LONDON–JUST AFTER I ASK Daniel Brühl to spill the beans on “Captain America: Civil War,” the phone cuts out. Minutes later, back on the call, the German-Spanish actor jokes that it’s the powers that be at Marvel Studios. “I am not supposed to say anything,” he says of the film, which comes out next year. “I cannot even talk about the part, really, because I would be too afraid to give something away and then I’ll end up in the Marvel prison and I do not want that.”
If anyone could get a Get Out of Jail Free card, it seems like it would be the in-demand 36-year-old. Since his breakout role in “Good Bye Lenin!,” which won him the 2003 European Film Award for Best Actor, Mr. Brühl has continued to build his reputation for studied and subtle performances in films such as “The Edukators” (2004) and “Inglourious Basterds” (2009). But it was his Golden Globe-nominated turn as Formula One champion Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s “Rush” (2013) that really opened doors.
Having recently returned to Berlin after three weeks hiking in Patagonia and the Easter Islands with his model girlfriend Felicitas Rombold, Mr. Brühl is geared up for a busy spring that includes promoting “The Face of an Angel,” out March 27 in the U.K. and co-starring Kate Beckinsale and Cara Delevingne, and “Woman in Gold,” out April 10, with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.
“The Face of an Angel” is loosely based on the Amanda Knox case. Is it hard being involved in a project that people are so familiar with?
I was attracted to the role because I was always attracted by the case. I almost blamed myself for being so curious following it. That film is about finding out the truth, about journalism, about objectivity—and I find that part of the film very interesting. I was surprised to see how committed journalists can become. It is almost more than actors do when they play a part.
You’ve said you like to play characters that are very different from yourself.
A part that is very much like me would not attract me. In “The Face of an Angel,” I am happy to not be in such a dark place as the character. I am not a director…but he is from my world, so I do understand the problems he has…. I understand about failure in this profession and trying hard to make a new project and be successful again, and suffer from the pressure of people wanting you to do certain things you do not want to do.
Are there roles that you look back on fondly?
When I think back, “Good Bye Lenin!” is definitely one of them. I also fell in love with Berlin and it was the reason why I then moved to Berlin. The director became a good friend of mine and we did another film two years ago, which is going to be released pretty soon. It’s called “Me and Kaminski.” Also “Inglourious Basterds,” working with a genius like Quentin [Tarantino].
Speaking of geniuses, what was it like working with Helen Mirren?
I was nervous when I saw her the first time. We had a dinner, I was sitting next to her and I was so troubled because I thought: “Oh god, it has to be an interesting conversation. How should I do it? How should I break the ice?” And then it was so easy. She could not have done it in a sweeter or more elegant way, because she has the talent of taking away the fear and restraints from you.
Are you excited to be involved in “Captain America: Civil War”?
Absolutely. It’s huge for me. From the world I am coming from and the movies I have done, this feels big—megalomania and huge. I think I will be walking around for the first week being amazed, like a little boy, to be in that universe. It is going to be fantastic. It is something new. That is why it is a challenge. But it is something I am very much looking forward to because this is entertainment on the highest level.
You made a name for yourself in art-house films. Do you miss doing those?
It is nice on these big budget films to have the time and the money to do certain things properly. Certain stories need money and a budget to be told appropriately. But that does not mean I will lose interest in small films. I am very committed to art-house stories. That is where I am from, where I started.
I would not mind expanding it. I am talking to my partner about opening an equivalent in Barcelona and calling it Bar Karlsberg and offering German food and German music. Why not? We also were thinking of opening a second place in Berlin because we have been quite successful. It is quite a popular place, and it makes us very happy and proud.
What else do you enjoy doing?
I like to travel. I am always back and forth between Barcelona and Berlin, but my girlfriend and I are thinking of moving to New York for a while because I think to stay in another place and get to know different cultures is a very important thing in life. I sometimes enjoy writing. I wrote “A Day In Barcelona.” It is a not a Pulitzer award-winning novel, but it was an intimate little book.
Being on film sets, with all that down time, you must have a lot of pent-up energy. How do you channel that?
I love running and this is something that calms me down. Yoga does not work for me; I am too nervous. But in this profession it is important to have something that slows everything down, so I found out it can be hiking in Chile or running. I like playing tennis; it’s a sport I really like watching as well.
So who’s your favorite player?
Being a Spanish guy, of course I am a fan of Rafa Nadal. He is left handed like me, but there is a bit of a difference.