Academy Award-winning Polish movie director, writer, actor and producer Roman Polanski has created a reputation as one of the world's most famous filmmakers despite his troubled personal life. Starting out as a juvenile actor, the Holocaust survivor went on to gain recognition for his short movies during the late 1950s and early 1960s thanks to his award-winning projects like “Two Men and a Wardrobe” (1958), “The Fat and the Lean” (1961) and “Ssaki” (1963) and eventually emerged as a film director with his auspicious debut, “Knife in the Water” (1962), which won a Venice Film Festival Award and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Already popular in Poland, Polanski relocated to England and found success with the Festival darlings “Repulsion” (1965) and “Cul-de-Sac” (1966). However, the talented director did not score victory in Hollywood until 1968 when he directed and scripted the blockbuster horror movie “Rosemary's Baby” (1968), from which he was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe for his writing. He gained even more recognition and fame with the Academy Award-winning thriller “Chinatown” (1974), which is considered the director's biggest critical and commercial success. For his good direction, he was handed a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Film Award and an Oscar nomination.
Unfortunately, Polanski's flourishing career was cut short by a sex scandal that forced him to flee the United States in order to avoid the consequences. As an expatriate, he continued to make films although the outcome became less frequent. After the praised drama/romance “Tess” (1979), from which he won two Césars Awards, a Boston Society of Film Critics Award, a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award as well as an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination, and “The Ninth Gate” (1999), Polanski enjoyed a Renaissance with the heart-wrenching “The Pianist” (2002), starring Adrien Brody in the title role. Also serving as a producer, the director won a number of awards for his work in the film, including his Academy Award, the Cannes' Palme d'Or, two César Awards, a BAFTA Award and a Boston Society of Film Critics Award. His follow-up, “Oliver Twist,” was released in 2005. More recently, he could be seen acting in the movies “Rush Hour 3” (2007) and “Quiet Chaos” (2008).
Also known by many for his tumultuous personal life, Polanski's second wife, actress Sharon Tate, whom he married in 1968, was killed by the Manson Family in 1969. Almost a decade later, in 1977, he made headlines with his arrest in Los Angeles after having sex with a 13-year-old girl he auditioned for a “Vogue” photo layout. He pleaded guilty in 1978 and served 42 days under psychiatric evaluation in the Chino State Psychiatric Prison. However, after learning that the judge planned to sentence him to additional jail time unless he agreed to be deported, Polanski fled to France. Since then, he has been considered a fugitive by United States authorities.
Now a resident of France, Polanski and his wife of 19 years, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, have two children, Elvis and Morgane.
Childhood and Family:
Roman Liebling, who would later be famous as Roman Polanski, was born on August 18, 1933, in Paris France, to Ryszard Polanski, a painter and plastic manufacturer, and Bula Polanski, a Russian immigrant. Roman's parents were religious and his father was Polish Jewish and his mother was Catholic. When he was three, the Polanski family moved back to Poland and lived in his father's native town of Krakow. It proved to be a disastrous decision because the Germans occupied the city in 1940. At age 8, Roman saw his parents taken to a Nazi concentration camp, while he himself avoided capture with the help of his father who pushed his son through a gap in the wall sealing the ghetto. Thanks to the support of a local farmer, the boy survived the war and returned to Krakow when he was 11. He was reunited with his father, but found out that his mother had been killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz. Next, he was sent to a technical school by his father, but left in 1950 to attend the prestigious Polish film school in Łódź, Poland. At about the same time, he started his acting career. He graduated in 1959.
Roman, whose nickname is Romek, was married to Barbara Lass on September 19, 1959, but they later divorced in 1962. He met actress Sharon Tate before filming “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967) and they began dating on the set of the film. The two eventually married on January 20, 1968, in London and moved to Hollywood that same year. A tragedy truck in when Sharon was brutally murdered by the infamous Manson gang in 1969. At the time, Sharon was eight months pregnant. After the death, Roman returned to Europe. On August 30, 1989, Roman tried to build a new family by marrying Emmanuelle Seigner. The couple has two children, son Elvis Polanski and daughter Morgane Polanski (born on January 20, 1993).
