A longtime member of Vienna's Burgtheater (The National Theater of Austria), the compact, burly, stage-trained Brandauer won acclaim for his performances as several Shakespearean heroes (Hamlet, Romeo, Petruchio) and has been a perennial player at the Salzburg Festival, appearing in the titular role of Hugo von Hoffmanstahl's "Everyman". Though he made his film debut in 1972's "The Salzburg Connection", his dissatisfaction with the end product kept him leery of the big screen for many years.
Following the success of "Mephisto", Brandauer received a flood of offers, mostly for stereotypical heavies, SS Generals and the like. He rejected all but the part of James Bond's arch rival Maximilian Largo and had a hoot increasing his international exposure as the mad genius who wants to rule the world in "Never Say Never Again" (1983), Sean Connery's return as 007. He brought erotic tension and charisma to his scene-stealing portrayal of Meryl Streep's philandering husband in Sydney Pollack's "Out of Africa" (1985), earning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. That same year he reteamed with Szabo for "Colonel Redl", delivering a superbly nuanced portrait of an ambitious, homosexual soldier in pre-WWI Austria. "Hanussen" (1988) completed their trilogy together, and Brandauer's titular soldier, whose head wound leaves him with psychic abilities, first gains Nazi favor predicting Hitler's victory but loses it when he foretells of the Reichstag fire and indicates who the real culprits are.
Brandauer was the saving grace of the boxing melodrama "Streets of Gold" (1986), as a Russian expatriate who trains two Olympic hopefuls. He brought a touch of menace to his charming, amoral baron (yet another soldier with a wound) in the old-fashioned melodrama "Burning Secret" (also 1988), exploiting his friendship with a son to get close to the mother (Faye Dunaway). At the suggestion of Sean Connery, he played a small but pivotal role as a Soviet scientist in "The Russia House" (1990), and he also acted with Ethan Hawke in Disney's workmanlike remake of Jack London's adventure "White Fang" (1991). Brandauer's feature directorial debut came with "Seven Minutes" (1989), a fact-based story of a watchmaker who plotted to assassinate Hitler, which earned praise in his native Germany. He next helmed and scripted "Mario and the Magician" (1994), about a German author's brush with fascism during a vacation in Italy. A splendid "Rembrandt", he also made his American TV debut with a fascinating portrayal of Otto Preminger in HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" (both 1999).