Actor and theatre director, born April 25, 1946 in Heilbronn, Germany.
Table of contents: From Warsaw to Comédie Française | Debut on Stage and TV career | Collaboration with Peter Brook | French Cinema | Starring in Polish Films | Acting as Mission | Traditional Polish Theatre | Awards
From Warsaw to Comédie Française
In 1968, Seweryn graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Warsaw and was taken on by the Teatr Ateneum, where he continued to act until 1980. From 1972-74, he lectured at his alma mater in the acting department.
In 1980, he went to Paris to play the female role of Spika Tremendosa in Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz's Onych" / "They, directed by Andrzej Wajda. Impressed by the performance, Antoine Vitez invited Seweryn to play the role of Thomas Pollock in Paul Claudel's The Exchange / Zamiana, before offering him a full-time position at L'École du Thèâtre National de Chaillot. In 1983, Peter Brook saw Seweryn as the Master in Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita at the Thèâtre de la Ville, and asked him to join his troupe. From 1984-88, Andrzej Seweryn was associated with Peter Brook's International Centre for Theatre Creation, one of the most unconventional theatre troupes in the world. In 1993, Seweryn was taken on by the Comédie Française, making him one of only three non-French actors to be hired in the theatre's history. Three years later, French critics chose him as the best actor of the season, praising his performance in the title role of Hugo von Hofmannstahl's Der Schwierige (Polish trans., Trudny Czlowiek; English trans., The Difficult Man) at the Thèâtre de la Colline in Paris. Seweryn has also taught at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Lyon, and the Conservatoire de Paris.
Even before his stage debut as the conductor in Aleksander Fredro's Dyliżans / Stagecoach (1968), Seweryn had a brush with politics. In 1968, he was one of the organisers of the protest against the closure of Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady / Forefather's Eve, directed by Kazimierz Dejmek at the National Theatre. For distributing fliers in protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, he spent five months in prison.
The first reviews to take special note of Seweryn appeared after his performance in the title role of Tadeusz Rittner's Głupi Jakub (1970):
In this role, Seweryn has proved himself as an actor of unusual talent. An actor with a strong inner force and charming personality, one who attracts our attention and unites the audience. One needs no penetrating prophetic powers to foresee that he has a wonderful future in the theatre. Searching for truth and only truth, he played the role of Jakub honestly and naturally, with ardent conviction and the feelings of youth.
August Grodzicki, Piekna sztuka aktorska, Zycie Warszawy, Feb 17, 1970
Debut on Stage and TV career
The Warsaw Ateneum Theatre gave Seweryn the opportunity to play role from the classics, such as Ivan Shatov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Biesy / The Devils (1971), the title role in Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos (1972), and Gustaw in Aleksander Fredro's Śluby panienskie / Maidens' Vows (1976), as well as leading parts in contemporary plays, such as the Boy in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (Polish trans. Czekajac na Godota) (1971), Apprentice II in Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz's Szewcy / The Shoemakers (1971), and Delamarche in Franz Kafka's America (1973).
Radio, film and television soon became aware of the talented young actor. After an unfortunate television debut in Album Polski / Polish Album, directed by Jan Rybkowski in 1970, produced for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the People's Republic of Poland, he captivated audiences in Wladyslaw Reymont's Chlopi / The Peasants, also directed by Rybkowski (1972). His first significant role was as Maks Baum in Andrzej Wajda's film adaptation of Władysław Reymont's novel, Ziemia obiecana / The Promised Land (1974). His calm, balanced and methodical character was remembered by audiences alongside roles played by Wojciech Pszoniak and Daniel Olbrychski. Seweryn believes, however, that he did not make the most of the opportunities the role offered him. His next important role was in Andrzej Żulawski's film, Na srebrnym globie / On the Silver Globe (1976, but unfinished at that time). Seweryn played the leader of a space expedition who is adored by his subordinates. This uncritical adoration and his unlimited power awaken the devil within him. Unfortunately, audiences were unable to watch the film until twelve years later, when it was finally released.
Seweryn then appeared in the following made-for-television mini-series: Noce i dnie / Nights and Days (1975), Polskie drogi / Polish Roads (1976), Rodzina Polanieckich / The Polaniecki Family (1978), and in performances for the Television Playhouse, including the title role in Victor Hugo's Ruy Blas (1973), and Willy in Leon Kruczkowski's Niemcy / The Germans (1974).
In 1978, Andrzej Wajda cast Seweryn in the role of Jacek Rosciszewski in his film, Bez znieczulenia / Rough Treatment.
