Beyond Baron Zemo: Exploring the Work of Daniel Brühl

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Marvel Studios

In 2016, a new live-action twist on a familiar Marvel Comics villain was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — Helmut Zemo, portrayed by Daniel Brühl. Zemo ultimately tore the Avengers apart in Captain America: Civil War as he orchestrated a disastrous and deadly revenge plot for his family that unfortunately died in Sokovia during Avengers: Age of Ultron.

After spending years in prison, Zemo made his triumphant return in the 2021 hit Marvel miniseries The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. The Baron was much further fleshed out and humanized this time around, to the point where he, his fabulous coat, and his wild dance moves very quickly became the talk of the series. For those that have found themselves curious to explore more of Brühl’s films beyond the MCU, he has an exceptional body of work to catch up on.

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Daniel César Martín Brühl González Domingo bolsters a very impressive and lengthy filmography which spans a variety of countries and languages. This Spanish-German actor’s extensive knowledge of languages includes but is not limited to German, Spanish, English, and French, amongst others. Notably, he has also done quite a bit of his own voice work for language dubs of his films — including the German dubs of Civil War and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.

So now that you’re ready to look beyond the purple mask and the fur coat and dive into Brühl’s worldy filmography, see below for a list of recommendations.

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)

X Verleih AG

Directed by Wolfgang Becker, this tragicomedy follows a family in East Germany between 1989 and 1990. Brühl portrays Alex Kerner, whose extremely devoted socialist mother (Katrin Saß) has a heart attack and falls into a coma just before the November revolution. When she wakes up eight months later, Alex finds himself in over his head as he attempts to keep her in the dark about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism — otherwise, she’ll most certainly have another heart attack. This award-winning film plays out brilliantly, with Brühl’s Alex proving to be the charming heart of it all as he refuses to let anything get in the way of protecting his mother. Brühl won multiple Best Actor awards for this role, including the European Film Awards and the German Film Awards, and it’s not hard to see why.

Rush (2013)

Universal Pictures

This biographical sports film begins in the 1970s and follows the fierce rivalry between Formula One drivers Niki Lauda (Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). Equal parts thrilling and emotional, Rush is a must-see film, regardless of if you’re a car racing fan or not. This was a role that truly allowed Brühl to flex his acting abilities as he portrayed the arrogant, blunt, driven, and calculating persona of Niki Lauda. When watching the film, Brühl essentially becomes unrecognizable on the screen (in the best way possible), as he entirely immerses himself into becoming Lauda and puts on an unforgettable performance. The film was overall very successful and well-received, and Brühl himself received recognition in particular for his authentic portrayal of the Austrian man’s accent and mannerisms, something that he worked hard to achieve.

Ich und Kaminski (2015)

X Verleih

Based on Daniel Kehlmann’s novel, Ich und Kaminski (Me and Kaminski) follows the story of Sebastian Zöllner (portrayed by Brühl), a pompous young writer who sets out to interview the aging, legendary 20th century painter Manuel Kaminski (Jesper Christensen). Sebastian’s intentions are dubious at best, as he hopes to publish a biography of Kaminski after his death and capitalize upon it for his own gain. Ich und Kaminski is a gorgeously shot film, set upon a exquisite backdrops and captured in such a way that gives the film a unique voice and accurately reflects the artistic subject matter of the story it sets out to tell (and the director just so happens to be Good Bye, Lenin!‘s Wolfgang Becker).

Brühl is no stranger to taking on roles of characters with nefarious means, but Sebastian Zöllner truly falls into a category of his own altogether. He plays him with a crackling, chaotic, and unpredictable energy which later builds up into a fascinating and endearing crescendo of character development as his long-absent morality finally begins to awaken from its slumber. In a way. And not to mention the humor — throughout all of this, Brühl also manages to absolutely nail the film’s plentiful comedic moments. Brühl is truly mesmerizing to watch in Ich und Kaminski, and it’s without a doubt one of his best performances.

