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On playing Niki Lauda:

“It was a strange thing playing a real character who is still alive. Especially a character like Niki, who is quite extreme. There were so many things I wanted to get right. His courage, guts, overcoming the fear. I was lucky, he was very open with me. His book ‘To Hell & Back’ was the best first source. He’s a complex man, and so different to every other man I know. So determined. He has pure discipline, he’s like a Swiss watch, an incredible businessman, super skilled.

“Niki talks with a staccato rhythm, his sentences are like stone, and he always thinks very carefully before he speaks, so he can appear cold and technical. Whereas James Hunt was more emotional, more passionate. The rock star. But I didn’t want to exaggerate that too much, because I wanted him to be likeable. After his accident, it’s quite heart-breaking. Even Niki said when he watched that sequence that he was touched by it.

“I think he’s one of the best characters I’ve ever played, a gift really. There’s so much to him. I’m German, he’s Austrian, and we’re very different. On top of that, he’s Niki, so that’s another layer! It really is a transformation, there’s nothing of me in this part. He flew me to Brazil on his own jet, to attend the Grand Prix. ‘Come to Vienna, but just bring hand luggage… in case we didn’t like each other and I have to send you back home.’ But luckily we got on. I met Sebastien Vettel. Jackie Stewart, Nelson Piquet. I found it very impressive Niki would answer every question, even intimate ones, and he has a greater sense of humour than I expected.”

On what he’s learned:

“All sportsman have an armour. Niki knows the effect he has on other people. He’s so frank, he plays on it, to this day. But he’s also really likeable. He was very kind to me, from the first moment. The responsibility is extremely high. Everyone knows Niki Lauda, they know how he speaks. In Germany, in particular, he still casts a big shadow. [slips into perfect Lauda accent] ‘Just don’t mess it up, OK? It has to be good…’ He has certain tics and movements, and they’ll be difficult to get rid of after filming. I’m not that method that I have to be in character the whole time. I love watching and imitating people. I spent hours watching interviews with him on YouTube.

“He doesn’t give a s***. He has no vanity. He could have had full plastic surgery, but he only had done what he needed to do to go back racing. Because he’s so open, you don’t even notice his appearance. And he has very bright, intelligent eyes.”

Learning to drive racing cars:

“I did an F3 driving course in Barcelona. I met Marc Gene [Ferrari F1 test driver and 2009 Le Mans winner]. Great guy. I have to look a little bit like I’m at home in the F1 car. I drove the replicas we used, but they’re still pretty fast, trust me. We shot some stuff with the camera in the helmet, it would have been strange to do a movie that was all green screen. It’s just not going to work in a film like this…”

On Hunt and Lauda:

“They wouldn’t have been so great individually if the other hadn’t been. They were friends, yes, but there are cinematic rules. It’s important that the dramatic arc works.”

On cars and F1:

“I’ve always been interested in old timers, though they never usually work. I’ve owned a Peugeot 304 cabrio, and an Alfa Giulia, a 1966 car. It’s fixed now. So I love cars. I was always interested in Formula One. I was born in 1978, so I remember Senna and Prost. And, of course, I was a fan of Michael Schumacher.”

On racing films:

“I love the rivalry story in Rush. I love Grand Prix with Yves Montand and James Garner, action sequences very well done for the time. Even now it’s still impressive. Le Mans, Steve McQueen.Two Lane Blacktop. Set in the ‘60s and ‘70s, always a special period. So I loved the idea of being able to be in an F1 film set in that time.”

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