You Never Know: A Chat with Bartosz Bielenia
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A Chat with Bartosz Bielenia, Bartosz Bielenia, photo: Sonja Orlewicz-Zakrzewska, center, bartosz_bielenia_fot_sonja_orlewicz-zakrzewska-3.jpg
Prepping for his role as a kid from juvie, he probably didn’t think that he would end up walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Although, in the end, Jan Komasa’s ‘Corpus Christi’ did not go home with an Oscar, it was met with great acclaim abroad. Now it’s time for Bartosz Bielenia to get back to everyday life. Culture.pl’s own Marcelina Obarska sat down and spoke to him about his time in Los Angeles, tram-related anxieties and the beauty of sunsets.
Marcelina Obarska: The Oscar excitement is dying down – it’s the end of an adventure. What’s next? Have you received any solid proposals?
Bartosz Bielenia: I did get some proposals, but it has been so hectic and uncertain lately that I haven’t had the time to take a closer look at them and decide how I feel about them and which direction I want to be going in. So far, I’ve felt like I’ve been in the eye of the storm, where, as you know, the wind doesn’t blow. But the storm is over, and now, I can see where the wind will take me. It will happen soon.
MO: The next couple of months means getting back to ‘normal’ life. What does that mean for you artistically?
BB: Most importantly, theatre awaits – I act in plays regularly. The Berlinale [Film Festival] is also coming up, where I’ll be taking part in promotional events connected to the European Shooting Starts Award. In Berlin, I will mostly be meeting with agents and filmmakers, which may result in some interesting cooperations on the European market.
Next, I start working on a play at Nowy Theatre devoted to the non-visual perception of the world (editor's note: perception in which the sense of sight does not dominate). As part of the preparing for this performance, I’ll be helping to lead workshops and create experiences, as part of a collective.
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MO: Lately, you’ve won many awards and titles; you have been featured on magazine covers and have given many interviews. When it comes to the media, you – and not Jan Komasa – were the face of ‘Corpus Christi’.
BB: Maybe because my face is on screen for about 98% of the film itself. I also think that the promotion for Corpus Christi in the United States was done in two stages. Before the nominations were announced, Janek [Jan Komasa] did so much work for us to even be noticed. He was [in Los Angeles] for over a month, he went to tons of meetings and spoke about the film. After that, he had to stay in Poland for a while, and I took over the promotional work in Los Angeles. Of course, I did this with pleasure.
MO: Pleasure is pleasure, but I won’t believe you if you say you’re not tired.
BB: I am mostly tired of the last week, of the constant, intense meetings with tons of people. I think I would call it a buzz. An incessant buzz about one’s self. Going over the topic of ‘us’ over and over and over, because everything was about us, about our film, more of us… It’s tiring, because it eventually wears itself out.
That’s why Oscar night, despite an obvious burst of endorphins, was really the last stage of a very long, and often tiring, journey. I’ve never run a marathon, but I’ve heard that at some point, you just get to this point of extreme exhaustion…
MO: ...and you hit a wall.
BB: Yes, but if you manage to break through it with some unfathomable explosion of energy, you can actually finish the marathon. At some point, I really was running on fumes.
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MO: You spent a month and a half in Los Angeles during the Oscar campaign. What was the highlight of your stay?
BB: My girlfriend and I met some beautiful people [there], who became close to our hearts. We made friendships; our lives intertwined with the lives of some truly incredible people, which I am extremely grateful for.
The highlight of the trip was definitely our 20-kilometre New Year’s walk from Hermosa Beach to Santa Monica. It took us nine hours, walking along the beach. It was a beautiful experience. For the first time ever, I saw the moon set – it was one of the most wonderful and most important things [I’ve seen] in my life.
MO: What did it look like?
BB: Like a tear turning into a drop of blood on the horizon, which slowly plunged into the sea.
MO: Did you fantasise about living in Los Angeles?
