An acting revelation who has hit the scene in the last two seasons as one of the great hopes of Polish theatre and cinema, Dawid Ogrodnik only recently left the halls of Kraków’s Academy of Dramatic Arts. He has already scored two major roles in film and collaborated with the acclaimed theatre company TR Warszawa.
His interest in the arts began with music, a passion may have been genetic because his older sister played the piano and the younger, the clarinet. From attending music school in Wągrowiec and listening to jazz in his free time, he admits in an interview with Culture.pl that while he strayed into classical music it was “Ravel only. I was attracted to the images of landscapes, closer to the music of films than traditional classics”.
Employing his musical interest in theatre and cinema, he plays a Coltrane piece on alto saxophone in Paweł Pawlikowski’s film Ida, and sings Italian disco in Kornél Mundruczó’s stage production, The Bat. The multi-talented artist has been recognised for his ability to completely immerse himself in his roles and manifest incredibly moving performances. Ogrodnik’s dedication, reflected by the courage required by his process and his initiative to break down barriers of the self and explore the dark depths of alternate perspectives, has already been rewarded by professionals in the industry.
Starting from Scratch
In high school Ogrodnik met Anna Szymańska, founder of the Poznań Theatre, when she was casting MplusM - and managed to get a role. But even with this experience, it would take him three tries to be accepted into Kraków’s Academy of Dramatic Arts (PWST).
Our course group was very lucky because the teachers with whom we worked went far beyond the canon. Working with Roman Gancarczyk, Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik or Grzegorz Mielczarek was always a pursuit of, and not a following of formals. They never tried to impose anything upon us.
During his studies he was cast in Paweł Miśkiewicz’s Polish Club, which represented one of the great spiritual experiences for Poles and contributed to the social foundation that shaped modern Polish identity.
I think it was with Miśkiewicz that I understood that the art of this discipline depends on starting from scratch, that you need to surpass your own limitations.
Catching Fleeting Moments
Ogrodnik’s performance was witnessed by the director Leszek Dawid, and the two would soon meet on the set of Jesteś Bogiem / You Are God. This movie would go on to be one of the biggest recent hits in Polish cinema.
You Are God is the story of the legendary hip-hop band Paktofonika, and Ogrodnik was cast in the role of Rahim, a withdrawn and shy teenager. Along with two colleagues from PWST, Marcin Kowalczyk and Tomasz Schuchardt, they created a poignant portrayal of the three musicians on the threshold of their careers. With only two months to prepare their roles, the group travelled to concerts, held conversations with Rahim and Fokus (the surviving members of Paktofonika) and listened to their old records.
Leszek wanted us to understand how the guys would have composed their songs in the '90s. On an old PC with ancient software we had been working on a track for four hours when for a moment the power went out and everything disappeared. This was an excellent example. We quickly understood why this was torture.
The movie became the launch for Ogrodnik’s career. Over a million people flocked to the cinema to see it - and at a festival in Gdynia, Ogrodnik won an award for his role as a supporting actor.
Life Feels Good
Dawid Ogrodnik missed the first casting call for the role of Mateusz in Maciej Pieprzyca’s Life Feels Good. Once the director already had a selection of young actors, Ogrodnik came to see him in a jogging suit and shaved head. He managed to convey himself as a sensitive and intelligent actor able to play the role of a boy with cerebral palsy in a long conversation over coffee. In eight months, the actor underwent a complete transformation to effectively portray the film’s protagonist.
At the beginning I could not imagine that I could create the character out of only gestures and grimaces. This ignorance motivated me. I spent months thinking about how to build a character without words.
In an interview with Sebastian Łupakow from Newsweek, he recalls that “the whole wall of my room was covered with sheets of notes describing scene after scene. I looked at them and wrote an internal monologue about what I felt, what the emotions were”.
The actor lost 10 kilos for the role so that every muscle and every vein would “cut through the screen”. To prepare his body for the physical challenges of portraying the disease, he wrapped his fingers and twisted his joints. Bartłomiej Ostapczuk, a specialist in pantomime from Na Woli Theatre, mentored him through this process. He read the biographies of Christy Brown and Rubén Gallego and even had two sets of toothbrushes; one for Mateusz and one for himself.
