I took the vows of fast and silence for the sake of the role

Malgorzata Karnaszewska talks to Piotr Adamczyk, actor playing the main role in the film 'Story of Karol - Pope who remained a man'.

Malgorzata Karnaszewska: - How would you summarise the idea of the film about John Paul II?

Piotr Adamczyk: - I will repeat what Giacomo Battiato said, 'This film could be entitled 'Story of Karol -Pope of the suffering'. The film shows how the Pope reached out to the victims of conflicts, wars... How close to ordinary people he was. This is not only a report of his pontificate. I hope that this film will remind us of the resolutions, vows which we took at the moment of the death of John Pal II. I hope it will make us recollect those emotions. The recipe for a better world is simple and the Holy Father passed it to us...

- Did you take any vows then?

- Yes, like all people did.

- What was the most important thing for you while working on the film about the Pope?

- To continue the idea we had while shooting the first part: we wanted to make a portrait of an extraordinary man and his personality - without imitating or copying the Holy Father, but interpreting his figure. But it was much difficult to do in the second part of the film than the first one.

- Why?

- Playing young Karol Wojtyla I had some kind of freedom. Only a few pictures of that period were preserved, there were almost no documents. Playing the role of John Paul II I knew people would compare me to him. However, it is impossible to play this character. That's why we did not mean to make another documentary. But we rather wanted to paint a portrait that would remind us of the Holy Father. To show emotions, feelings, to touch his extraordinary personality.

- Which scene was particularly difficult to shoot?

- The most difficult thing was to take the very decision to play this role. Then, when I made the first step, when I wore a white cassock and spoke the first words, which took place in Africa since we began filming in the Republic of South Africa, I worked like a carthorse.
The scenes of private life of the Pope were rather difficult. Actually we do not know how his private daily life looked like. There were no cameras and reporters in his private apartments. But the most difficult decision was to show his human suffering. His agony. This director's choice was very courageous. When the film was shown in the Vatican I saw tears in the eyes of those who had known John Paul II well and who had been with him on his last days: his bodyguards, nurses, priests who had worked there. One of the bodyguards came to me and asked, 'How did you know it looked like?...'

- Benedict XVI saw the film in the Vatican as well...

- Yes, he did. John Paul II himself wanted to see the first part. We made preparations for that but we postponed it because of his illness. Unfortunately, he did not see it. The premiere was postponed and it was Benedict XVI that saw the film. After the show he made an inspiring and very personal talk. He spoke about the war, about Nazism... Then he saw the second part. I had the opportunity to sit just next to him and I saw his reactions. He was moved. When he watched the scene of the assassination attempt he covered his face with his hands. I remember the moment he was given a microphone after the show. He stared at the empty white screen for a long time. The light was switched on; people stopped clapping their hands and waited what the Pope was going to say... And he tried to calm down. I waited in suspense. Suddenly the Pope turned towards me and said, 'Thank you'. I saw tears in his eyes. Then I realized I would never receive a bigger award.

- How did you prepare to play the role of the Holy Father?

- The most difficult thing was the very 'touch' of the Pope's personality. And there was the issue of technical acting. Being 33 I had to be a credible 80-year-old man, at all stages of Parkinson's disease.
My meeting with the chairman of the Association of People Afflicted with Parkinson's Disease Jerzy Lukasiewicz helped me a lot. Speaking the truth, I tried to approach the role from all angles. I read the Holy Father's books, encyclicals; I met his friends and close collaborators...

- You had to have a special make-up...

- Yes, I did. There were three stages of making myself look older. The first stage, when the Pope was after the conclave, I acted without any special make-up. My face was only stretched and the so-called old skin, with wrinkles, was put on. And I had to have my head shave off every day. On the sides a wreath of grey hair was left and wigs were put on. At the last stage, when the Pope was at the end of his life, as many as seventeen pieces of silicon were glued to my face. The fact that the mask was made from pieces let me express feelings. Preparation of the make-up lasted six hours a day. I got up at 4.30 a.m. And when I 'put on the face' I could not eat since everything could fall apart. In turn, in order to make my voice harsh I tried to remain silent before shooting. Simply, I took the vows of fast and silence for the sake of the role. After a days' work my skin was battered, it was painful and stinging as if it was wounded. That's why, after a day of playing the third stage of my make-up the next day was always a day of the young Pope so that my skin could rest.

- What did your collaboration with Giacomo Battiato look like?

