Daniel Bruhl underwent hours of makeup to play Formula One racer

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TORONTO -- "Call times" for an actor can be a blessing or a sleep-deprivation curse.

For select scenes in "Rush," in which he plays racing legend Niki Lauda before and after a fiery crash, actor Daniel Bruhl spent six or seven hours in makeup.

"Sometimes I was picked up at 3 o'clock [in the morning]. I was looking at the call sheet, and it said, 'Chris Hemsworth, pick-up at 10. First scene, Chris Hemsworth kissing a nurse. Second scene, Chris Hemsworth making love on a plane. Third scene, Niki Lauda checking his tires.' "

Mr. Hemsworth portrays Mr. Lauda's rival, Formula One driver and playboy James Hunt, in the Ron Howard film opening in theaters today.

The makeup for Mr. Bruhl was essential once the Austrian driver suffered third-degree burns on his head and wrists, broke several ribs, a collarbone and a cheekbone when his Ferrari crashed and burst into flames during a 1976 race. A team of six doctors and 34 nurses worked to save Mr. Lauda's life.

"It was very helpful, this prosthetic makeup because sometimes, I would step on set and some extras didn't realize that it was fake, so they were really shocked when they saw me, and that made me understand what Niki had gone through."

In addition to the makeup, Mr. Bruhl had to swallow a piece of bread so a hospital tube could be pushed down into and then pulled out of his throat. "It was really unpleasant, which makes that scene so horrible."

The agreeable, coffee-drinking Mr. Bruhl met reporters for the WikiLeaks movie, "The Fifth Estate," in which he plays Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a Julian Assange ally turned adversary. But he obligingly fielded questions about "Rush," also part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

The actor, familiar to audiences as a German war hero in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," looked very different from Mr. Lauda, thanks to collar-length handsomely styled hair, mustache and beard and minus the false teeth used to mimic his character's overbite.

Mr. Bruhl, whose heritage is German and Spanish and who speaks in slightly accented English, could relate to the need for speed.

"I like to drive and I like to drive fast. As you know, on the autobahn in Germany, we don't have limits, but it's a completely different thing to sit in a race car," especially one smelling of gasoline and so low to the ground and noisy that your body vibrates.

"I totally got the addiction to it. I absolutely felt the adrenaline. I understood why young boys want to become a race driver. I would be a terrible race driver, though, I realized after the movie ...

"It's so difficult to be in control of that beast, of that machine, you know. It's easy to drive fast but if something unpredictable happens, it's very, very hard to control it."

The actor had the rare and strange experience of making two movies in a row based on real events and people.

"On one hand, you feel an enormous responsibility and a weight on your shoulder if you play these real characters. On the other hand, if you have the luck to have a good relationship with both of them and they're willing to answer your questions and are open, it makes life much easier. Fortunately, it happened in both cases."

However, Mr. Lauda was "quite undiplomatic" in their first phone exchange, conceding, "I guess we have to meet now. ... Only bring hand luggage to Vienna in case we don't like each other, you can piss off right away."

As it turned out, the actor stayed longer than expected and even needed to buy some extra clothes. "He supported us all the way through and he's very happy with the result."

As for working with Mr. Hemsworth, aka Thor the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder, Mr. Bruhl said, "We didn't need that fake rivalry to get into our parts. In fact, we invented our own romantic comedy and a love relationship between Hunt and Lauda in between the takes.

"It would have been an interesting movie, too," he said to appreciative laughter. "He's a very laid-back Australian surfer kind of guy, and it's very difficult to dislike him."

And his other co-star? Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the title character in the British series "Sherlock" seen on PBS's "Masterpiece" and channels the WikiLeaks founder in "The Fifth Estate," is "the most British guy I met."

"The first time I met him in London, it was hysterical. 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.' " Unofficial Watson reporting for duty.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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