Maria Lara, who has had starring roles in both Control and Downfall, discusses what she believes to be her biggest project to date, as she enthusiastically talks of her joy at working alongside director Howard. She also tells us of her working relationship with Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth, as well as her own personal experiences with Lauda himself. The pregnant star – who is married to British actor Sam Riley – also tells us about her own future, speaking about directing one day and a potential move to Hollywood.
What attracted you to the role, and how did you get involved?
So many things attracted me to the role. I don’t know what actor wouldn’t like to be in a film directed by Ron Howard. I have to say, when I read the script, it read like a page-turner. It was absolutely fantastic, and a very exciting story. I was very happy to be offered that part. Of course, it’s interesting to see how these women who are together with men who risk their lives, put themselves in such danger, how do these women cope with a relationship like that. I thought it was interesting. I had a very good time on set, so I made the right decision to say yes to that offer.
The real life couple have split up since. I was wondering, when you approached the role, knowing they eventually split up, did that affect how you approached it at all?
No, it didn’t. I met Niki, unfortunately I never met Marlene. We tried to organise a meeting and then it wouldn’t work out. At the end of the day I have to say I quite enjoyed feeling free on set. Feeling free to just go with the situation. But when I met Niki, he speaks highly of her. They’re very close friends, I think they live close to one another, they have two sons. Even though they didn’t remain a couple, I think they’re like soul-mates until today. So that’s a nice thing, I think.
Did you base much of your performance on the video footage of Marlene?
Yes, but also, no matter what – because it’s not the first time I played a real life character. So in my experience, I enjoy very much preparing, and looking at photos, and looking at material. But then the moment when the shoot actually starts, it’s really nice to leave all that behind and open up to – for example, these scenes in the hospital were very intense, and for me that was a crazy experience, as it was one of the very few times I didn’t have to act anything. I just came into that room, and he’s lying there without bandages on, and there was no acting required. So that’s nice sometimes, to feel that freedom on set.
Daniel told us that you had said you didn’t want to see him before you shot the that scene. Why did you make that decision?
I think if you love someone, especially if you are together with someone, and you know there’s always the possibility of something going wrong. They expose themselves to such danger, and I think if you’re in love with someone, that’s the last thing you would want to deal with, really. The fact that not only did he have that accident, but also for her to feel this relief that he survived, but then approach his bed and see something that she’s never seen before. I think that’s such a strong and probably difficult – I don’t think it affects your love, but I think it makes you feel very sad. It must be quite a heartbreaking moment. Daniel was, anyway, sitting every day for four to six hours in makeup, but I was happy that I had that moment free for performing.
What was it like working with Ron, and how does he differ from other directors you’ve worked with?
Ron is the most amazing, wonderful person. He’s very modest. He’s obviously this legend, he’s done all these films that all of us have seen and that we know, and at the same time he’s a very modest, normal man. It’s a very nice feeling to be on his set. He has good energy all the time, he’s very enthusiastic. There’s always room for a joke or something, it’s a very human atmosphere on his set. Never pressure, never anything dramatic.
Niki Lauda was a fairly difficult character. What do you think attracted Marlene to him in the first place, what drew her to him?
Maybe our film makes out that James Hunt was the one who had an incredible amount of female admirers, but I can imagine that Niki Lauda also had a good amount of ladies finding him attractive. He has a very straight personality, no bullshit. This is a quality that a woman can find very attractive.
What was your meeting with Niki Lauda like, the first time you met him?
It was rather nice, I felt very lucky. I think he was thrilled when he saw me from a distance because Marlene is always wearing this particular hairstyle. So when we first met he was outside the makeup trailer at quite a distance, but he saw me coming out in a rather nice looking costume and with that hair. And he shouted, ‘Marlene, Marlene’, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to take that as a compliment, it makes me feel confident’. He was very nice, I think he liked that I was the one playing Marlene.
Daniel has said he was quite nervous acting in front of Niki Lauda. Was that the case for you, knowing you were portraying someone he knew so well in his personal life?
No, I think it was much more difficult for Daniel. In Germany, for example, if you watch Formula 1, you see Niki Lauda presenting. So, this particular voice, this particular accent and everything. I think for Daniel it was very important to really nail it, and I think he’s done such a beautiful performance. I always kept telling him. When Niki Lauda was on set and standing next to Daniel, you could tell how proud Niki was that Daniel was playing him. I think that’s extraordinary, it’s the biggest compliment. It’s of no importance if he’s getting an award for that, I think the fact that he makes the person happy that is alive and watches that film, is probably the biggest achievement for an actor. I think that’s fantastic.
