‘I believe every person should remain true to themselves. You shouldn’t listen to people who act as oracles. It’s as if I would worry about great Polish actors and professors telling me I can’t achieve anything. It simply doesn’t bother me what masters revered by people have to say.’
It’s your third film together with Aleksander Pietrzak, not counting the cameo role in ‘Me and my father’. Did you expect this collaboration to evolve like this?
On day I said to Alek, it would be cool to star in each film he made. After ‘The Strong Coffee Isn't So Bad’, he started working on ‘Me and My Dad’. We agreed that it’s crucial for me to appear in the film, no matter how. I was supposed to be one of the extras and have a walk on the set. On that day I had to attend another film shoot I didn’t make to the seaside. So Alek found a way for me to star in the film in a different way. I won’t tell you how, I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who are searching for me in the film. Keep on searching. My face is totally recognizable. Then came ‘Julius’, and now we are working on the sequel to ’39 and a half’. So it’s yet another co-production. I’m joking that a time will come when he makes a film with the credits saying that a strand of Wojciech Mecwaldowski’s hair lied on the floor. We made a bet that every film will have a part of me. I’m very happy about that, because he’s a young and talented director. And on top of that, a wonderful human being.
It’s hard not to tell the similarity between ‘Julius’ and ‘Dzien Swira’.
I’ve also immediately noticed Koterski after reading the script. But it’s not Marek’s tongue. Once, I was coming back from Gdynia with him and was telling him about all of my symptoms which resembled the main protagonist of ‘Dzien Swira’. That I was just like that character. That I have certain behaviors which are… abnormal. He then said to me: ‘Wojtus, there are millions of us’. Julek, I think, is one of those millions like Miauczynski. What makes them different is the language. Miauczynski is a Polish teacher. It’s his native tongue and the way he speaks is beautiful. The sound of that is resembled through the mouth of Marek Kondrat. Even though he very often uses vulgar words. I think that Julek is just that type of deviation. He’s very orderly in his mess. That is why the situations which happen to him make us laugh, cry, and by natural consequence make comparisons with Koterski. His films are also full of abstract moments which make you feel like you’re watching yourself. At least for me.
The film ‘Julius’ touches subject which are painful in Poland such as the way teachers are being treated, or chauvinism. Currently, there is an ongoing debate about these topics. Do you think they can be laughed at?
I think we should make fun of belief. Belief and gods cannot be seen. They are something everyone keeps in their hearts, and what follows, in their head. I think these matters shouldn’t be touched upon as they are extremely personal. No matter the god. It’s not fair. Of course, there are people who treat belief and religion as subjects for laughter and performance. Many times we’ve seen in this world ‘religious groups’ asking not to laugh at their God and threaten those doing that with death. The next day someone posted an insulting image of that God on the magazine cover. No wonder the threat becomes reality. I’m saying it’s right. I’m saying that we shouldn’t laugh at religions and gods, as we do not know what they are. We also shouldn’t make fun of people’s misery, although there is a margin to that. People who suffer, the disabled, would sometime like to make fun. But we have to be careful as the line is vey thin.
I heard about your debut as director – ‘The Pole’. Is this a story about the condition of the Polish society?
Absolutely not. It’s not a film about the condition of Poland. It’s a film which tries to tell what reality that surrounds us is. Action takes place in Poland, and the main character is a Pole. Its fresh news to him as his parents never told him where he comes from. He was raised in the US. It is Zac Efron who comes to Poland. A country he doesn’t know at all. There, he meets his alter ego – Eryk Lubos. He tries to understand himself and the country he lives in. It’s not a film about Poland. It’s a film about a moment in life when time stops for you and you ask yourself the question: who are you and what is this all about?
Apart from the film, is there something in Polish reality that you don’t understand?
I don’t understand making donations for the Church. It’s an institution based not on work, but on a mission. Not every clergyman is an employee. It’s worth to donate money for teachers so they can develop us and support our children. They would be really happy with their working conditions. I’d rather donate my money for that than for someone getting a new car or a better cross. It’s not about that. As I said, we shouldn’t make fun of belief, but we also shouldn’t turn it into a financial institution
Coming back to Zac Efron on foreign territory, how do you recall the theatre academy? I heard that when you entered its walls you were a so-called ‘chav’.