Seweryn masterfully played his part as a careerist and opportunist-both dangerous and weak. He roused fear and aversion in the audience, and at the same time provoked smiles of pity. He recreates Poles of the late Gierek period-mediocre, greedy, dangerous and frightened egoists.
Tomasz Lada, Do sukcesu po marginesach, Życie, September 29, 2000
In Wajda's Dyrygent / The Orchestra Conductor (1979), Seweryn demonstrated the extent of his talent for the first time. His character was a "man with great ambitions, but condemned to conduct an average provincial orchestra that not only lacks any real talent, but a certain finesse as well. (...) He struggles, rampages, charges and delves ever deeper; not only does he lose, he makes a laughing-stock of himself, which is the most painful thing for a man. There is something very human in the fight he puts up, something very moving, because in fact it is not a person who is losing, but a person who is being destroyed. This is where the tragedy enters the pictures, though on a very prosaic level. Andrzej Seweryn went far beyond the genre of the character.
Aleksander Ledochowski, V Symfonia, Film, no 18/1980
Many of his characters represented the first post-war generation, such as Marek in Janusz Kijowski's Kung Fu (1979), Bogdan in Janusz Zaorski's Dziecinne pytania / Childish Questions (1981) and Capitan Wirski in Andrzej Wajda's Czlowiek z zelaza / Man of Iron (1981). It has been said that they constitute
material that is prone to compromise and conformism, from which either a scumbag or a decent person can arise, depending on the circumstances and conditions.
Maria Kornatowska, Wodzireje i amatorzy, WaiF, 1990
Toward the end of the 1970s, Seweryn sensed he was becoming a run-of-the-mill actor. Leaving for Paris, he sought change, both in his personal and professional life. He was in France when martial law was declared in Poland.
Collaboration with Peter Brook
Seweryn considers meeting Peter Brook to have been one of the most important experiences in his career. He worked for almost a year on a production of Mahabharata, based on the great Hindu epic poem, with an acting troupe whose members hailed from eighteen countries. He played two parts in the show: in the French version, a character reminiscent of the devil, and in the (filmed) English version, one that recalled an angel.
Working with Brook was a breakthrough for me. I stopped playing then. I began to be.
Jestem po prostu aktywnym pracownikiem filmu, Odra, no. 10/1995)
He credits Brook with his understanding of other conventions and theatrical forms, and of the "melting into one" of the body, emotions and intellect.
In 1993, he was accepted into one of the most prestigious theatre troupes in the world, the Comédie Française. Seweryn's French stage debut was in the title role of Molière's Don Juan (1993). The New York Times wrote that he seemed more like a
sly, underhanded fop than a passionate lover, he is a sensual cynic, whose main goal is to gain control over others, and not the experience of love, or even romantic conquests.
At the Comédie Française, he won over audiences and critics with performances including the title role in Molière's Tartuffe and The Bourgeois Gentleman, Gayev in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, Claudius in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the President in Friedrich Schiller's Kabale und Liebe / Intrigue and Love.
Seweryn won critical acclaim for his roles as Henryk in Witold Gombrowicz's Ślub/ The Wedding (2001), and as Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (2001). Of this last role, a reviewer in Le Monde wrote:
the virtuosity of this actor has never before shone as it has in this role. (Seweryn) covers all the registers, from farce to tragedy, with the same fluency as he speaks Polish, German, Russian and English, as the triumphing moneylender. This Shylock certainly does not inspire our sympathy. But he is brimming with life.
Seweryn's forays into directing have also been received enthusiastically, in Molière's The Forced Marriage (1999) and Jacques Audiberti's Le mal court / The Evil Spreads (2000).
In French cinema, Seweryn's most noteworthy accomplishments include playing Steiner in Amok (1992), Hebrard in the Oscar award-winning, Indochina (1992) and his two roles as leaders of the French revolution: Bourdon in Andrzej Wajda's Danton (1982) and Robespierre in La Revolution Française (1989).
Since 1989, Andrzej Seweryn has worked occasionally in Poland, more often than not with the Television Playhouse. He has shown his outstanding and mature acting in the title roles of William Shakespeare's Richard III (1989) and Coriolanus (1995), and in Moliere's Don Juan (1996). About Richard III, one critic wrote:
This role was Seweryn's great chance to show his abilities. He constructed a very complicated character: a cynic and murderer, but at the same time a person who was internally and externally very unhappy and wronged. (...) Seweryn built the role using acting methods that are typical for him: very logical, cool, with a precision that can even be called mathematical.
