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Actress, born 3 September 1972. Maja Ostaszewska comes from a family of artists, and grew up in Krakow, a city well-known for its cultural life. Her grandmother was an actress, her grandfather was a sculptor and scenographer, and her father was a musician and the founder of the avant-garde group "Osjan". Her brother is a composer, her sisters are artists. In 1996, she graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Krakow. She considers Krystian Lupa to be her mentor and greatest teacher. Although she was accepted at drama school only on her second attempt, she had no trouble deciding on a career, though. Less than five years after graduation, she is already considered one of the most interesting personalities among the up and coming generation of actors. In press coverage, journalists often describe her as "phenomenal", "exceptional" and "extraordinary".
Her exceptional talent shone during her graduation performance, a production of Anton Chekhov's Platonov, directed by Krystian Lupa (1996). The play was put on in two different versions, one called "olive", and the other "cherry". Ostaszewska appeared in both, in radically different roles. In the "cherry" version of Platonov, she was the independent-minded general's wife, Anna Voinitsev, a noble-spirited, sensitive, intelligent woman. In the "olive" version, she played the part of Maria Grekov, whose pride and haughtiness hides her shyness.
Ostaszewska has been lucky as far as directors and roles are concerned. She works with Krystian Lupa, Jerzy Jarocki, Jerzy Grzegorzewski and Grzegorz Jarzyna. She has appeared on the stage of Krakow's Stary Teatr, and Warsaw's Rozmaitosci Theatre, and has made guest appearances in several other Warsaw theatres, such as the Dramatyczny and Studio theatres; currently, she is an actress at the National Theatre.
In her Warsaw debut, the actress appeared in the boyish role of Rosalinde in William Shakespeare's As You Like It (1996). In the best known productions of recent years at the Teatr Rozmaitosci in Warsaw, directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna, she played two radically different characters. She received glowing reviews for her appearance as Ellinor - the demonic woman/praying mantis from Bzik tropikalny / The Tropical Craze by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1997), and as Aniela in Magnetyzm Serca / Magnetism of the Heart, based on a play by Aleksander Fredro (1999). Reviewers wrote that as Aniela, she represented the "embodiment of timidity, awkwardness and sensuality. Swept away by her feelings as if by the wind, sometimes literally flying about the stage, as if she were pushed by words, music and the audience's gaze, without losing her ethereal nature, in the end she finally seduces Gustaw by dancing and leaping wildly onto his back." (Joanna Targon, "Gazeta w Krakowie", no. 288, 11 Dec 2000).
Her next roles revealed Ostaszewska as an actress of unusual sensitivity and originality, joining sensuality and the ability for creative thinking, as an actress who consistently strives to build her image, and as one who is at once both modern and old-fashioned. Few of her roles can be overlooked as less important or successful. She has appeared as Julia in the play Fernando Krapp hat mir diesen Brief geschrieben / Fernando Krapp Wrote Me This Letter: An Assaying of the Truth by Tankred Dorst (1998), as the mysterious Joanna from the second version of Noc Listopadowa / November Night by Stanislaw Wyspianski (2000), and as Valerie, in a subtle interpretation, from The Weir by Conor McPherson (1999), which she portrayed with unusual subtlety. No less important, however, for Ostaszewska's acting career have been her roles in productions made for television, which have included Maria in Woyzeck by Georg Buechner (2000), Ruta in Prawiek i inne czasy / Time Immemorial and Other Times (1998), based on the novel by Olga Tokarczuk, and Krysia in Skarb /Treasure (2000), a piece especially written by Tokarczuk for television, as well as the leading role in Beztlenowce / The Anaerobics by Ingmar Villqist (2001).
Ostaszewska has not appeared in many film roles to date, but when she has, they have been distinctive and radically different. On the one hand, we can see her in her debut role as Karolina in Przystań / The Harbour by Jan Hryniak (1997), as a naive, forthright girl from a provincial town, lost in the world. Reviewers wrote that "she wins us over with her frankness and delicate play of emotions". (Maciej Maniewski, "Kino", 3/1999)
On the other hand, she has also appeared in the title role in Łukasz Barczyk's film, Patrzę na ciebie Marysiu / I am Looking at You, Mary (1999), about which the actress herself said that "she is a lacklustre girl who is involved with a boy and is experiencing a crisis of values. In the beginning, she seems childish, but turns out to be extremely wise beyond her years in facing the problems that confront her." ("Wiadomosci Dnia", no. 193, 19 Aug 1999). She also played the role of Sister Leonia in The Primate, directed by Teresa Kotlarczyk (2000), which tells the story of Stefan Wyszynski's years in prison. As the nun who informed on Cardinal Wyszynski, she showed her character's entanglement in human weaknesses. Recently, in Leszek Wosiewicz's television serial Przeprowadzki /Moves (2001), she played the part of a character whose fate was depicted over the course of several decades, allowing her to mature right before the viewers' eyes, both physically and emotionally.
Ostaszewska's precision and mature approach to acting are impressive. "There comes a moment when I'm developing a character," she says, "that I somehow allow her to penetrate my own life. That's when I want to feel how that character moves, what she likes to eat, what kind of music she listens to. I have to be that character. I think a lot about her, and at home I write inner dialogues. I live her twenty-four hours a day. When I finally 'catch' her, I only return to her when I am on stage." ("Pani", 5/2000)
"Maja Ostaszewska completely becomes her characters; she knows much more about them than can be shown on the stage or screen, she believes in their genuineness, which she herself helps to create, and at the same time believes that their depiction has both artistic and ethical significance. The young women whom she plays (who she is? whose lives she lives?) are not easy to watch - they are uncomfortable, they irritate, cause pain or hurt one's feelings. It is not possible to just watch them dumbly, they penetrate the viewer, there is no way to escape them. (...) They are not easy, just like every person who is inwardly lonely, but who needs psychological and physical fulfilment by another person, whether that be a man, woman or child. And they remind us constantly that there is a price to be paid for everything, for example for being together - compromises, various sacrifices, and the constant feeling of being unsatisfied with oneself. Because whatever a person does, the expectations of Ostaszewska's characters, although nothing out of the ordinary, are nevertheless too great." (Jacek Tabecki, "Film", 4/2001)
Most important awards:
- 1996 - Grand Prix at the Revue of Graduation Performances of Lodz Acting Schools
- 1997 - award for her part as Ellinor Fierce Golders in the play Tropical Craze, based on the play by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna at the Opole Theatrical Encounters
- 1998 - jury's prize for the best female leading role in the film Przystan / The Harbour directed by Jan Hryniak at the Gdansk Film Festival
- 1998 - prize for best young actress for her performance in Przystan / The Harbour at the Wroclaw Film Festival
- 2000 - awards for her performance as Aniela in Magnetyzm Serca / Magnetism of the Heart, based on the play by Aleksander Fredro, directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna at the Opole Theatrical Encounters and Kalisz Theatrical Encounters
- 2000 - award for the best female role in the films I Am Looking at You, Mary, directed by Lukasz Barczyk, and in The Primate, directed by Teresa Kotlarczyk at the Gdansk Polish Film Festival
- 2000 - "Feliks Warszawski" award for her performance as Valerie in the play The Weir by Conor McPherson, directed by Agnieszka Lipiec-Wróblewska at the Studio Theatre in Warsaw
- 2001 - Polityka magazine's "Paszport" award for "modern and sensitive acting"
- 2001 - "Golden Duck" award - Film magazine's readers' survey award