I’m still a ‘chav’. I’m wearing a tracksuit to this interview.
Apart from your outfit, how did you feel like a rookie with no idea of the theatre and that specific milieu?
I felt weird. I was a ‘chav’ who never went to school nor to the theatre. I worked at a construction site or went to discos. I played basketball. I travelled all the way to a McDonald’s in Wroclaw to get a coke. I would then go all the way back to Plock to drink the gassed cola in the evening and use it as a pick-up method to get girls. My world was different. Acting appeared out of the blue. I noticed all of the people around me who didn’t really understand how I got there. I was such a freak. Many times I heard I wouldn’t make it. But inside I knew what I wanted, and that’s probably why we are sitting here. I was convinced this would go the right way.
So you went on to achieve your goal against all odds?
I believe every person should remain true to themselves. You shouldn’t listen to people who act as oracles. It’s as if I would worry about great Polish actors and professors telling me I can’t achieve anything. It simply doesn’t bother me what masters revered by people have to say. That master has no right to decide about me. I never treated anyone as a master. I thinks it’s dumb when you go to a school with some kind of professor sitting there, and from the very start you know you’ll never be better than him. And yet, you’re hyped to have classes with such a great figure. I had the luck to go the theatre school in Wroclaw where my teachers told me: you can be better than us. I had that feeling. Life is about trying and developing yourself. All the great masters, not mine but the ones of my friends, said I would never be an actor. Or that I didn’t have the skills or looks. They made things up which were hilarious. Four years later, the same people present me with an award for the best role and tell me my perspectives are great. I thought to myself, how harmful would it be for, had I listened to them four years before.
You starred in ’11 Minutes’ by Jerzy Skolimowski. How did the collaboration look like, this time as a partnering actor?
I value Jerzy not only as a film director and actor, but also as a painter. I am very privileged as he is the youngest friend I have. I’m joking, of course. ’11 Minutes’ brought us together. I am pleased to have a man which inspires me beside me. This time, I had the occasion to meet him as an actor and play face to face. Of which I never dreamt. I worked with him and I know I will continue in the future. But I never starred along his side, so to have such a chance was incredible. It was also stressful, but in a mobilizing way. Not paralyzing. I never thought to myself: Dear Lord, will I make it? In my opinion, a man should never think so. Otherwise he will never achieve anything.
Your part in ‘Julius’ is rather thrifty when it comes to mimics. Were you inspired by Buster Keaton or any other famous comedian?
I didn’t have any particular model. I’m very funny to myself. Sometimes embarrassing. In terms of copying others, I only watched the work of illustrators and teachers. I wanted the shots where I’m drawing to look professional.
How does stand-up work in film?
It’s difficult to translate it into film. Thankfully, apart from the stand-up guys, the script was written by filmmakers who knew how to construct it. It’s obvious that Abelard and Mr. Rucinski have a great sense of humor. But they don’t know how to write a script. To do that, you need to have a certain skill set and a feeling. How does the image look like, where will the story go, how to change it, how to break it down into pieces. The script was written by six or seven people. I wasn’t involved, but they listened to my ideas and proposals. Later on we did only what they invented. It was cool to do some brainstorming and never to fight over it.
Did stand-up comedians like Abelard Giza or Kacper Rucinski actively participate in what was going on on the film set?
That was actually annoying, as I like to have contact with the director. On some days, I had six directors on the set. So I said: I’m sorry, I can’t work like this. I can’t have particular people coming up to me and say how the scene is supposed to look like. That’s what the director is for. When collaborating with someone as young and talented as Alek, you don’t have to worry about that.
Does a good Polish comedy need to have an element of tragedy?
We, Poles, like to laugh at ourselves. I think it’s the condition I already mentioned when talking about Koterski. Anyway, it’s hard to make the audience laugh and cry immediately after. These are extreme emotions. If someone on the screen can make us feel that way, it’s a great skill. We did it, am I’m really pleased about it.
Interviewer: Ida Marszałek