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Born in Paris from Polish parents, Roman Polanski was raised and educated in Poland where he attended Art School in Krakow and the National Film School in Lodz. He made his stage acting debut at the age of fourteen and continued to perform on the popular radio show The Merry Gang. In his teens, he appeared in the film Three Stories and subsequently played small parts in several Polish films including Andrzej Wajda's Generation. While still at the Film School, Polanski directed several short films including Two Men and a Wardrobe (1957), When Angels Fall (1958), The Fat and the Lean (1958) and Mammals (1961), all awarded at various film festivals. His feature film debut was Knife in the Water (1962), which won the Critics' Prize at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film.
Polanski's English-language debut were made in England with Repulsion (1964), starring Catherine Deneuve, which won a "Silver Bear" at the Berlin Film Festival. Than he directed Cul-de Sac (1965) for which he won a "Golden Bear", at the same festival. He played the starring role in his next film, The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). His first American picture was Rosemary's Baby (1968), for which he received the Best Screenplay Academy Nomination. In 1972, Polanski returned to Europe to direct his adaptation of Macbeth (co-written with Kenneth Tynan), and in 1973, he directed Marcello Mastroianni in What?
Polanski returned to Hollywood in 1974 with Chinatown, winner of the Golden Globe and nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, but winning only Best Original Screenplay. In 1976, Polanski returned to Europe for the film The Tenant with Isabelle Adjani and Shelly Winters.
Once again, this film featured him in the starring role. His next film Tess (1979) was nominated in six categories, including Best Director, and won three Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Costume Design.
In 1984 Polanski wrote his autobiography, Roman, which was a best-seller in several languages. In 1986, he filmed the adventure spoof Pirates, with Walther Matthau. Polanski's next film, the 1988 thriller Frantic, with Harrison Ford, marked the first starring role of Emmanuelle Seigner, who is also starring in Bitter Moon (1992), with Hugh Grant and Peter Coyote and The Ninth Gate (1998), also starring Johnny Depp and Lena Olin.
On stage Polanski directed the opera of Alban Berg's LULU at Spoleto Festival, Verdi's Rigoleto at the Munich Opera and Tales of Hoffman at the Paris Opera Bastille. In 1981, he directed and starred in the production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, first in Warsaw, then in Paris. In 1988, he played the lead role in Stephan Berkoff`s stage adaptation of Kafka's Metamorphosis. He directed the musical comedy of Tanz Der Vampire in 1996 in Vienna. In 1993 he co-starred with Gerard Depardieu in Giuseppe Tornatore's film A Pure Formality.
Music and hope
"I never looked for physical similarity," says Polanski concerning his search for an actor to play Wladyslaw Szpilman. In fact, he wasn't looking for an actor at all. "Prominent film director seeks 'ordinary bloke' to play the lead in his next film. No experience necessary," ran the small ad in The Guardian newspaper announcing auditions for the part.
Polanski's reasons for wanting to cast a non-professional were simple: "I want everything in this film to look as authentic and realistic as possible. It was very important that he wasn't a celebrity. I gave it a try but, in the end, decided to use ayoung actor. I'd seen a few films with Adrien. It was an easy decision."
"Adrien" is rising star Adrien Brody, whose credits include The Thin Red Line, Restaurant, for which he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, and Bread and Roses. Vanity Fair recently voted Adrien Brody one of its five most sought-after actors.
Playing opposite him, as the German officer, is Thomas Kretschmann, Harvey Keitel's co-star in U-571. The German officer shelters Szpilman in his field HQ afterhearing him perform Chopin's ballad no. 1 on a dusty piano in one of the film's mostmoving scenes.
Kretschmann hesitated before accepting the role. "I was scared of stereotyping but this German officer is different. He helps the Pianist. He is a symbol of hope for us Germans. Despite the seriousness of the events portrayed, the film is deeply rooted in a sense of optimism and hope."