As soon as I read the first chapter of Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoirs, I instantly knew that The Pianist would be the subject of my next film. I knew how to tell it. It was the story I was seeking: in spite of the horror, it is a positive account, full of hope.
I survived the bombing of Warsaw and the Cracow Ghetto and I wanted to recreate those childhood visions. It was also important for me to stick as close to the truth as possible and avoid Hollywood-style make-believe. I have never done, and don't intend to do, anything autobiographical, but making The Pianist I could use the experiences I went through. While visiting Cracow scouting for locations, my childhood memories resurfaced. What I felt, walking along the streets of the former Ghetto, proved that I couldn't shoot the film in Cracow.
In addition to my own recollections, I could rely on the authenticity of Szpilman's account. He wrote it just after the war – perhaps that's why the story is so strong, so genuine, and so fresh. He describes the reality of this period with surprising – almost cool and scientific – objectivity. There are decent Poles and evil Poles in his book, decent and evil Jews, decent and evil Germans.
Before we began the shoot, we consulted historians and survivors of the Ghetto. I also showed the whole crew documentary footage of the Warsaw Ghetto. As for the actor to play Szpilman, I wasn't looking for a physical resemblance. I wanted a young actor who could slip into the skin of the character as I imagined him. It was important that he not be a household name. As the film was to be shot in English, we needed someone who spoke the language fluently. We organized a casting call in London – "no experience necessary." 1400 people showed up. After the auditions, we realized it would be difficult to find someone with absolutely no experience, so we broadened our search to professional actors. I didn't find anyone in Britain, so we extended our search to the United States. When I saw some of Adrien Brody's work, I didn't hesitate: he was The Pianist.
The Pianist is a testimony to the power of music, the will to live, and the courage to stand against evil.
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