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TSR Exclusive: 'In Darkness' interview with actor Robert Wieckiewicz and director Agnieszka Holland

In the Oscar-nominated film In Darkness, Robert Wieckiewicz plays a cynical sewer worker named Leopold Socha. Based on a true events, Socha tries to hide a group of Jews in the sewers of Polish city Lvov during the Nazi occupation. The film, which features many scenes shot in complete darkness sans for a single flashlight, is directed by Europa, Europa helmer Agnieszka Holland. I sat down with the star and director of the film to discuss the difficulties of shooting a mostly pitch black movie, how some movies with these stories can be "Hollywood-ized," and more. (Special translation assistance was provided by fellow CFCA member Zbigniew Banas.)

In Darkness opens in select Chicago theaters on February 17.

Was a lot of information about Leopold available in the recollection of these events? Agnieszka Holland: We knew that he didn't survive. He died tragically a year after the war had ended. He wasn't a literate man, so he didn't write any letters. The people who survived because of him had extremely high memories of him. He was their angel. The description of other things, some things we were able to figure out about his past. He was an ordinary man. He was religious, and he loved his family. And at the same time, he was a little cynical.

Did you find there was an advantage to shooting the film mostly darkness?

Holland: It is difficult, especially for Robert. He had to be the lighting grip for some of the other actors. Most of the light came from his flashlight, which was very hot and heavy, and with a hidden battery. He had to play emotional scenes, and at the same time not forget to light his fellow actors in the right way. What was important for us was to make the real darkness at the same time to see everything that you need to see to follow the story, and have the emotional connection to the characters. They had been helping each other. Sometimes [Robert] was very angry [laughs].

Robert Wieckiewicz: The director and cinematographer were able to agree to conditions that were 100 times better than it would have normally been in the circumstances. Of course, the acting is very different even in a room like this, which is full of light.

Holland: It was risky, because we were working on the edge of the possible. I think that everyone had been scared until the last moment.

I read that there was originally a four-hour cut of the film. What is in this version that didn't make it to the final product?

Holland: There were several scenes that we cut out, maybe eight or ten. We also shot as much as possible, but we wanted to bring it down to two hours. But we knew that since the characters were in the sewers, we had to create this sense of claustrophobic endurance, and it needed time. The editor said it was two hours and twenty minutes, and I said, "Okay, you can stay in the sewers with them for two hours."

How popular was this story when it first came out? Or, before the book came out, how well known was it?

Holland: I don't think it was known very well. Some people knew about it ... but I didn't know about it. And I have a lot of knowledge about the Holocaust. I learned about it when I met the screenwriter, who found the book and wrote the script. He was so passionate about it, and I read it.

Considering the many intense sequences in this film, what was the most difficult scene for you to shoot?

Wieckiewicz: The scenes with the children, as far as emotional scenes. As far as physical scenes, everything was difficult. Especially the scenes that were shot in real sewers, where you had to stand in the water and maybe it was one degree. There was also another day when one of the actors tried to kill me, but that's a whole other story.

Holland: The scenes were very intense. And sometimes, an actor goes a step too far.

There was a time when this almost became a Hollywood project. What do you think this would look like if it didn't have your touch?

Holland: I have nothing against Hollywood, because Hollywood is fine. This kind of story is not compatible to me with Hollywood, aside from movies like The Pianist. When other directors have tried to make a movie of this kind, they have been theatrical, and not very real. I think that some subjects cry for reality, for the real description.

Wieckiewicz: Everything is getting Hollywood-ized. Every subject matter possible. So Agnieszka is trying to preserve those parts that should not be Hollywood-ized. So that the people are able to see what it really looked like, without beautifying it.

Quick Questions

Favorite Fruit? Wieckiewicz: Lemon Holland: Wild strawberries

What did you have for breakfast this morning? Wieckiewicz: Water with lemon. Holland: Oatmeal and blueberries

Favorite blockbuster film? Wieckiewicz: None. Holland: Avatar. I think it's a revolutionary film.

Are you interested in 3D at all? Holland: I am interested, but you have to use it right.

Age of first kiss? Wieckiewicz: I don't remember. Really late. 20? I was a virgin. Or, maybe 16 or 17. Holland: My first kiss I remember was nice. It wasn't so erotic as you may imagine, but it was wet. My first real kiss was at 15.

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