Daniel Bruhl talks about the freedom of playing the blunt Niki Lauda in ‘Rush’

TORONTO – When “Inglourious Basterds” came out a few years ago, most of the attention was focused on what became a break-out role for Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, and I understand. It was exciting to see that kind of performance from a guy no one outside of Germany had ever heard of, and it earned him completely justified praise from all quarters.

The problem was, though, that the film featured a host of damn fine performances, and because of all the immediate buzz about Waltz, some of those other actors didn’t get the praise they should have. I was impressed by the work Daniel Bruhl did in the film as a young German sharpshooter who essentially becomes the German version of Audie Murphy, a sudden media figure, a propaganda celebrity. It’s great work, and it seemed to verify that the funny, moving performance Bruhl gave in “Goodbye, Lenin!” was no accident.

This year, it will be much harder for people to ignore just how great Bruhl is in Ron Howard’s “Rush,” and between that and his role in “The Fifth Estate,” it feels like Bruhl is finally having his breakthrough moment. It’s about time, and I seriously hope that directors fully understand just how nuanced and difficult Bruhl’s work in “Rush” is. He plays Niki Lauda, one of the two men whose rivalry became a major part of the racing season, and Bruhl’s Lauda is a tactless man who believes his blunt manner is perfectly justified.

When I sat down to speak with Bruhl, he had some great stories, and in particular, I loved hearing about his first encounter with the real-life Lauda. It sounds like time hasn’t mellowed Lauda at all, and Bruhl seems to really love everything he got to play as the guy. I am so glad “Rush” doesn’t work overtime to try and demonize Lauda, but instead seems determined to explore his eccentricities with either punishing him or praising him. It’s just a character study, and a darn good one.

You’ll be able to see for yourself this coming weekend, when “Rush” opens in select markets.