A childhood survivor of the Krakow ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland, Roman Polanski discovered a love for film during his years as a fugitive. After the war, the 12-year-old boy tried his hand at acting and following some experience in radio shows, he acted on stage. Later, Polanski quit technical school to pursue his studies at the Lodz Film School. Concurrently, he became an actor with the Krakow Theater and started acting in such movies as 1953's “Three Stories,” 1955's “Magical Bicycle” and 1955's “A Generation,” a drama/war film directed by Andrzej Wajda.
While in Łódź, Polanski made several short movies such as “Rowan” (1955), “Teeth Smile” (1957), “Murder” (1957), “Break Up the Party” (1957) and “Two Men and a Wardrobe/Dwaj ludzie z szafa” (1958), which won him a Golden Gate for Best Short Subject from the San Francisco International Film Festival and several other international awards. His diploma project, “When Angels Fall” (1959), starred his first wife Barbara Lass. After graduating, he teamed up with Jean-Pierre Rousseau to direct the 15-minute comedy “Le Gros et le Maigre/The Fat and the Lean” (1961), which he also wrote and starred in, and picked up a Melbourne International Film Festival for Best Short Film-Under 30 minutes for his work in the film.
Polanski made his feature directorial debut with “Nóz w wodzie/Knife in the Water” (1962), a dark psychology thriller which he also co-penned with Jerzy Skolimowski and Jakub Goldberg. Telling the story of a husband's illegitimate efforts to impress his wife and a possible contender, the project marked the first Polish film that did not deal with a war theme. “Knife in the Water” was a stellar commercial hit in the west and earned the director international attention in addition to his first Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. He also picked up the IPRESCI Prize at the 1962 Venice Film Festival and a Golden Lion nomination.
1963 found Polanski return to the short movie realm with “Ssaki,” which again won the director such honors as the Main Prize from the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival and a Golden Dragon from the Cracow Film Festival. He moved to England to make his subsequent film, “Repulsion” (1965). Although it was not well-received by viewers, the film won the director the FIPRESCI Prize and Silver Berlin Bear-Special Prize of the Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival. He next directed Donald Pleasence in the comedy “Cul-de-Sac” (1966), from which he won the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, and the horror/parody “Dance of the Vampires” (1967), where he also costarred with the soon-to-be-wife Sharon Tate.
After marring Sharon Tate, Polanski headed to Hollywood and made his debut there with the horror classic “Rosemary's Baby” (1968), which he scripted from the novel by Ira Levin. Starring Mia Farrow as the title character, the horror/thriller was a huge success in Hollywood and subsequently launched Polanski as a major commercial filmmaker. The film also won Polanski a David di Donatello for Best Foreign Director, and both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his writing. Shortly after the massive victory, Polanski dealt with personal problems following the murder of his second wife. Upon returning to England, he adapted a work from Shakespeare for his next film, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (1971), whose explicit violence was recited to show the director's heartbreak and anger. This was followed by the comedy “What,” which he co-wrote with Gérard Brach.
Polanski, however, did not score his next big triumph until he made his return to Hollywood with “Chinatown” in 1974, a dark story of corruption set in 1930s Los Angeles with Robert Towne serving as a scriptwriter and Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston starring in the roles of J.J. 'Jake' Gittes, Evelyn Cross Mulwray and Noah Cross, respectively. Heralded to be the director's biggest critical and commercial success, the movie collected a total of eleven Oscar nominations, including one nomination for Best Director, and won Polanski such awards as a Golden Globe for Best Director, a BAFTA Film for Best Direction and a Bodil for Best Non-European Film. He also appeared in the movie as a thug.
Polanski returned to France to film the thriller “The Tenant” (1976), starring Isabelle Adjani and Shelley Winters. The film was based on the novel by Roland Topor. In addition to directing, he also played the role of Trelkovsky, a Polish file clerk in Paris who rents an apartment where the previous tenant committed suicide. After a few years away from filmmaking due to an outrage involving a 13-year-old girl that led to his escape from the U.S. to France, Polanski made his return in 1979 with “Tess,” which was adapted from Thomas Hardy's novel, “Tess of the d'Urbervilles.” Starring Nastassja Kinski, the acclaimed drama/romance brought Polanski two Césars for Best Director and Best Film, and a Boston Society of Film Critics and a Los Angeles Film Critics Association for Best Director. He also netted Best Director Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Two years later, he visited Poland to helm and star in a stage production of “Amadeus.”
