Back in September, Ron Howard’s “Rush” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to hugely favorable reviews. There was a lot of passion around the Formula One biopic and a nice head of steam going into its Sept. 20 release. Would it be a big awards player for Universal? It seemed quite possible.
But then the film failed to crack $30 million at the domestic box office and it was written off of the awards circuit. Even Daniel Brühl’s acclaimed and clearly inspired performance as Niki Lauda began to slip down prediction charts as Oscar season can often be seen as a time of sink or swim, with little middle ground. The last two days have proved to be a stellar windfall for the film, however, as it picked up two nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Wednesday and then, just this morning, a pair of Golden Globe nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), including in the Best Picture (Drama) category.
Both Brühl and Howard phoned in this morning from Siena, Italy and the Canary Islands respectively, where they are hard at work on new projects, trying to keep above the season fray as best they can. And each expressed pleasant surprise that their labor of love has been so well remembered by voters this week.
“I could tell that people really responded to the film in a good way, but all these strong movies were coming out and you wonder if people will forget,” Brühl said. “So I’m absolutely surprised and overwhelmed that we’re getting this recognition.
The actor said he lost his voice yesterday as a result of screaming through the streets of Siena, excited to have been recognized by his acting peers. Because for an actor, he said, it’s one of the most important awards there is. “I was so blown away by it,” he said, “to know that all these other actors have chosen me. If you look at the list [of Best Supporting Actor contenders] this year, it’s endless. When I was sitting there at the Governors Awards in LA, surrounded by the best of the best, it was impossible to consider that I’d be chosen.”
The year has been a “roller coaster” for Brühl, he said multiple times. Films like “Rush” and Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate” represent the first major roles he’s been offered in American films, and “Rush” in particular, including the relationship he forged with Lauda, has clearly made an impact. “Every day this was one of my best experiences ever,” he said of the film. But he’s also eager to find the time to gain perspective on it all, and staying hard at work in Tuscany filming Michael Winterbottom’s “The Face of an Angel” is helping him to remember why he does this in the first place.
“I can’t wait to sit by the Christmas tree with my mom and my girlfriend in a couple of weeks and digest and analyze this year,” he said. “Everything is a new step and it’s quite overwhelming. It’s all new experiences, and obviously January will be madness for me. But I’m trying to absorb and learn from all these people I’ve met.”
And how did Lauda respond when he got the news of Brühl’s good fortune this week? “He texted me and said, ‘I’ll see you on my private jet to LA,'” the actor recalls in the distinct accent. “He’s such a competitive guy so I guess he’s very proud that we got these nominations.”
Meanwhile, Howard – who is five days away from completing production on “In the Heart of the Sea” (also starring Chris Hemsworth) – was equally surprised that the film was remembered. Tackling an independent production like “Rush” was an “eye-opening” experience for the Oscar-winner and it was certainly a process he hasn’t been accustomed to in quite some time.
“Even back to trying to pitch it at the film market and help assure that it was going to have the resources that it could have, I’ve enjoyed the process,” he said. “I’ve felt challenged by it. When you get involved in something in that way, it motivates you to ask once, twice and more, ‘Is this worth it to you?’ And with ‘Rush,’ the answer was, ‘Absolutely.’ I wouldn’t want to miss this creative opportunity, and I’m so gratified by the recognition.”
One of the things he’s particularly proud of is the SAG recognition for the film’s stunt coordinators. “The stunt category sort of defined the creative challenge of tackling the story,” he said. “It meant a lot to me that they were nominated.”
The ambition of the project had to be matched with “will rather than ready cash,” he noted. So there hasn’t been a well of funding to keep any sort of campaign afloat, and on the circuit, he’s well aware of what it takes to stay on the radar. “The way the awards season has formed itself over the last decade or two has a lot to do with campaigning, a lot of which none of us have been able to do,” he said. “Daniel was able to do a dinner but I’ve been busy, Chris Hemsworth has been here in the Canary Islands with me, and because we’re not part of a company that’s a machine – we’re an independent enterprise – we don’t have that kind of money behind it.”
Indeed, a number of the producers on the film, as well as Howard, funded a Chateau Marmont event in West Hollywood themselves last month in recognition of Brühl’s work in the film, because they all agreed he “deserved that extra spotlight for another moment because it’s a rich, creative performance,” Howard said. The director also mentioned that the negative box office perception – likely due to the presence of someone like Hemsworth in the leading role, he surmised – was unfortunate for a film that actually is making money overseas. “So I felt rewarded that the movie made a sustained impression, because it truly is a labor of love project,” he said.
With that in mind, he said he finds it too bad that such things as box office are taken into account when awards voting takes place this time of year, but for his part, he tries to separate it. “I take the voting very seriously,” he said. “I don’t take [financial success] into account at all. I try not to, anyway. Who knows what subliminally seeps in there, which is why the campaign aspect of it is interesting on a sociological level. I’m sure I’m influenced by ads and by blogs and those conversations. But I really try to make it my sense of what I believe in the most, and what I like the most. It’s a tradition I’ve long enjoyed, whether I’m involved or not, either as a fan or a participant.”
This season, though, way out in the Canary Islands, he hasn’t had a chance to see many of this year’s awards contenders outside of “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips.” (He loved both.) And that even includes Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” which features his father Rance in a supporting role. But he’ll be remedying that as soon as production on his latest wraps.
“That’ll be my first awards season contender to watch when I get back,” he said.
“Rush” will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on Jan. 28.