Lukasz Wyrzykowski, Wielki popis Andrzeja Seweryna, Dziennik Zachodni, December 13, 1989
Seweryn's role in Slawomir Mrożek's Krawiec / The Tailor (1997) was surprising and unusual:
Seweryn gives Mrożek's character even more unpleasant ambiguity, prompting reflection. The actor surprises in every way possible-from his gestures, to the way he moves, which is reminiscent of the way that kimono-clad Japanese women walk. Seweryn is simply absolutely great.
Tomasz Lada, Do sukcesu po marginesach, Życie, September 29, 2000
Starring in Polish Films
The late 1990s saw his triumphant return to the cinema as Julian Scherner in Spielberg's Schindler's List. He also featured in Polish films. His performance as Jeremi Wiśniowiecki in Jerzy Hoffman's Ogniem i mieczem / With Fire and Sword (1999) was
a dynamic portrayal of a magnate who faces a moral conflict between his obligations to the state and his own will.
Krzysztof Demidowicz, Przyciaganie, odpychanie, Film, no. 4/2001
About the character of the Judge in Andrzej Wajda's Pan Tadeusz (1999), one critic wrote that
Seweryn managed to create a perfect, fascinatingly ambiguous portrait of a Pole from one of Mickiewicz's uninteresting minor characters. The character Seweryn creates is on the one hand unresourceful, on the other hand a careful host; on one hand, Fredrowski's ill-natured person, on the other, a cold, calculating gambler.
Tomasz Lada, Do sukcesu po marginesach, Zycie, September 29, 2000
In 2000, Seweryn played Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski in Teresa Kotlarczyk's Prymas: Trzy lata z tysiąca / The Cardinal: Three Years Out of a Thousand.
The actor took on the hardest role of his career to date. He had to play a person who is still alive in the Polish mind. A man of the cloth, with the mystery of faith, shown in an extreme situation, who was at the same time a skilful politician and understood that one wrong move would result in tragedy, not only for himself, but for the entire Polish Church. In Seweryn's interpretation, Cardinal Wyszyński was above all a prudent and good person. The actor, like the character he plays, does not say much. The audience does not get any clear-cut answers, but rather must come to their own conclusions, while observing Seweryn's impenetrable face as the cardinal, and his calm, considered gestures. The actor does not attempt to infringe on what is sacred, or to touch the mystery of faith. He shows a person who is at once both revered and destroyed, someone who is aware of his own weaknesses and who is made strong through his faith, as well as by the conviction that it is he who is right.
Tomasz Lada, Do sukcesu po marginesach, Zycie, September 29, 2000
Seweryn is considered to be a talented, courageous and unusually hard-working actor.
Work is an all-encompassing, all-powerful part of my life.
Jestem naiwnym harcerzem, Film, no. 1/1995
Acting as Mission
Laborious exercises in diction, as well as physical exercise, are not a chore for him. He lives with the feeling that he is always improving. On the other hand, his boyish emotional nature, which he does not hide, gives him a fresh perspective on reality.
My naivité and childlike nature are most apparent in the fact that I've stopped pretending to be smarter than the authors themselves. I stop treating them as a pretext for expressing my own views. Today I try above all to understand them, to understand why the author wrote about a certain issue the way he did. I don't want to tell anyone anything, I want to ask. Today I am interested in dialogue, in meeting the person, not with a wonderfully trained mannequin.
Glosić nie zamierzam, chcę pytac, Dziennik Bałtycki, December 24-26, 1993
He does not hesitate to call acting his mission.
This profession cannot be defined. It is not intellect that guarantees success in acting. On the contrary, very often it gets posed as an obstacle. It is a profession full of contradictions. Is it not a mysterious thing how the audience grows silent at the sight of one actor and might not even notice when another enters. My ABC of acting is Hamlet's text: 'suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature.' [Hamlet. Act iii. Sc. 2] Work done while thinking of others is a condition of doing one's profession well. Thus it is in a way my religion.
Głosić nie zamierzam, chcę pytac, Dziennik Baltycki, December 24-26, 1993
In 2001, the first book about Andrzej Seweryn, written by Teresa Wilniewczyc, was published. In 2002, he played Rejent Milczek in Wajda's film adaptation of Fredro's play, Zemsta / Revenge, and followed this with a role in Aruna Villiers's film, À ton image / In Your Image (2004), starring Nastassja Kinski. Seweryn then played President Julien Szczesny in Agnieszka Holland's Ekipa / Team (2007), a political drama on Polish television.
