His wonderfully strong performance as Leopold Socha has further cemented his reputation as Poland’s most versatile talent. Soon to be appearing as Lech Walesa in the biopic of the Solidarity Leader, Nobel Prize Winner and First President of Poland. Robert will see the word ‘hero’ posted next to his name soon enough. Not that it will faze him, the self-effacing actor was straight down to business as he spoke at length, with the aid of an interpreter, to clue us in on his role in Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness.
The film was supposed to be in English, now that it’s Polish what was it like to perform it in Polish?
If the film was to be in English I might not have gotten the part. The film was meant to be made in America with stars. Agnieszka didn’t want it that way. She wanted to make it her own way. It had to be in the original languages (Old Yiddish, Polish, German and Russian are spoken simultaneously) for many reasons. Firstly the film would be artificial if it was made in English. The English language becomes a filter which removes us from the reality of the situation. That’s why the originial languages had to be there to convey the mood and the atmosphere. Shooting it in Polish presents other problems. There was not as much money available and there were problems with distribution, especially as Americans don’t like to read subtitles. But at this decision to shoot in Polish, at that point I was the only person she wanted for that part.
Were there any challenges using the original dialects of the time, did that pose any challenges?
At first I was a little bit scared of that idea. I was worried it was going to be a barrier in the construction of the character. My method is such that I very rarely learn my lines. I get acquainted with what I’m going to say but not by heart. Because when I’m on location I want to be as fresh as possible, that’s where I learn what I’m supposed to be doing. But When I was given the lines in a foreign dialect, I prepared before hand. The fact that I was acting in a foreign dialect allowed me to make the transformation.
What were the conditions like working in the sewers?
The film was difficult for me for two reasons. The first is the physical conditions of work. In winter it’s minus 15. Dark sewers, damp, wet, rats. Long hours, 12 to 15 hours, you get claustrophobia yourself. Everybody was in the same shit. So I shouldn’t complain. The second reason was the story itself, very dramatic. Demanding that we give extreme emotions.
How was working with Agneiszka Holland ?
It was the first time. I always admired her work and respected her. A model partnership. It was a 2 sided process until we reached a consensus. She is very sensitive to all sorts of subtle suggestions to change the character. On the other hand she has a very strong personality and is a strong person. I had the feeling she was completely in control of the whole situation. It was fascinating how deeply she got into the subject. And somehow we all picked up on it. Because there is nothing more amazing than observing someone doing something when they are 120% involved. She also had to show a lot of resilience because we had a lot of difficult emotions in scenes with children.
On the character of Socha…
The basis for me is always the script. To me as an actor if it’s well written all the information for playing the part is there. This particular script was like that. The fact I was playing a character that existed in reality, because to consider the memory of the people that had been through it. At that time we didn’t know the little girl was the last survivor. There was a kind of responsibility. But as an actor I had no right to think like that because it could paralyse me and I wouldn’t be able to act at all.
The film is never sentimental. How was it received in Poland?
We didn’t want to make a sentimental movie. We wanted to depart from the cliches. It’s a story about people in extreme situations. And the very thin line about good and evil. It’s not a typical Holocaust movie. Showing how people function and what an individual person can do in those particular circumstances. In Poland unfortunately there still are anti-semitic groups so for them you can’t please them. But the majority of people have responded with a great enchantment, not only because it’s so well made and acted, but also because it’s so truthful.
In Darkness is in cinemas 16th March 2012.