Were you always up for playing Marlene, there was never any potential to play Suzy Miller?
No, I think someone had suggested me. I don’t really know if that was someone who was a friend of the Lauda family, or someone had the idea that if they would cast that part, it should be me who would play Marlene. I never auditioned, I met Ron on Skype, which was very funny. I was sitting in my living room, putting make up on, getting ready. I prepared for that! It was lovely. Already during the Skype conversation, he said to me that we’re going to see each other on set. He’s lovely, very bright.
Do you still Skype?
No, but I still have him on my Skype account! You know how the names always come up? One time actually, after I knew I was going to play the part, we were cooking at home and I was cutting an onion, and at that moment he called. I can’t remember exactly, he wanted to ask me something. But did I have to answer or not, because I was close to tears because of the onion. I wrote him an email when I saw the film. I saw the film in Berlin with my husband and my parents, and all four of us were – it was fantastic. Physically, you almost feel this film. The accident and everything. I can’t wait to see it again.
Do you think you’ll work with Ron again, down the line?
I really hope so. I will tell him that tonight, or I think we’re going to have lunch together, I have to tell him. Yesterday he told me he’s preparing his new film. I wanted to ask him then. ‘You haven’t called yet, what’s my job in the film?’ – I would love to work with him again. Directors are so fascinating, and they’re so different. If I would direct myself, and it would be my big big dream to direct one day, it must be exciting to also work with new people, and other people.
Is directing something you’d like to do in the near future, or is it far ahead at the moment?
Realistically, it’s going to be far. It’s going to be something in five or ten years, or something. But I have to try it one day, even of the outcome will be a horrible film. I’ve worked with so many directors, I saw so many of them working in such different ways. And I would have a very clear idea how I would like to work with actors.
Is there one director you’ve worked with that you’d most take from if you were directing yourself?
Maybe not most, but for example, with Coppola. Because he’s a bit crazy as well, so you never feel too secure as an actor. You always have the feeling he may surprise you, day in, day out. That I liked a lot. For example, he loved it and so do I, no take was the same performance. I get very bored, and if I have to do exactly the same thing twenty times – I love to try what happens if you do this slightly differently and that slightly differently. He was a big fan of that, so I liked that a lot. But I think I would pick the best of all of them.
What was the energy between the two lead actors like on the set. Daniel told us they were very different in the way they acted. Did you find that?
I didn’t speak much to Chris. He’s very nice, and very funny. I think he’s more of a man’s man really, you know. Our conversations were always like, ‘Hi, how are you, good, me too, thanks, have a nice day’, it was more like that. Whereas my husband and Chris, for example, spent more time talking to one another. And Chris and Daniel, I think, had a very natural and lovely way of approaching one another. It’s a very touching thing for a woman as well, to see a man’s friendship, or at first they’re not friends, then after this accident, everything changes. I find it really touching. I thought it was fascinating to see, for once, a story about two men and their relationship.
Did you know much about the story before you got involved in the project, was it something you were aware of?
Not really. I knew of the accident. But I had no idea, for example, that he was trapped in the car for that amount of time. I saw Senna, by coincidence, before hearing of Rush. And that, I thought, was an extraordinary documentary. It was absolutely fantastic, and I had no idea how much more dangerous it was at the time than it is these days. In Germany, Niki Lauda’s very famous, so everyone knew of this accident and how it affected him. But I didn’t know any details, and I’d never heard of James Hunt before.
Was this an exciting prospect for you, your first big Hollywood film?
Yes, it’s crazy. I’ve been part of so many films where you know from the very beginning that the audience will be rather small. Of course it’s a different feeling to feel that buzz previously. Yesterday when I arrived here with my husband, we were switching on the TV and we saw the trailer for Rush, I thought that was rather exciting. It’s a good feeling, it’s nice.
Are you planning to go to go over to LA at any stage?
No, I don’t think so.
Is that something you’d like to do one day?
No, I’ve been very lucky. I was born in Romania, and grew up in Germany, and I worked with some amazing – I was very lucky to do a film with Coppola even though that was one of the films no one ever saw. I love having the possibility or the opportunity to be in English speaking movies, but I’ve always been very relaxed about what happens with my career, or with my work. Whatever comes will come.
Rush is released on September 13th. You can read our review here.