During the 1980s, Polanski spent much of his time away from the cinematic industry. He only directed two films, the adventure/comedy “Pirates” (1986), which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design, and “Frantic” (1988), an action film starring Harrison Ford as an American who goes to Paris to look for his missing wife (played by Betty Buckley). He also wrote both movies. On the acting front, he could be seen in “Chassé-croisé” (1982), written and directed by Arielle Dombasle, and the made-for-TV film “En attendant Godot” (1989). The following decade found Polanski directing the drama “Bitter Moon” (1992), which starred Huge Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas and wife Emmanuelle Seigner, the mystery/thriller “Death and the Maiden” (1994), starring Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Stuart Wilson, and the supernatural thriller “The Ninth Gate” (1999, released in the U.S. in 2000), starring Johnny Depp, Frank Langella and Lena Olin. The latter vehicle garnered the director a European Film award for Outstanding European Achievement in World Cinema. Still in the 1990s, he made a music video for Italian rock singer Vasco Rossi, directed stage productions of “Master Class” (1996) and “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1997) and produced the comedy film “Castelnuovo” (1999).
In 2002, Polanski was put back in the spotlight with the release of “The Pianist,” a biopic film about the Polish Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (portrayed by Adrien Brody) who evades his Nazi captors by hiding in the ruins of Warzaw. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and won three in the categories of Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. The director/producer could not attend the ceremony because he was still a fugitive in the United Sates and would have been arrested once he entered the country. In addition to the Oscar, Polanski also took home the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes, two Césars for Best Director and Best Film, a BAFTA for Best Film, a Boston Society of Film Critics for Best Director and many other awards. Also in 2002, Polanski had a starring role in a based-on-play comedy film by Andrzej Wajda titled “The Revenge.”
After receiving the Special Prize for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2004, Polanski directed Barney Clark, Jeremy Swift and Ian McNeice in the big screen version of Charles Dickens' “Oliver Twist” (2005), which was nominated for a Young Artist for Best International Family Feature Film. He went on to have a cameo role in the Jackie Chan film “Rush Hour 3” (2007), appearing as Detective Revi, and more recently, played Steiner in the European drama/romance “Quiet Chaos” (2008), for director Antonio Luigi Grimaldi.
European Film: Life Achievement Award, 2006
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: Special Prize for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema, 2004
Oscar: Best Director, “The Pianist,” 2003
BAFTA Film: Best Film, “The Pianist,” 2003
Czech Critics: World Cinematography Award, 2003
César: Best Director (Meilleur réalisateur), “The Pianist,” 2003
César: Best Film (Meilleur film), “The Pianist,” 2003
David di Donatello: David, Best Foreign Film (Miglior Film Straniero), “The Pianist,” 2003
Goya: Best European Film (Mejor Película Europea), “The Pianist,” 2003
National Society of Film Critics: Best Director, “The Pianist,” 2003
Polish Film: Life Achievement, 2003
Sant Jordi: Special Award, 2003
Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Director, “The Pianist,” 2002
Cannes Film Festival: Golden Palm, “The Pianist,” 2002
European Film: Outstanding European Achievement in World Cinema, “The Ninth Gate,” 1999
Stockholm Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 1999
Venice Film Festival: Career Golden Lion, 1993
Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Director, “Tess,” 1981
César: Best Director (Meilleur réalisateur), “Tess,” 1980
César: Best Film (Meilleur film), “Tess,” 1980
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Director, “Tess,” 1980
Golden Globe: Best Director - Motion Picture, “Chinatown,” 1975
BAFTA Film: Best Direction, “Chinatown,” 1975
Bodil: Best Non-European Film (Bedste ikke-europæiske film), “Chinatown,” 1975
David di Donatello: David, Best Foreign Director (Migliore Regia Straniero), “Rosemary's Baby,” 1969
Berlin International Film Festival: Golden Berlin Bear, “Cul-de-sac,” 1966
Berlin International Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize, “Repulsion,” 1965
Berlin International Film Festiv l: Silver Berlin Bear, Special Prize of the Jury, “Repulsion,” 1965
Cracow Film Festival: Golden Dragon, Other Forms, “Ssaki,” 1963
Oberhausen International Short Film Festival: Main Prize, “Ssaki,” 1963
Melbourne International Film Festival: Best Short Film-Under 30 minutes, “Gros et le maigre, Le,” 1963
Venice Film Festival: IPRESCI Prize, “Nóz w wodzie,” 1962
San Francisco International Film Festival: Golden Gate, Best Short Subject, “Dwaj ludzie z szafa,” 1958