewish captives gun in hand, Böse insists, “I’m no Nazi.”
“What spoke to me was to play someone who came from a similar, safe environment like me, with a clear political conscience. But to be [part of] a middle class for whom it was not enough to be politically active, who chose to join a terrorist group. This is something that I had no empathy with and I cannot understand. But still it fascinates me, the amount of anger and determination that these young people felt.”
Two earlier films in the 1970s dramatized the Entebbe raid in ways that Brühl felt were too facile. “Very famous German actors played my character, but because these versions were shot at a different time, they were more biased. I saw one in which my character was a really coldblooded monster.”
He was excited to have “7 Days” directed by Portuguese filmmaker José Padilha, who could examine the situation without the weight of German history on his shoulders.
“I found it more interesting the way José wanted to do it,” Brühl said. “This way you can understand the doubts they have. You can understand the motivation of the Palestinians as well, and the politicians in Israel trying to solve this dilemma. It’s a more complex canvas of events. I think a German director would have been more cautious because of the subject matter, and more restricted.”
Playing complicated people who are not stereotypes “appeals to me because that’s how I perceive life,” he said. “It would be very boring to play flat characters and easy characters. It’s always interesting to have a challenge and always feel these question marks and not be able to fully understand the characters.”
It was also an emotionally difficult drama to face day to day, he said.
“You feel a huge responsibility when you play such a character, and you have a lot of fears. That’s why it’s so good to be in the hands of a director who’s guiding you well and has given you the confidence and freedom in your interpretation.”