Rush - Alexandra Maria Lara interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ALEXANDRA Maria Lara talks about some of the challenges of playing Marlene Knaus in Ron Howard’s Rush and why she loved getting the chance to meet the real Niki Lauda (her on-screen husband).
She also discusses her approach to playing real-life characters, why she now has a newfound appreciation for Formula One and what she thinks the film is really about.
Q. What was the first thing you spoke about when it came to doing Rush with Ron Howard?
Alexandra Maria Lara: It was a Skype conversation, so I didn’t audition really for the part. We just met on Skype. I was sitting in my living room. Obviously, I was quite nervous. But he’s a wonderful, lovely, easy going, relaxed person, so he made me feel good straight away. I don’t know if we spoke all that much about Marlene [Knaus]. He spoke quite a bit about the ’70s, about the atmosphere, and he said that he wanted to give some warmth to this relationship between Niki Lauda and Marlene and show a different side to Lauda through that relationship.
Q. You said you didn’t have to audition. How did you get involved?
Alexandra Maria Lara: I think he maybe has seen Downfall and things. But to be honest, I think someone specifically recommended me… someone who is obviously more familiar with German film and cinema had said I could be right for Marlene. After that first conversation, he said: “Alright, I’ll see you on-set…” And I thought: “Did he really just say that?”
Q. Was the scene in the car with the Italians, where you first meet Niki, true?
Alexandra Maria Lara: They met after that party. I don’t know exactly if they hitchhiked. So I don’t know if that moment is real or just a beautiful invention. But it worked well. I thought it was very funny that he was telling her how to drive a car and she has no idea of who is sitting next to her.
Q. How did you find the production itself? Were you on-set a lot?
Alexandra Maria Lara: I was on-set quite a bit. I think I had 20 or 25 shooting days, which I think was also important and needed because of all these races that they recreated. I love all the racing bits in the film. But I had to be there for those scenes… although they weren’t big acting days for me.
Q. Are you a big Formula One fan?
Alexandra Maria Lara: No [laughs]!
Q. I read that you failed your driving test three times?
Alexandra Maria Lara: [Laughs] Two! It was a German journalist who wrote that. No, the third time they actually gave me my driving licence, fortunately. But no, I always thought that watching Formula One on TV was always rather boring. I never really understood the thrill of it. But tennis… I watched a lot of tennis with my father and understand much better why that’s exciting. But of course through work and through a movie, you come to know a world that you had nothing to do with before and it becomes much more exciting. I’ve just been to a race now at the Nürburgring and the atmosphere is really fantastic. There are a lot of fans and the cars are really loud. It’s actually quite exciting.
Q. Have you got a Formula One team that you’ve adopted?
Alexandra Maria Lara: No, I haven’t gone that far yet.
Q. You didn’t get to meet the real Marlene. But did you get to meet Niki?
Alexandra Maria Lara: Yes, I did. It was fantastic because I think he liked me straight away and that was so nice. You’ve seen that I’m wearing this hairstyle in every scene… and every photo you see of Marlene she’s always wearing her hair in that particular style. And so he saw me from the distance in these rather nice costumes and with the hair made up like that and he shouted to me immediately: “Marlene! Marlene!” And that was very nice because he can be a dry character as well – not everything makes him smile or laugh. So, I took it as a big compliment that he reacted so well to me straight away. He’s a funny man.
Q. Did you get to ask him about his relationship with her?
Alexandra Maria Lara: Yes, I did. And that’s really beautiful. He speaks highly of her. They’re still close friends and they still speak quite a bit on the phone. They obviously have two sons but you can tell that he speaks of her with such respect and love still that you really have the feeling that they’re kind of soul mates even though the relationship didn’t last forever.
Q. How much of a relief to you was it to be able to get some kind of insight into Marlene and that relationship from someone who knew?
Alexandra Maria Lara: It’s always a nice feeling because, to be honest, I think for Daniel Bruhl who, in my opinion, did a really brilliant job, one could tell, for example, how happy Niki was. When he came on-set and was standing next to Daniel, it was very obvious that he was very happy that this particular actor was playing him. I think that’s the biggest compliment for an actor, no matter what people will say, or whether you win an award for it or not… to make the person happy that you’re portraying is such a wonderful thing. But I think for Olivia Wilde and me it was easier. When you switch on German TV and you watch Formula One and you see Niki Lauda all the time and you hear this very particular accent and this dry humour and everything – it’s very much how he is and Daniel really nailed it. And Olivia Wilde and me were more free. You don’t immediately think of “aah, Marlene, I know what her voice was like”, or Suzy Miller. And I quite like to feel free when I’m acting.
Q. Do you prefer to be free when playing real-life characters then, rather than being constrained to imitate them?
Alexandra Maria Lara: Well, it’s not the first time I’ve played a real-life character. When I played Annik Honore in Control, for example, she’s a very private person and she told our director, Anton Corbijn, “I’m happy she’s playing my part, or me, but I don’t necessarily want to come and talk”. So, I was completely free to go with my instinct and my feeling and when she saw the film she then let Anton know she was very happy and that was a nice feeling. But at the end of the day, it’s not a copy of real life. However, if the humour had been missing from Daniel’s portrayal of Niki, that would have been a terrible thing. So, it’s different for all of us.
Q. How do you feel about Niki and James Hunt as characters?
Alexandra Maria Lara: I thought Niki was very attractive in a way because of his dry humour and his prrecision and perfection. But Chris Hemsworth I think did a wonderful job. I think for Chris it was maybe even more difficult to a certain extent because James Hunt obviously died when he was still such a young man and Chris didn’t have anyone to talk to. But I think Chris does it very beautifully and I like very much how the whole story between them goes and also how Chris plays the change after the accident… how he’s affected by what happens and how their relationship then changes. I think that they’ve both done an incredible job. But I think I would probably find Niki Lauda’s character a tiny bit more appealing.
Q. How was shooting the scenes in the hospital between yourself and Niki after the crash?
Alexandra Maria Lara: I have to say there was really not acting required because when I… I didn’t want to see Daniel with this most extreme make-up, when they take the bandages off. It really took my breath away. I didn’t have to think of anything sad. I just looked at him and it really got to me.
Q. How similar are you to Marlene?
Alexandra Maria Lara: There are some things I can relate to. I think some things are very elegant about her. I love the the differences between Marlene and Niki and James and Suzy. I love the two wedding moments when they have their big wedding and then Niki and Marlene are alone joking with one another, when she tells him what a poet he is. That’s my kind of humour and I think that there’s something very beautiful and very elegant in that modest moment. I really like. But then of course there are other things that I probably would have the feeling that I’d have to speak my mind a little bit more than she does.
Q. Can you say a little bit about your role in Suite Française?
Alexandra Maria Lara: What can I say? Not much really. I play a Jewish mother and I think it stands a little bit for… it gives these people in France a little pre-taste of what will happen when the Germans come.
Q. What’s next for you?
Alexandra Maria Lara: A little break I think. I love making movies. Maybe next year I can do one again. But first of all, it’s a little break.
Q. What do you think Rush is really about?
Alexandra Maria Lara: I think it has a wonderful mix of everything. I think it’s big entertainment and, as I told you before, I had no big interest in Formula One, yet still I find that the sport is so emotional. The way it’s filmed, you really have that feeling of being caught in the middle of a race. I also really liked to see the friendship between these two men. To me, it’s about that friendship more than anything else, especially how it develops towards the end of the film – I thought that was really touching. I was a bit in tears when I saw it. I think that’s lovely to have the focus on two men. It’s touching as well. Once that horrible accident happens to Niki, I think the film really goes to another level.