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Daniel Bruehl skewers superhero stardom in gentrifying Berlin

Deborah COLE
·3-min read
'I'm not as horrible as the guy we see in the movie,' says Bruehl

Actor Daniel Bruehl called on some of his more "humiliating" Hollywood experiences for the black comedy "Next Door", his directorial debut premiering in competition at this week's Berlinale film festival.

The German-Spanish Bruehl, who shot to fame aged 25 with the bittersweet Berlinale contender "Good Bye, Lenin!", is now himself up for the Golden Bear top prize Friday at an event that has gone all-virtual due to the pandemic.

Since his early success, Bruehl, now 42, has starred in hits including "Rush", TV series "The Alienist" and the "Captain America" franchise.

"Next Door" (Nebenan) tells the story of Daniel, a preening German-Spanish actor played by Bruehl who like the director himself lives in a gentrified district of Berlin and is up for a role in a major superhero movie.

On his way to the airport, he stops in at one of the German capital's traditional corner pubs to rehearse his lines.

- 'Vain and narcissistic' -

Trying to understand his character's "motivation", Daniel frantically calls Marvel executives begging them for more pages of the top-secret screenplay so he can better prepare.

Daniel practises the ridiculous dialogue with a familiar Marvel comics growl while watched by Bruno, a mysterious local sitting at the bar who soon reveals he knows more about Daniel's life than he should.

Bruno is a native East Berliner who doesn't take kindly to the wealthy newcomers who have moved into the area and driven up prices, and he's immune to Daniel's attempts to charm him.

Their small talk turns combative, then sinister as Bruno shows the unctuous Daniel who actually has the upper hand.

Despite the obvious parallels, Bruehl joked, "I'm a vain and narcissistic man but I'm not as horrible as the guy we see in the movie".

He told AFP he wanted "Next Door" to tackle both the transformation of Berlin, where rents have increased more than 75 percent over the last decade, and the occasional silliness of the entertainment industry.

"I'm making fun of all the (movie) projects, all the ones that I really loved doing. But I also had some experiences in which I felt ridiculous and humiliated," he said.

"I mean being sent a page where everything is watermarked and blurred and then you have three lines and don't have any context and people expect you to pull off some magic performance and you think like 'what the fuck, what is this?'"

- 'Ich bin kein Berliner' -

Bruehl called it "a very purging, cleansing experience for me to show this humiliating aspect finally in a movie".

But he admitted to being a little afraid of biting the hand that feeds him with his savage satire.

"Someone like (Marvel president) Kevin Feige -- he has a great sense of humour. That's something I like about Marvel. So I hope that when these guys see the movie they understand the joke," he said.

He sought inspiration from the Coen brothers and fellow actor-turned-director Julie Delpy for the wild shifts in mood in the movie, which was written by bestselling German author Daniel Kehlmann.

Bruehl, who grew up in the western German city of Cologne but whose parents live in Barcelona, has called Berlin's now upscale Prenzlauer Berg district home since the early 2000s.

He said he wanted to take on the ongoing friction between rich and poor in Berlin as well as easterners and westerners three decades after the Wall fell.

"I was privileged to be rather successful as a young man being an actor," he said.

"But no matter where I went, I always felt like an invader, be it in Prenzlauer Berg or in Barcelona where I found an apartment in 2010."

He said that even today, Berlin can still give him that fish-out-of-water feeling.

"Even after 20 years, there's certain encounters that I have where I truly feel, 'Ich bin kein Berliner' (I'm not a Berliner)."

dlc/hmn/jj