Film, theatre, and television actress. Born on 27 September 1971.
Film, theatre, and television actress. Born on 27 September 1971.
Agata Kulesza may be the biggest discovery in recent Polish cinema. Charismatic, vibrant and versatile, she copes equally well with minimalist psychological creations and with comical frolics, verging on the grotesque. For the past few years she has kept her position as the top Polish actress, and each consecutive role seems to be better than the last.
She knew that she wanted to be an actress by the second year of high school. As a child, she would take part in dance classes at the Szczecin community centre, practising ballet and dance. After completing high school, she applied to the National Higher Theatre School (now the Aleksander Zelwerowicz National Academy of Dramatic Art) in Warsaw, succeeding on her first attempt. She had her TV debut while still at the Theatre School – in the series Goodbye Rockefeller ( Żegnaj Rockefeller, 1992). She graduated from the Theatre Academy in 1994, with a distinction. She starred in Polish and German TV series (e.g. Die Strassen von Berlin), as well as in TV theatrical productions (O, Beri-Beri, directed by Wiesław Komasa and Don Kichot by Andrzej Domalik).
She also made her first feature appearance at the time, playing a young film director in Man of… by Konrad Szołajski (1993). The beginnings of her acting career did not hint at her future outstanding roles. She performed at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw, and made her living by playing minor parts in various TV series.
I really enjoyed the academy, I worked very hard. Then I became afraid about whether it would all work out. At some point I was even thinking about changing my profession. I thought of becoming a production manager, imagining that perhaps acting wasn’t for me, after al.
Her career took off with the film My Roasted Chickens (Moje pieczone kurczaki) by Iwona Siekierzyńska, in which Kulesza played Magda, a young woman going through a marriage crisis. The film, realized as part of the Generation 2000 TV series, brought her awards at the Prowincjonalia Polish Film Festival in Września and at the Young and Cinema Debut Film Festival in Koszalin.
In 2003, she appeared in Seven Stops on the Way to Paradise (Siedem przystanków na drodze do raju), an independent production by Ryszard Maciej Nyczka, with whom she also collaborated on the sets of A Thousand Sighs Park (Park tysiąca westchnień) and Fortune Watches for You in the Forest (Fortuna czyha w lesie). In 2004, she acted in Petrol (Benzyna) by Filip Bajon, and two years later – in Foundation (Fundacja) by the same director. Over her career she has dubbed over 20 animated films, such as Howl's Moving Castle and Snow White by Tarsem Singh. She mostly gained popularity, however, due to her role in the TV series Pensjonat pod Różą (The Rose Guesthouse), in which she acted between 2004-2006, and thanks to some of her other creations in TV.
“I continue to work in theatre, therefore I have an opportunity to practise my acting skills all the time, and that’s extremely important. Actors are just like sportspeople – they should constantly act, seek, and exercise, in order not to be afraid. Upon entering a stage or a film set, one may suddenly become very shy, it can strike as an isolating experience. Privately we tend to be introverted, but performing is an act of courage, it requires one to open up.” – Kulesza told Anna Bielak in an interview for Wirtualna Polska.
After 2011, it was all downhill. First she appeared in the role of the mother of the main character in Jan Komasa’s Suicide Room, playing a successful woman who had a hard time coping with her son’s alienation. After that, she made a truly revelatory appearance in Wojciech Smarzowski’s Rose (Róża). It is a film about a woman from Masuria who lost her husband to war, and a startling story about violence and love born from the ashes. For this role, Kulesza received the Polish Film Award for Best Leading Actress.
A year later, she received the Warsaw Feliks Award for her role in the spectacle Merylin Mongoł, directed by Bogusław Linda for the Ateneum Theatre. This adaptation of Nikolai Kolada’s play featured Kulesza as Ina, an ever-drunken woman, abandoned by her husband. In the 2012 Summer’s Blood (Krew z krwi) TV series, she presented one of the best female creations of contemporary Polish television. The series, directed by Xawery Żuławski, told the story of a woman who, following her husband’s death, has to take over his deals with mafia.
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Cinema
At the 2013 Gdynia Film Festival, Kulesza received the Best Leading Actress Award for her creation in Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida. She played the aunt of the main character – Bloody Wanda, a judge who built her career during the political trials of the Stalin era.
"Dualism characterises the role played by Kulesza; she is cynical and cold, yet human. Gradually she takes off her mask and reveals her more sensitive side. The acting is done with a craftsmanship that manages to express all the pain and tragedy of the character in a single glance. Ida’s drama becomes cast in her shadow." – we read in the film’s review.
2014 has seen the release of several new films featuring Kulesza: Angel (Pod Mocnym Aniołem) by Wojciech Smarzowski, Warsaw by Night by Natalia Koryncka-Gruz, and Kindergarden Lady (Pani z przedszkola) by Marcin Krzyształowicz.
With her following roles Kulesza not only proves she's the best actress of her generation. Easily she transfers from drama to comedy, she is as good as she is in theatre, cinema and TV series. Kulesza is a master in creating complicated roles. She sketches subtly psychological portraits of her characters, she draws them slowly, without using powerful means.
After Ida's spectacular success, Kulesza decided to play in mainstream films. She played a powerful, supporting role in Patryk Vega's Służby specjalne and in Marcin Kryszałowicz's Kindergarden Lady she played the role of a mother experiencing her first lesbian romance ever.
But her most complete role was Marta in Kinga Dębska's These Daughters of Mine. She played a famous TV actress, who has to face her parents' illness and death together with her younger sister. She created a portrait of a successful woman who prefers reason to emotion, but is not able to cope with problems that surround her.
Thanks to Ida she also started receiving propositions from abroad: she played in Alexandros Avranas's True Crimes (2016) alongside Jim Carrey and Charlotte Gainsbourg and in Anne Fontaine's Les Innocentes (2016). Justin Chang wrote for Variety:
Kulesza and Ida Awarded in Los Angeles
It's not a surprise that Kulesza played the best role in the film: fascinating as the cynical ex-prosecutor in Paweł Pawlikowski's Ida, adds the same steel coldness to the dominating prioress, a woman who - at first glance - seems to be at the other end of moral and religious spectrum. In both of these roles the actress fills the lost protagonist's inner life both with cruelty and sympathy (31.01.2016).
Kulesza created a supporting yet absolutely remarkable role in I'm A Killer by Maciej Pieprzyca. She played the wife of the protagonist, Wiesław Kalicki, who was accused of mass murder. For the film, the actress started learning Silesian, a dialect spoken on the terrains where the story is set.
In 2018 Kulesza and Pawlikowski met on set once again – this time the actress got to play a supporting role in the Oscar nominated Cold War. In the beginning of 2019 the film Playing Hard directed by Kinga Dębska had its Polish premiere. Kulesza performed in one of the main roles: a prosecutor struggling with alcoholism.
And the Winner is… Poles Who Won Oscars
In 2014 and 2015 Kulesza also worked on television series. She plays the leading role in the second season of Krew z krwi / Summer's Blood, directed by Jan Komasa - a woman entangled in the world of gangsters. In the comedy Rodzinka.pl she appeared in a supporting role as a know-it-all friend of the main characters. One of the most interesting projects she was involved in was Web Therapy - a comedy based on an American series with Lisa Kudrow. Produced by TVN, it is only distributed through the site player.pl, therefore starting a new model of distribution in Poland.
Sources: CanalPlus, Gala, Wirtualna Polska, ed. BS., transl. AM, updated by NMR, October 2016 & NS, May 2019