Traditional Polski Theatre
He appeared again on the stage of Polski Theatre in such productions as Samuel Beckett’s Endgame directed by Antoni Libera and Molier’s The School for Wives directed by Jacques Lassale.
In the sequences where Andrzej Seweryn does not focus on conventional pirouettes with suitcases, he portrays the drama of a man to whom reality started to say "no ". Chrysalde (Mariusz Wojciechowski) talks to him like a patient therapist, trying get his unrealistic aspirations out of his head. Arnolf looks at him with a smile of superiority: "What do you know about the depth of my genius and my suffering?" Only when the foster-child Agnès denies him love does he fall apart. He loses self control. Arnolf clings to the frightened girl, full of pain and disappointment, whose face becomes several decades older in one second – commented Joanna Derkaczew in Gazeta Wyborcza.
Seweryn also performed in Shakespeare's The Tempest (receiving praise from critics for his acting virtuosity), Fredro’s Zemsta / Revenge, in Bolesław Śmiały/ Boleslaw the Brave, which he co-directed, and in King Lear, directed by the legend of European theatre Jacques Lassalle. This role enthused audience and critics:
Many prominent actors have wrestled with the role of King Lear, and now Andrzej Seweryn can recognize another victory on his artistic path. He was perfect. He showed his artistry. It is his outstanding role. He did not play the old king. He was the king – wrote Dionizy Kurz , and Roman Sroczyński added:
Until now, I had admired Andrzej Seweryn for his acting and managerial skills. Now, I also pay tribute to his excellent condition and ... passion. (...) as a regular spectator, I cannot – once again – cannot bow before other actors.
In January 2013, Seweryn directed Krasiński’s Irydion / Iridion, with choreography by Leszek Bzdyl and music by Olo Walicki. The performance was staged on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Polski Theatre being inaugurated with the same drama.
I dream of a traditional theatre – said Seweryn in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza. – People want the theatre I offer. This gives me wings, energy, and confirms my belief. Perhaps they are not the audience of other theatres, but well – everyone is entitled to his theatre. I would like to raise another topic – namely, respect for the Polish language. And it's not just about clear recitation, but about discerning intellectual and spiritual wealth through language. We have something to offer to the world, and we are not obliged to imitate German theatre or others – emphasizes Seweryn.
In 2001 Teresa Wilniewczyc published a book about Andrzej Seweryn which is the first monography about the actor.
In 2011 Seweryn became the director of the Arnold Szyfman Polish Theatre in Warsaw. In 2010 in an interview with Łukasz Maciejewski he said:
In a good theatre, actors are preapred to their profession, their abilities are mastered. This kinf of theatre is able to build decorations, look after costumes, light the scene, control the sound, and finally – it can equally well and professionally stage modern play and a drama written 300 years ago. („Tygodnik Powszechny”, 01.04.2010)
Seweryn inaugurated his activity combining both classical and modern plays in a monodrama inspired by Imagine Yourself... play directed by Jerzy Klesyk and staged in Kraków. Shakespeare forever, directed by Seweryn, is composed of the most stunning fragments of Shakespeare's plays including lines from Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Henrik V, The Tempest, Richard II and Sonets.
On the stage of the Polish Theatre he has also performed in Samuel Beckett's Endgame directed by Antoni Libera and Moliere's The School for Wives directed by Jacquesa Lassalle. In sequences where Andrzej Seweryn is not focused on doing conventional spins with a chest , he shows the tragedy of a man whose reality started to say "no".
Seweryn has also performed in Shakespeare's The Tempest, his role was admired by critics for its virtuosity; Aleksander Fredro's Revenge / Zemsta, co-directed Boleslaus the Bold / Bolesław Śmiały and King Lear directed by Jacques Lassalle, a legend of the European theatre. The performance stunned both the public and critics:
Many outstanding actors have struggled with the role of King Lear and now Andrzej Sewern is the one who can mark another victory on his artistic path. He was perfect. He showed his craft. It is a remarkable role. We was not playing an old king. He was the King. - worte Dionizy Kurz.
In January 2013 Seweryn added to his account as a director Krasiński's Irydion with Leszek Bzdyl's choreography and Olo Walicki's music. The play was staged on the occassion of the 100th anniversary of the Polish Theatre in Warsaw.
I dream about a traditional thatre – says Seweryn in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza Daily. - People want the theatre I offer. It lifts me up, gives energy and confirms my views. Perhaps this is not also other theatre's audience, but everyone has the right to his own kind of theatre.
