Warsaw at Night: A Chat with Kamil Nożyński
default, Warsaw at Night: A Chat with Kamil Nożyński, Kamil Nożyński, photo: Marek Zimakiewicz / JUMP PRODUCTION, center, kn0.jpg
Known for his lead role in ‘Blinded by the Lights’ on HBO, Kamil Nożyński (also known by his rap name Saful) discussed his acting debut, the darkness of Warsaw, the newest wave of hip-hop and… Witold Pilecki.
Michał Bruszewski: How did you land the role of Kuba in ‘Blinded by the Lights’?
Kamil Nożyński: For some time now I’ve been going to casting calls, because I can’t hide the fact that at this moment in my life the time has come to try something new. At one of these auditions I gave everything I had – when it comes to emotions. [Director] Krzysztof Skonieczny was part of that project. He remembered me from that audition.
MB: How did you discover you would be acting in an HBO production?
KN: Half a year later, the director called, saying he would like to try me out in this role. The previous audition, like I mentioned, was for a different production. At first I thought someone was playing a prank (laugh), but every moment afterwards convinced me that this proposal was serious. The auditions took about three weeks, during which time Skonieczny was also looking at different actors. We were trying out different parts of the script, scene by scene.
MB: Were there any special preparations that you did for this role?
KN: I landed in an intensive class led by Wojciech Urbański, the theatre director and actor, as well as Katarzyna Skarżanka’s Theatre Actor’s Academy in Warsaw. Both very interesting – working on diction or building emotions in a role. Other than that I also had physical training – four times a week under the watchful eye of my trainer, as well as a strict diet. That took three months and only then did we start filming.
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Kamil Nożyński, photo: Marek Zimakiewicz / JUMP PRODUCTION
MB: Warsaw at night isn’t a foreign concept to the heroes of Jakub Żulczyk’s stories, and the same could be said for rappers. Is that why the director saw you as the hero of this book?
KN: I know the dark side of Warsaw, and I think that was a good background.
MB: In both the book and the series Warsaw is portrayed a dark, dangerous place. Is that how you see the capital?
KN: I don’t. It’s only a small fragment. I grew up here; it’s a beautiful city, which surrounds me. When I watch the show, I get the impression that for Kuba, Warsaw has become a trap. He earned money here, got caught up and that’s why he can’t escape. I don’t want to escape from Warsaw, I really like it here.
MB: After the success of the series, there’s speculation as to whether a second season of ‘Blinded by the Lights’ will happen. Do you think we can expect a second season?
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KN: That’s a question for HBO, Jakub Żulczyk and Krzysztof Skonieczny.
MB: What is the international reaction to the show like? It’s not easy for a Polish series to make it in the West.
KN: The series has been streaming in the USA since May . Personally, I’ve received positive messages from people around the world, wherever the series is streaming.
MB: How are you handling your acting debut? It’s your first role and has already been such a success.
KB: Someone once told me: you are both lucky and unlucky to find yourself in such a production. Lucky, because the debut is in a great show, unlucky because the bar has been set very high and you’ll always be compared to your work in this show, and there are no easy ways forward. They say you’re only as good as your last film.
In Blinded, the production and my role was guided by Krzysztof Skonieczny’s vision; he guided me through the scenes, since then I didn’t have the tools to do it myself. Now I have some experience, I’ve improved my acting skills, but I’m still an amateur. Some consider this a benefit, because it’s easier to see the truth, but others criticise it. It’s like the reviews for my role in the series – there are positive and negative responses to how I act. Despite everything, I have a different view of film, and I’d like to increase my own presence in both film and TV shows.
MB: You also played in a movie.
KN: In the Slovakian production The Report (Správa), I play a Polish Jew, who is an inmate at a concentration camp. I don’t want to share too many details, the viewers can see the film for themselves next year, but my character fights for survival in the same barrack as the main characters in the film. He helps them escape. It’s a real story about two Slovakian Jews escape from Auschwitz and spread the news of what really happened there to the world.
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MB: An important topic for Poles. Especially since the same heroic action was taken by Captain Witold Pilecki.
KN: Unfortunately, the world didn’t want to believe Pilecki’s reports, since the Allies didn’t want to hear the truth. While reading the script, I was actually thinking about him since the comparison is natural. Those heroes to whom the Slovakian film is dedicated, escaped two years after Pilecki. The world took their report seriously, but Pilecki, who had come first, was sidelined. Their report was part of the Nuremberg trials, meanwhile Witold Pilecki was executed.