BB: No, not to live there. It’s good to visit, to be around. To create a certain breadth in your life, to be able to do that. Because even though it’s a desert, it’s simply fertile soil for dreams.
MO: It’s a holy place for everyone wanting to make an international career. What’s your attitude towards the medium of film now?
BB: My approach is the same as always: film and theatre are two different worlds. I get a lot from both of them, and both of them have an effect on my work. For the last seven years, I’ve focussed on theatre – I’ve devoted a lot of time and attention to it, so maybe now is the time for me to balance it out a bit and put some more weight on the other scale.
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MO: Especially since the ‘other scale’ means popularity, magazine covers… Theatre never provided that.
BB: But it gave me so many other rewards, like the gratitude of audiences. At each play, I get the ultimate prize, a prize bigger than any of the ones I received thanks to the film.
MO: So, if you got another, which would probably be your fifth, proposal to play a priest – would you consider it or reject it, regardless of the script?
BB: I would consider it, but not without caution. I would definitely read the script, talk to the filmmaker. And then I would make a decision based on my own conscience.
MO: Where do you see yourself in five years?
BB: I see myself in the garden in Kashubia [a region of Poland], watering the plants, which will have grown so much. And professionally, I kind of see myself where I am now because I’m in a place I am really happy with. I feel appreciated and noticed. I would like to be able to develop that: to do more things, to not limit myself creatively, to keep learning and, well, to trust my imagination.
I don't really know what will happen. I didn’t anticipate what’s been happening either. When we talk now, I can’t possibly imagine what else could change… Maybe simple things like moving. I don't know, I don't have a clear vision.
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MO: Do you feel any pressure when it comes to your next steps?
BB: I don’t feel outside pressure, because no one is pressuring me in any way. But I do feel it inside. It’s probably because Corpus Christi had such a massive impact on people, so all of my next roles will be compared to that performance. It’s not anything unusual. It would probably be a bit easier for me to handle Corpus Christi’s success if it had happened a bit more… gradually. But I guess one could argue that it was a role I was working towards gradually my whole life.
But the truth is, no one really expected the film to do so well. Nobody could believe it until the very last moment. Of course, from the moment we were allowed to compete for the Oscar nomination, from the moment [Corpus Christi] became the Polish candidate for the prize, we did our best to represent the film well – but in a relaxed way, with the awareness that we were already grateful, it was already amazing and more had happened than we could’ve even imagined.
I was already happy when I found out that the movie would premiere in Venice [at the 76th Venice Film Festival]. And it turned out that literally, the whole avalanche was waiting for us. So it was quite a surprising success, but today, it’s all over, and it’s time to take on something else.
MO: How do you think your return to reality will look?
BB: The thought of living in Warsaw, the everyday and my dog during this whole ordeal was very stabilising. In January, I came back to Poland for a few days to play in The Debt (Dług) at the Nowy Theatre in Kraków and to receive a Polityka Passport award (ed.: a very prestigious cultural award given by Polityka weekly).
This short visit home didn’t let me unstick myself from the other parallel life I was leading. Acting in Kraków, I was so happy to meet with people who experienced what we were doing every day in such a lively way. It was incredibly helpful to have this small stop, a slowing down of sorts amidst all of the craziness. Now it’s easier to go back.
I’m flying to Poland in a few hours, and it’s back to the stage: first, Mother Joan of the Angels at the Nowy Theatre; then, in March, we resume performances of Cinderella at the Stary Theatre in Kraków. So I am going back to plays, which I was performing in a long while ago, and my hair grew back…
MO: Do you think about the fact that you may no longer be able to take a walk with your dog without being recognised?
BB: I haven’t thought about it… But, now that you’ve asked, I do feel a little shiver of anxiety. Like I said, my face was an emblem of the film because it was constantly on screen. I guess one can remember it. We’ll see how my tram trip to rehearsals goes. I wonder if anything will change. Whilst it’s still winter, I can hide behind my scarf. But maybe no one will care. You never know.
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