THE FIFTH ESTATE
The Breakaway: Daniel Domscheit-Berg
Since splitting with WikiLeaks and publishing his memoir
of working with Assange, the German technology activist
Daniel Domscheit-Berg has also become a controversial
figure. His tell-all book, "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with
Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website,"
revealed previously unknown operational details about
WikiLeaks and personal details about Assange, though
some have questioned Domscheit-Berg's motives
and even dubbed him a WikiLeaks saboteur. He went
on to establish his own WikiLeaks-like organization,
OpenLeaks, intended to be more transparent and to
work more closely with established media, though it has
yet to get up and fully run.
But as "The Fifth Estate" begins, Daniel (who took the alias Daniel Schmitt while working with WikiLeaks) is still
a boisterous, wide-eyed network security specialist fired up by ideas that he, like Julian, hopes will change the
To take Daniel on a journey from idolizing Assange to questioning him, it was essential to find someone who
could play dynamically against Benedict Cumberbatch. The filmmakers found that ability in German actor Daniel
Bruhl, who came to the attention of U.S. audiences in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," and recently
in Ron Howard's "Rush."
"We all loved the idea that Daniel is actually German," says Steve Golin. "Bill really believed in him and supported
him for the role even though we knew there would be pressure to find someone more widely known. He just
brought so much empathy to the role."
Says Condon: "Daniel is the Everyman of the film, so it was really exciting to be able to find an actor who comes
in without a lot of baggage in this country."
Bruhl was instantly attracted to the trajectory of Daniel's
friendship with Julian, which flies close to the sun before
taking a precipitous fall. "They go through a very intense
journey, because they were nobodies, geeks, computer
nerds and then they became famous very, very quickly,"
he observes. "I think it's an important story to tell
because what they did changed our ideas of secrecy
and transparency. But the avalanche of information may
have been too much for them and the organization was
fragile. And, of course, sometimes rapid success and
attention changes the way people behave."
Once Bruhl began his own research, like others, he found that there were several variations on how the history
played out. But the potential for controversy did not alter his interest. "I felt we would be telling one version
of the story, based on particular perspectives of people who were there. I think the film shows the very human
flaws in both of these guys," he says. "It's natural that friendships will change when you are leading such crazy
lives. The ultimate importance of what they did, though, lies in the things they were exposing."
Unlike Cumberbatch, Bruhl had the chance to meet with the man he would be playing, which lent additional
insight. "Daniel has an incredible energy, and when we talked about WikiLeaks he still had a sparkle in his eye
and got very hyperactive again. He is still a true activist. When I visited him at home, outside Berlin, he had
French antifascists living and working in his barn, because they had nowhere else to go," Bruhl recalls. "He really
wants to help change things for the better. He was very open and shared his sadness at how one of the most
intense relationships in his life had ended. I could tell how much this meant to him, and I hope to have portrayed
that in the film."
On set, Bruhl says that Condon's way of giving every actor his undivided attention further honed the performance.
"Bill understood that with actors playing real people we needed individual attention as we each defend our
character and their different perspectives," he explains.
He especially loved establishing a rapport with Cumberbatch, even if the bond between Julian and Daniel
collapses under the weight of events larger than any one person. "Benedict is highly energetic, very powerful,
very funny and he has great, spontaneous ideas," Bruhl sums up. "We really did become friends and I think you
can see that on the screen."
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