- He is really very open as a film director. He trusted me very much. He believed that I knew about the figure of the Holy Father more than he did. His task was to show the history of the pontificate and my task was to portray his personality. At many moments I felt as a co-director and even a co-screenwriter - I was able to weave in the film many anecdotes as well as stories which I had heard while talking to the Pope's friends... Giacomo himself did not have such possibilities because he does not speak Polish. Moreover, I was his consultant concerning Polish mentality. The fact that I am Polish was my asset.

- But there must have been some words of criticism...

- Actually there were no such words. The director trusted me completely. It was a relationship between father and son. And speaking sincerely: I am spoilt. On set I could express my opinion about anything, even the screenplay. And now, acting in other films I am feeling slight discomfort. For example, I am asking to repeat the scene but it is impossible. And with Giacomo I finished the scene when we were both fully satisfied.

- After the first part of the film viewers surely treated you as a priest...

- Yes, they did. Sometimes people talk to me as a religious person. Instead of 'Good morning' they say for example 'God bless'.

- You have an interesting habit: you plant trees, which you name after your family, friends. Will another tree appear in your garden after this film?

- A pine called Karol is growing. I planted it two years ago.

- Are you aware that choosing other roles viewers may not accept your as a villain?

- Such thinking makes one restrict oneself. An actor must have various faces. The thing is to make them credible. After all, television can show us some film that was made years ago - and I have already played some villains, e.g. a doctor-death, 'hunter of skins' who earns money by giving injections of Pavulon. I could be also remembered as a negative character from the television serial 'For good and bad'. I realize that I must choose my roles carefully and I reject some proposals. But I also hope that the role of John Paul II is not the end of my career, that it is only another turning.

- And which road will you turn to?

- Lately I have played in the film 'Testosterone', a comedy. In the Narodowy Theatre - in a play entitled 'Authority' - I play Luis XIV, a young king who thinks mainly about ballet and women... I am acting in the Wspolczesny Theatre in the play 'Passionate Woman'. I dubbed a giraffe in the animated film 'Madagascar'... I only reject roles in purely commercial productions and in such films that distort history.

- Have you never thought of giving up theatre? Especially now when your trips for next premieres, e.g. to Mexico, are hard to combine with your rehearsals and performances ...

- No, I haven't, since working in the theatre is a continuous training and a stable contact with spectators who change very much. Generations, language, style of acting change... An actor must be up to-date.

- And are you not afraid that a spectator suddenly will cry loudly, 'Oh, the Pope is standing there'?

- That happened three years ago! The advertisement campaign of the first part of the film about the Pope started and they said that I was going to play his role. All media wrote about that. After the first act of the play 'Passionate Woman' after the curtain had fallen I heard someone saying from the first row, 'Well, very good... But he is good enough to act Wojtyla!'

- In Italy only, you received several awards for the role of John Paul II. And you won the contest for the best debut of the year...

- And moreover, I was invited to many television programmes and talks... And I am very glad about that because I had the opportunity to tell the Italians a lot about Poland! But it was the film that introduced them our country and our history in the best way. And the Holy Father himself. That does not only apply to the Italians. Reading letters from all over the world I know that many people have some picture of Poland only thanks to that film and thanks to the person of the Polish Pope.

- Which words of the Pope impressed you most?

- I remembered them as a child. During his first pilgrimage to Poland the Holy Father said on the Square of Victory, 'Let your Spirit come and renew the face of this land'. Then nobody believed that the Soviet Union would fall apart. And as a child I felt, I had an inner conviction that it would happen! That sounds naive. But we know that the seed began sprouting in us. Suddenly, we felt one, even those who were pseudo-red. That strength and unity are perhaps the biggest gift we received from the Holy Father. A similar emotion united us at the moment of his death.

- Will the Polish viewers see the same version of the film as viewers all over the world?

- Yes, they will, only in a Polish language version. And I am very glad about this. It seems to me that the Polish version is even better than the original one, the English version. After all, the Holy Father spoke Polish with his collaborators in the Vatican. And he spoke Polish to us and we remember him speaking Polish.

- When you were dubbing the film and watching your acting did you want to change anything in the film?

- I had the chance to correct some things. Working on the Polish version I could improve my voice, I mean, make it naturally sound older.

- Thanks to the film you spent a lot of time in Italy. Didn't you think of living and working there for good?

- Surely I have made many friends there and they have caused that Rome is my city now. I know I will miss it. But I will not move out of Poland! When I returned to my homeland after having completed the film everyone asked me, 'How long are you going to stay here?' They thought that since I succeeded 'there' I would stay abroad for good. But I am convinced that one can touch the depth of acting only in your native language!

"Niedziela" 41/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl