Roman Polanski (1933 -
Director, actor. Born to Polish parents on August 18, 1933, in Paris, France. At the age of three, Polanski moved with his family to his father’s native city of Krakow, Poland. In 1941, his parents were imprisoned in various Nazi concentration camps, where his mother eventually died in Auschwitz. In order to escape deportation, Polanski lived with several different Polish families until he was reunited with his father in 1944.
As a teenager, Polanski developed his acting skills in radio dramas and films. In 1954, he enrolled at the Polish National Film Academy in Lodz, where his body of work consisted of short films and documentaries. Upon his graduation, he appeared in a number of movies’many of which were the work of famed Polish director Andrzej Wajda, including Lotna (1959), Innocent Sorcerers (1960), and Samson (1961). In 1962, he directed his first feature-length film, Knife in the Water . The international recognition that followed, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film, gave Polanski the chance to bring his movies to a more mainstream audience. The following year, he moved to London, where his next offering, the psychological thriller Repulsion (1965), was considered equally compelling by critics and audiences.
In 1968, Polanski moved to Hollywood, making his American film debut with the classic thriller Rosemary’s Baby, which featured exceptional performances by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. Despite his burgeoning film career, Polanski endured a devastating tragedy the following year when his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by members of the Charles Manson cult. The extreme violence experienced by Polanski throughout his life was often reflected in his films, which tended to focus on the darker themes of alienation and evil’most notably, in the modern film noir Chinatown (1974), featuring John Huston, Jack Nicholson, and Faye Dunaway.
In 1977, Polanski was indicted on six criminal counts for having sexual relations with a minor. The alleged act took place with a 13-year-old girl, in the home of the actor Jack Nicholson. Both Nicholson and his longtime girlfriend, actress Anjelica Huston, testified against Polanski when the highly publicized case was brought to trial. Polanski pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawful sexual intercourse and underwent six weeks of psychiatric evaluation at a state prison in California. Although additional criminal charges were still pending, Polanski fled the United States after his discharge. While authorities were not actively seeking him out, he continued to face the possibility of prison if he returned to America.
Polanski traveled to Europe and eventually settled in Paris, where he directed the critically acclaimed film Tess (1979)—an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Throughout the 1980s, he concentrated on stage acting, appearing in productions of Amadeus (1981) and Metamorphosis (1988).
Polanski returned to film work with the intense thriller Frantic (1988), starring Harrison Ford and Betty Buckley, followed by the erotic drama Bitter Moon (1992), with Hugh Grant and Polanski’s current wife Emmanuelle Seigner. Both projects failed to impress critics, but Polanski reestablished himself in 1994 with Death and the Maiden, a film adaptation of Ariel Dorfman’s play. In 1999, Polanski directed the supernatural thriller The Ninth Gate, which starred Johnny Depp. The film’s critical and commercial reception was tepid.
Polanski staged a comeback in 2002 with the critically acclaimed Holocaust drama The Pianist, which won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Polanski won a surprise Best Director Oscar for the film, but was not allowed to attend the award ceremony due to his criminal indictment. The film’s star, 29-year-old Adrien Brody, also earned an Oscar for his performance.
Following The Pianist, Polanski said he was anxious to make a film his children could enjoy. His next project was a film adaptation of the classic Dickens novel Oliver Twist, starring Ben Kingsley. Despite a strong cast, the film performed poorly at the box office and received tepid reviews from critics. His most recent project, The Ghost, starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor, was slated to his theaters in 2010. But on his way to an awards ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland, he was arrested by Swiss police and is currently in a legal battle with U.S. law enforcement for his extradition to America. Meanwhile, the production of his film is on indefinite hold.