The Alienist (2018)

Kata Vermes/TNT

Set at the tail end of the 1800s, the first season of The Alienist focuses a series of disturbing, gruesome murders of boy prostitutes in New York City, and it’s followed by a second season entitled Angel of Darkness. The show is carried by a strong leading cast of Brühl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning. Brühl is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, an alienist — or someone that would alternatively be referred to as a psychologist today. He’s a complicated, brilliant, fascinating character that dances on the edges of darkness and madness as he tries to understand the mindset of his suspects. Brühl naturally commands attention in his scenes and maintains an impressive rapport and chemistry with each of his fellow castmates. Though this series is dark, gruesome, and certainly not for the faint of heart … if you’re a fan of Brühl, The Alienist is some of his finest work and is not to be missed.

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Universal Pictures

Quentin Tarantino’s war film Inglourious Basterds blew audiences away, which was no surprise at all with its wild premise and all-star cast lineup including the likes of Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, and more. The film, which is set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, tells an alternate history story of two diverging plots to assassinate Nazi Germany’s most notorious leaders. Brühl portrays a Nazi named Fredrick Zoller in his breakout U.S. role.

After spending years being typecast into “good guy” roles following his endearing role in Good Bye, Lenin!, Tarantino saw something else in Brühl (even though the aforementioned film is the reason he chose him for the role in the first place). When we first meet Fredrick in the film, he’s disconcertingly friendly and engaging, which is an odd, stark contrast to his dubious occupation. However, the façade slips away at the drop of a hat in the film’s final act, letting loose something much darker that lies within. Brühl would then later go on to continue proving his extraordinary capability of demonstrating versatility across roles and genres.

Eva (2011)

Paramount Pictures

Eva is a science fiction film set in the year 2041, in which Brühl stars as Alex Garel (a renowned cybernetic engineer), alongside the likes Marta Etura, Alberto Ammann, and Claudia Vega. Alex, a genius who’s truly one of a kind, returns to his snowy hometown after 10 years away in order to work on a project to build a robot child. Shot on a picturesque landscape, Eva features an intriguing blend of highly sophisticated technology interspersed with retro clothing and props, which gives the film a unique and beautiful atmosphere. As Alex engrosses himself in his work, he must also contend with a tidal wave of feelings stirred back up from a love once lost and other mysterious questions that linger in the air. Brühl conveys Alex’s profound emotions — budding affection, reignited passion, longing — in a deeply moving manner that effortlessly guides the film.

Joyeux Noël (2005)

Sony Pictures

Based on a true events, Joyeux Noël tells the story of how on Christmas Eve of 1914 during World War I, Scottish, German, and French troops on the Western Front called an informal and unauthorized truce. In an incredibly moving moment, the men put down their weapons and peacefully met in No Man’s Land for a brief respite from the bloodshed. Brühl stars as Lieutenant Horstmayer of the German 93rd Infantry Regiment, alongside the likes of Diane Kruger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis, and Alex Ferns. Though his character is initially portrayed with the rigid, curt attitude of a Lieutenant, Brühl eventually peels back the layers to reveal the surprisingly friendly and agreeable man behind the rifle as Horstmayer consorts with the Scottish and the French. Joyeux Noël is a truly beautiful and touching film that can’t be recommended enough.

Honorable Mentions

  • Colonia (2015)
  • Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei (The Edukators) (2004)
  • Was nützt die Liebe in Gedanken (Love in Thoughts) (2004)
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

And yes, that was indeed Brühl as Lightning McQueen in the German-language version of Pixar’s Cars.

Though the above titles serve as an introduction to his work, this is nowhere near an exhaustive compilation, and there’s still plenty more to see. In his many years of acting, Brühl has not only done an astounding job each time he steps behind the camera, but he has also ultimately cultivated a filmography full of so many roles that tell important, meaningful stories. Brühl has proven himself to be a true worldly asset to the film industry, something that’s clearly exemplified in his approach and dedication to his craft. He is, without a doubt, one of the most versatile actors currently working today.

So what’s next? Brühl’s directorial debut — Nebenan (Next Door), a dark comedy which he also stars in — had its worldwide premiere at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival. Meanwhile, you can catch him in Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Man, which will land in theaters on December 22. And finally, he’s due to appear in Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of the 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front.

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By Lindsey
Lindsey joined the Nerds and Beyond team in 2018. She has spent a large portion of her life dedicated to her first love, photography. When she's not behind the camera, she's likely reading books and comics or dabbling in creative writing. Otherwise, she's probably yelling about Star Wars, Marvel, anime, or Ted Lasso. Contact:
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