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Fifteen years after “Inglorious Basterds,” Daniel Brühl is back on the Croisette, this time on the pink carpet at Canneseries, for the world premiere of “Becoming Karl,” a prestige Disney+ mini-series which offered him one of his biggest acting challenges to date. To play Lagerfeld, Brühl not only perfected his French and learned to speak and walk with small heels like the late fashion icon, he also pulled from his own life experience as a perpetual foreigner, being both German and Spanish. Produced by Gaumont (“Lupin”), the six-part series chronicles the rise of Karl Lagerfeld through the world of 1970s Parisian high fashion. The lushly lensed series opens in 1972, as 38-year-old Karl Lagerfeld aspires to become the most famous French fashion designer, at a time when Yves Saint Laurent reigned supreme. Powered by a pop aesthetic, the series sheds light on the tumultuous love affair between Lagerfeld and Jacques de Bascher. “Becoming Lagerfeld” is directed by Jérôme Salle and Audrey Estrougo (“Authentik,”“Héroïnes”).

You’ve presented films at Cannes before. How is it to be back with this mini-series, “Becoming Karl”?

It’s big because you’re among the first ones that I’m talking to. And it’s always funny that feeling when you do something, you’re proud, but then obviously you have your doubts. Then the release is coming closer and the tension rises, especially for me being German, because everybody’s asking me about Karl Lagerfeld. I will be holding hands with my colleagues watching the first two episodes because I haven’t seen the final result yet. It will be such an honor to be able to see it on the big screen in the prestigious Palais. It’s the first time that I’m seeing the pink carpet. I’ve been here a couple of times for the red carpet.

For ‘Inglorious Basterds,’ right?

Yes for Inglorious Basterds and back in 2004 — I’m getting so old, Jesus Christ! — with “The Edukators” which was the first film that I had in competition. This was my first Cannes. So, 20 years ago.

It’s the most glamorous kick-off for the show.

I’m so happy because I’m shooting in London at this moment. I have to go back on Monday morning. But I said to the guys on the show, ‘I definitely have to be here this weekend because this is the premiere.’

It seems that you invested yourself a lot in this project.

I really did a lot for this project and this is ultimately with all my doubts that I always have with what I did and maybe a couple of things that I think when I see them, I would think like, Oh, why did I do it? I can ultimately say that I’m pleased and proud because I know that we invested a lot. And emotionally, we really, Théodore (Pellerin) and I, and also Arnaud (Valois) and Alex (Lutz) we all went in. We got in there. I took it very seriously.

What was such an important role for you?

I felt a huge responsibility. Karl Lagerfeld is a very well-known, iconic man that everyone knows. So I wanted to give this character as much complexity and truth and honesty and love and passion as I possibly could. And then this is a thrilling, sometimes intimidating process if you have to play someone like him. It was like a rollercoaster. But I love that more and more as I become older. That kick you get, I find it very electrifying when’re offered such a fascinating role. It’s like a gift and fills me with joy. At the very next second, I think, ‘Shit, now I have to do it. And I don’t know how.’ And there’s so many paths, and it’s getting blurry, and there’s frustrations and disappointment.

How so?

The first time I had my costume fitting, I was looking at myself and thought, ‘I don’t believe myself.’ Speaking in French, I did all this preparation. We moved to Mallorca and spend most of the time in the mountains in Spain. And I would always wait to be alone, when my wife and my boys were away. The first witnesses (of my rehearsals) were two sheep and one donkey. They were always watching me while I was doing the first steps, walking up and down in heels and talking to myself in French. But I was very happy with their reaction.

I understand you were scared at first because you don’t look like Karl Lagerfeld at all.

Well, I guess when you go back in time, I was not aware of how this guy looked. In fact, he could have been Spanish or Italian, so that gave me some comfort because I knew that we go back in time. This was the whole premise of the show, and it’s something that interested me.

Did you ever meet him?

I only met him once, and he took pictures of me. I met the Lagerfeld that everybody has in mind, the persona that he had created, like Warhol. It was Berlin, 15 or 20 years ago.

Why did he take pictures of you?

It was for a magazine, and he took black and white pictures of a couple of actors. And he thought that I was cool because I didn’t want to squeeze myself like the other actors who were behaving like monkeys because they wanted to get on the cover. I found It’s so embarrassing and my Spanish pride was against it. So I stepped away, and he looked at me and gave me a little nod. And then later on, he took pictures of me alone. And now, 20 years later, I got a call two days ago that we found an assistant who has the original print because I couldn’t find it anywhere. And then I was told the anecdote that after the shooting, he said, ‘Wasn’t that the guy from ‘Goodbye Lenin? You have to find a cinema for me where I can watch the film with you. And he did. And after that, he said, I like this guy.’ And that was before we started the interviews in London. So that gives me a good feeling. But maybe it was a lie. Who knows with. But I want to believe that it’s true.

This is a funny, sweet anecdote.

