Entebbe stars tell how it was important to 'show the human being behind a terrorist'
Entebbe tells the true story of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France jet travelling from Tel Aviv to Paris by two Palestinians and two left-wing German radicals. Stars Daniel Bruhl and Rosamund Pike tell Georgia Humphreys about tackling such tense source material, and playing ambiguous characters
DANIEL Bruhl knows exactly why he's become drawn to darkness when reading scripts. After his breakthrough role in comedy drama, Good Bye, Lenin!, about a young man who hides the Berlin Wall's fall from his mother when she wakes from a coma, the Barcelona-born, Cologne-raised actor became typecast as the perfect son in Germany.
It was, he admits, "a little bit of a curse".
"In that film, I'm that son who does everything for his mum," says Bruhl (39). "And then I thought, 'Guys, there's no imagination, no belief in me doing something completely different'."
But that perspective has changed with working outside his native country, being cast in films such as Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (in which he plays a Nazi war hero) and becoming known for more villainous roles.
In his latest film, Entebbe, he plays Wilfried Bose, one of two left-wing German radicals (alongside Rosamund Pike as Brigitte Kuhlmann) who, along with two Palestinians, hijack an Air France jet travelling from Tel Aviv to Paris in the summer of 1976.
Inspired by true events, the thriller depicts an international crisis that shocked the world. We see the terrified passengers become bargaining chips in a deadly political stand-off, after the plane is diverted to an abandoned terminal at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
When it becomes unlikely that a diplomatic solution will be found, an extraordinary plan is set in place by the Israeli government to free the hostages. In real life the plane was eventually stormed by a force of commandos led by the older brother of current Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the only fatality on the Israeli side.
"The script really takes you inside the minds of the hijackers," notes Pike, who's also 39. "In most films, terrorists tend to be such unknown and personality-free figures. So it's quite interesting to get to know what's driving them in this story.
"If we get it right, you might, at certain moments, feel something for Brigitte and Bose."
Of the appeal of the part, the London-born actress adds: "I was interested in the uncertainty on all sides here. There's a debate about morality in the film. What's the right thing to do?
"My character is a German left-wing intellectual who felt she had a moral urgency behind her cause. She wasn't necessarily aiming to kill anyone, and that makes it very interesting."
Was there an element of nervousness about taking on these roles?
"Yeah, there was... to find the right balance, to not make him too likeable," admits Bruhl. "There's no radical thinking in me, no extremist tendency and sympathy for terrorism, zero. And still, to approach a guy with that mindset – that was what interested me.
"It was important to show the human being behind that facade of a terrorist, so to not paint a black and white picture."
It's a story that's been adapted for both TV and cinema screens several times before – but this version, directed by Brazilian film-maker Jose Padilha – best known for Elite Squad (2007) and Robocop (2014) – felt like a very different approach for both leads.
"When I met Jose, I saw his passion for the project," says Pike, whose own filmography includes Gone Girl and the Western Hostiles, released in Ireland and Britain this year. "It was clear from the beginning that he didn't want to make an easy film. He didn't want to give the audience the standard heroes and villains they've seen before."
Bruhl adds: "What was interesting about the whole structure of the film and in the storytelling, to me, was to do something which has multi-perspective, because this is also how I understand history – there are different histories and different versions."
One issue Pike encountered was that Padilha wanted the hijackers to speak to each other in fluent German. The English actress suggested she learn German phonetically, and with the help of a German language coach, managed to perform all the necessary dialogue.
"I was blown away," Bruhl enthuses of her German interpretation.
The actor admits he was "a bit scared" on his way to his first meeting with Pike, as he had heard she could speak German, but feared it wouldn't be up to scratch.
"I know we actors, sometimes in our CV it says 'horseback riding', and that we speak Swedish or whatever, and then we don't, so I thought, 'Oh God, how will I tell her if it sounds awful?' And then she really spoke almost fluent German."
He even helped her at times with her lines, reflecting: "I'm glad to say I could scratch that from my list, because I haven't only worked with her as an actor but I was also her mentor."
And while they also shot the dialogue scenes in English, speaking in German was "nice", says Bruhl, as they "both felt the scenes were much stronger, the temperature in the room changed" when they did so.
Looking to the future, the actor, who can also be seen in Netflix's new psychological thriller series The Alienist, would maybe like to take on some, well, lighter material.
"A romantic comedy would be all right," he quips. But ultimately, when it comes to the projects he chooses, "the part just has to feel right" – and there's no denying filming Entebbe was also a process he learnt a lot from.
"When working with Jose, you have to be very prepared because he always comes up with new ideas at the last minute," says Bruhl. "It's a very refreshing process. You have to always be prepared to reinvent scenes, to try something new, or to improvise. It's a documentary way of approaching the material, and as an actor it was very rewarding."
Meanwhile, the parallels between the events depicted in the film and the world we live in today made it even more of an interesting role for Bruhl.
"It's fascinating to revisit the 70s and see how incredibly relevant the subject matter still is," he says. "The issues we're dealing with in this story have not been resolved, but perhaps you can approach them more successfully if you just have a look back."
:: Entebbe is released in cinemas on Friday May 11