MB: Did the role require any special physical preparation?
KN: Losing weight, a diet for a few weeks before starting filming.
MB: Dixon37 is one of the numerous hip-hop collectives which are still into hardcore rap. Do you get the impression that this style is dying out and another one is overtaking rap?
KN: Not necessarily. Some street tracks are still being made and I’ll gladly listen to them, although it’s not the same thing anymore, for sure. It sounds more like the new wave. Music is trending toward this and not something else. You can hear it in the sound.
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MB: Street rap used to have a bad reputation as primitive and marginalised, while your songs like ‘Jestem z Toba’ (I’m With You) are much more ambitious and about serious topics. How do you react to that as someone who was pigeonholed as a street rapper for so many years?
KN: It depends on the people. Our listeners respected us, but many others criticised us without even wanting to listen to our work – they had blindfolds on their eyes. It’s less important if its street style or what we now call ‘true school’. It’s more important that people listen to what we want to say.
MB: Outside of acting, will we be seeing Saful on Dixon’s new projects?
KN: My first solo single comes out during the summer holiday. The beats are made by the duo Sampler Orchestra. I won’t hide that even in my rap I’ve been changing, maintaining a more cinematic style – my early rap I would compare to a documentary, the truth of Warsaw’s streets, but now it’s a narrative film.
MB: How would you rate the condition of the current hip-hop scene? Rappers who started at the same time as you often criticise young MCs for their braggadocio.
KN: Every generation has its voices. When we started, there was also a division between street style, softer and harder. Now there’s a different division – the young and the old. I listen to the new stuff, but I like to go back to the old style as well. If I don’t vibe with something, I just turn it off. There are plenty of great young artists who I respect, so I try to stay above these divisions. If you have an open mind, you’ll always find something you like. I also like the fact that rap is finally part of the mainstream. Public opinion looks at rappers as musicians. When we started, Polish rap was an outsider. Now big labels release hip-hop albums and go quadruple platinum; there’s radio, television, music videos on a higher level, rappers do media interviews.
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MB: But isn’t it a paradox that street style went against the mainstream; it fought and looked down on it?
KN: That’s how it was, but other artists are also going through a rebellion against the system. Take a look at punk or even rock & roll. Of course it’s also risky that things come easier to young artists than it did for us, it can spoil them. But hip-hop has started to count and I’m happy about that.
MB: You recently played in a historical film, and there’s a similar trend of looking to history in current rap. Rap singles about the Warsaw Uprising or the cursed soldiers are trendy. You recorded a similar song ‘Znak Czasów (Sign of the Times) on the album ‘Krew za Krew’ (Blood for Blood). How do you rate this patriotic movement in hip-hop?
KN: It’s positive, but it should be done well. The topic is important, paying homage, but on a musical level it has to be worthy of the subject matter, you have to really try.
MB: What’s Saful’s story? How did you begin your journey with hip-hop?
KN: I wrote my first lyrics in sixth grade. If I still had the original piece of paper, I would frame it (laugh). But more seriously, my adventure with rap began when I met the rapper Młody Biały from the Incydent collective, who gave me the bug. I also met the guys from WŚP and another big inspiration was the ZIP Skład and their album Chleb Powszedni (Daily Bread). At that time Molesta Ewenement was getting started, earlier it was Liroy’s Alboom, or Nagły Atak Spawacza with Peja (who Liroy dissed), WYP3, and limited amounts of cassettes – I began like many other rappers. Then Dixon37 formed, a collective not just of rappers but friends as well, similar to Molesta. We recorded tracks for each other and our friends. Then came the first album. That’s how it started.
MB: Is it easier for a rapper to be an actor?
KN: You record music videos, you’re familiar with the camera, but at the end of the day it’s completely different.
Kamil Nożyński, ‘Saful’ – actor and rapper, part of Dixon 37, recorded three albums: Lot Na Całe Życie (Flying Your Whole Life, 2008), Oznz (2013), KZK (2016), which all reached gold certification. Currently working on his solo rap career. He also played the lead in the Krzysztof Skonieczny-directed HBO production Blinded by the Lights, considered by international media to be the best non-English language production of 2018.
Interviewed by Michał Bruszewski, June 2019, translated by Alicja Zapalska, March 2020.
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