Yes. So I met the persona, sharp, eloquent, funny, very charming to me. But I wanted to explore in the show who the man was before he became famous. I wanted to explore so many of the aspects that I have empathy with, because as an actor, I can, of course, understand a little bit the ups and downs, the longing to be loved and to be appreciated and respected and to not get it, to feel the frustration, to be vulnerable, to be fragile, to be outside of your culture, as I always felt, or very often felt. And back in the days, imagine in France in the ’70s being German and being homosexual and all that, and having such a strict education at home, etc. And then having the Mozart-Salieri dynamic with Yves Saint Laurent, a love for your friend, but also hatred and envy, and jealousy, and seeing the other one being treated as a God, as an artist. There was so much meat on the plate that was absolutely wonderful to work with, but intimidating. But now, like Karl Lagerfeld felt himself, if I’m facing critiques, I will try to always remember how he went through it, thinking like, ‘I don’t care. I did the best I could. So if you don’t like it, then…’

Do you think that’s how he went through things?

At least that was the shield when he was criticized. But this is the interesting thing. I think he was not very easy to criticize by people whom he thought wouldn’t be necessarily worthy. But if he was not taken seriously by certain people, then I think that hurt him. There were great scenes with Arnaud playing Yves Saint Laurent.

You really feel for him in the series. He’s like the ultimate underdog trying to break into that Parisian world.

Thank you. This was the attempt to make him likable because he was a big romantic. I have a huge fascination and empathy with the fact that he was so hungry for life, but life itself, in reality, didn’t make him that lucky most of the time. So he constructed and made up these perfect worlds, these parallel universes and worlds, and with a fairytale-like perfection. And he he was living such an anachronistic life in the ’70s, which were all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll and the freedom, also the sexual freedom, and that whole vibe. But there he was in love with this one man, who was the love of his life.

And he didn’t have sex with him either.

Yeah, ultimately, there’s still a question mark. It’s not that we are answering all the questions.

Tell me about how you prepared for the role. Did you read everything, watched everything?

As much as I could. I read the three biographies and interestingly, a lot of them contradict each other because he made up so many different versions of his life. But again, I empathize with that because I did similar things when I was young to the embarrassment of my parents.

Really! What kind of things did you make up?

There’s example that I ended up believing in. I lived with my family in a little country house in Spain, and next to it was the village where (Joan) Miró lived. So I told my art teacher that my parents were very intimate, very close to Miró. So my art teacher was very impressed until he met my parents. And they were hugely embarrassed. But I loved the idea because reality is so boring. It would have been nice if he would have come over! I said that he always came over to have tea. And then I was like, ‘That’s a complete lie.’ But it was fun.

What else did you do to prepare for this part and make it your own?

The good thing is with Karl Lagerfeld is that he was so good at publicity and selling himself that there’s a lot of material, even from these days when he was young. I wanted to meet people who knew him for a long time. So I met Patrick Hourcade. He had written one of the books (about Lagerfeld). He invited me and we had a great long conversation, and he gave me so much insight. It was stuff that you couldn’t find in books. And with him, the first time, I had this idea of a bullfighter because we were in a huge apartment somewhere in Paris with an old man who was about 80 years old. And we were alone, and he was completely fearless. So he said, “Stand up, walk, turn around, walk. Again, sit down, walk. Show me your hands. The nails have to be longer because sometimes he’d like to scratch people.’ And I told myself, ‘This is very weird.’ But I was writing down everything. Then as I was walking, he said, “maybe think of a matador (a bullfighter)”?

Why did it help you to think of Karl as a bullfighter?

It helped me so massively to have this image of a bullfighter because they’re masculine and macho on the one hand, but very feminine and elegant on the other end, and also the corset, the clothes. So there’s this ambiguity there. So this is something that I wanted to get right. I didn’t want to look like a caricature, so I had to find the fine line, to not do too much, but give it the panache, and give him the pride and the ambition and the hunger that you have to see that he’s always underneath. There’s always energy there, and he’s a maker. And not only an artist, but also just a guy with a pulse.

You directed a film before, “Next Door.” Are you interested in doing it again?

Yes, I already have an idea in mind. It will be psychological horror. But I cannot tell you more because I’m still now in the very delicate process of writing.

You’re writing by yourself?

No, unfortunately I’m not good enough but I think I have found someone in England who would be the right choice. It will be in English but we’ll probably do it in Spain, either next year, or most likely the year after. But this is something that I want to do again.

You’ve worked in Hollywood before. You’ve done even done a superhero movie, “Captain America: Civil War.” How was it?

Well, now, funnily, I’m doing a satire about this world. The show (“The Franchise”) is directed by Sam Mendes. I’ve never had so much fun. And the film (“Eden”) with Ron Howard that I did in the meantime. It’s a privilege in an actor’s life when you can hop from one island to the other. It’s always different genre. Because now what I did not get in my home country, as you know, we Germans are not the funniest. And so I was so pleased to be invited to this show by Sam Mendes and to be surrounded by funny bones from England and America, and to be sparring with them and dealing with the world that I know a bit since I’ve (starred in ‘Captain America”) and give it another perspective on it. It’s a lot of fun.

Do you want to do another Hollywood movie?

It’s always about what’s on the page. If something touches, moves you, interests you, then I don’t really care and make the distinction if it’s a very small film or a gigantic film. If it’s a very superhero film and they invite me again and it seems fantastic where I think like, ‘Oh, God, this is fun!’ Then why not? I’ll do it.



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