In recent years he performed in: William Shakespeare's King Lear directed by Jacques Lassalle (Polish Theatre in Warsaw, 2014), Rabindranath Tagore's Tagore ( Gardzienice Theatre Practices Centre, 2014), Cygan in the Polish Theatre. Life is a song by Jacek Cygan / Cygan w Polskim. Życie jest piosenką Jacka Cygana (Polish Theatre in Warsaw, 2014), Stanisław Wyspiański's The Wedding directed by Krzysztof Jasiński (Polish Theatre in Warsaw, 2015) and in Michał Walczak's Don Juan in Warsaw / Don Juanie w Warszawie (Pożar w Burdelu Theatre in Warsaw, 2015).
In 2015 in one of numerous interpretations od Stanisław Wyspiański's The Wedding, this time directed by Krzysztof Jasieński, Seweryn becomes Host and the Ghost of Wernyhora. Paulina Aleksandra Grubek wrote about the characters.
Seweryn's Host on one hand is a good, strong, Polish peasant, but on the other hand – a child dreaming about justice and freedom for his country. His patriotic upheavals and will for fight are not exaggerated nor exalted. Seweryn gave his character not only wisdom and experience, but also lightness – he made his character convincing and real at the same time. (…) It is undoubtly a great and honestly performed role. (Dziennik Teatralny Warszawa, 14.03.2015)
In April 2016 another play premiered at the Polish Theatre in Warsaw – Krapp and two other one-act plays written by Samuel Beckett and directed by Antoni Libera. The play consists of The Last Tape, Fragment de théâtre II and Ohio Impromptu. Andrzej Seweryn in a leading role contemplates the continuity of human's „I”.
Tomasz Miłkowski looks for analogies between Krapp and former Seweryn's roles:
The co-existance of Shakespeare's and Beckett's characters in one, exceptional actor's repertoire raises new bonds and effects, so far unnoticeable. Who knows if Shakespeare's characters speak through Krapp or Hsmm? Maybe Krapp is Prospero, who broke a magic wand and Hamm is a blind Lear? However it is, in Andrzej Seweryn's mature, masterful acting there occures accumulation of experiences resulting in such deep creation as Krapp.(Trybuna Daily No. 90, 06.05.2016)
Yet another great success in Andrzej Seweryn's career was the Golden Leopard Award for the Best Actor at the 69th Locarno International Film Festival for the role of Zdzisław Beksiński in The Last Family directed by Jan P. Matuszyński. The film shows the story of Beksiński, one of the most interesting and popular Polish painters of the 20th century.
Most Significant Awards
- 1980 - Silver Bear for his role in Dyrygent / The Orchestra Conductor at the Berlinale International Film Festival
- 1994 - Grand Prize for acting for his role in Amok at the Cairo IFF
- 1996 - Witkacy Award
- 1997 – Minister of Foreign Affaris Diploma for outstanding merits to Polish culture abroad; Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta awarded by the President of the Republic of Poland
- 1998 - Award for the title role in the Television Playhouse (Teatr Telewizji) production of Slawomir Mrozek's Krawiec at the National Competition for the Staging of Contemporary Polish Plays
- 1999 - Order National du Merite for contributions to French culture
- 2000 - Polish Television's award for his role in the film, Prymas / The Cardinal at the Polish Feature Film Festival in Gdansk
- 2001 - Golden Duck award for his role in Prymas / The Cardinal
- 2005 - Légion d'honneur for his contribution to French culture.
- 2006 - Golden Medal Gloria Artis - Merits for Culture
- 2008 – the Great Bow Award / Wielki Ukłon – an honorary award of the Quest Europe in Zielona Góra; the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
- 2010 – the Audience Award organised by the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Kraków for the role in Imagine Yourself... William Shakespeare
- 2012 – Santo Domingo Muestra Internacional De Cine Award for the role in Little Rose directed by Jan Kidawa-Błoński; 26th Tarnów Film Award for life-time merits to Polish ciematography, especially for an outstanding performance in Promised land directed by Andrzej Wajda
- 2013 – an award from the Wocław City Council and Grand Prix Geras at the Wrocław WROSTJA Meetings of One Actor and Small Forms
- 2014 – Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński Award for outstanding performances at the Polish Theatre in Warsaw, especially in Shakespeare's plays; the Złoty Glan Award of the Charlie cinema in Łódź
- 2016 – the Icon of the Polish Cinema / Ikona Polskiego Kina Award for life-time achievements in acting granted at the 5th Suspense Film Festival in Kołobrzeg; Golden Leopard for the Best Actor at the 69th Locarno International Film Festival for the role of Zdzisław Beksiński in The Last Family
Written: April 2002; updated: August 2016 (ND).