Visiting Another World
He met with people from the disabled community to observe their world and learn their gestures to construct his role. These encounters often overwhelmed his ability to be a stoic professional and the emotional nature catalysed breakdowns. In an interview with Hanna Halek from Polityka magazine, he remembers an unusual encounters he had with a boy suffering from cerebral palsy and his totally healthy twin brother:
The soul gets really heavy and helpless: in a mixture of desire and impotence. A trip home for these people is like travelling to Vietnam for me. Going to the movie is like climbing Mt. Everest… Our path to understanding these people is long. I spent a few days just staring out the window because I was curious about what a person would have in their minds if they couldn’t move from their wheelchair and could only stare at the clouds passing over. At first is the impulse to destroy everything, it hurts your body, but then due to the lack of means, you slowly adopt the pose, you play with your ideas, you look for system and you tell yourself many things. I have never before thought about myself as much as I did then.
Using only gestures, eye movement and dramatic vocals, Ogrodnik made an excellent portrait of a man enslaved by his own impairments. His performance connected with audiences and critics alike - evidence of this is in the number of festival awards the film has received. Comparisons to the role Daniel Day-Lewis had in My Left Foot and commendations from Polish director Sławomir Idziak are enormously encouraging signs of his ability as an actor. Idziak even said that had the role of Mateusz been a part of an American film, Ogrodnik would have been nominated for an Oscar.
The Bat and the Sax
Upon completion of Life Feels Good in 2012, Ogrodnik was offered a role in Kornél Mundruczó’s production of The Bat scheduled to perform on the stage of TR Warszawa in the capital. Once again embodying the character of a disabled boy, his transition back to reality was eased through the opportunity to not break so suddenly from his character of Mateusz. Hanna Rydlewska from Na Temat wrote about his performance:
Ogrodnik is authentic, irritating and pathetic. The dance of his body is able to move the audience to be completely amazed and deliver wild reviews under the auspices of TR Warsaw. Even when Łukasz, played by Ogrodnik, raises himself for a second from his wheelchair, letting his body fall while singing Italian disco, is fantastic. Not for one moment does he turn the hero into a farce.
Soon thereafter, he was on the set of the Paweł Pawlikowski film Ida, which would receive four awards at the 2013 Gdynia Film Festival.
In the story that takes place in the 1960s, Ogrodnik plays a young musician - a saxophonist - who stands as an obstacle in the path of the heroine of the film. His character is a combination of James Dean and Zbigniew Cybulski - both legends of virile charm in the 1950s.
In 2014, audiences will see Ogrodnik in Anna Kazejak’s Obietnica / The Pledge. Before that premiere, he will appear on the TV drama series Bezdech, scheduled to air on the 28th of October. A part of the TR company in Warsaw as a full-time actor, he is currently rehearsing for Grzegorz Jarzyna’s Nosferatu having appeared previously in this production as a substitute. He is also in the plans for Teatr Telewizji’s production of Oczyszczenie / Purification directed by Petr Zelenka.
Asked if he was afraid of falling into the vortex of show business, he replied with a tranquil tone: “When you don’t feed something, it doesn’t live. It’s not worth it to involve yourself in show business, it’s a small part of this profession”. He refused a proposal to take part in a popular series about soldiers in which he would have been paid 20,000 złoty (almost 5,000 euro) for 10 days of work.
Instead he is looking for new challenges:
I would like to play a murderer. A psychopathic person composed of ambiguity. These roles show how easy it is for us to be caught up in a trap of manipulation and the fact that we can never really understand another human being.
He doesn't slow down. In 2015 he played a drug addict courier in Jerzy Skolimowski's thriller 11 minutes alongside Agata Buzek, Andrzej Chyra and Wojciech Mecwaldowski. He also portrayed the main character, Tomek, in Maciej Bochniak's debut feature Disco Polo, which told the story of the Polish transformation of the 1990s in the rythm of disco. In 2016 Jan P. Matuszyński's The Last Family premiered. In the film, honoured with awards in Locarno and Gdynia, Ogrodnik portrayed the tragic translator and radio presenter Tomasz Beksiński, while Andrzej Seweryn played his famous father, the painter Zdzisław Beksiński. His role was described by some as a bit histerical, so energetic, that sometimes exagerrated, but it wasn't seen necessarily as a flaw. For example, Tadeusz Sobolewski wrote:
I don't mind the exagerration in Ogrodnik's portrayal of Tomek. In the movie, he is treated as a big kid, which grants him the viewer's sympathy. We look at him from the point of view of his parents. If we were stuck in complete literality, we could criticize Forman's portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus, which showed the genius composer as an (alleged) idiot ("Gazeta Wyborcza", 30.09.2016).
- 2016 - The Last Family, dir. Jan P. Matuszyński
- 2015 - Disco Polo, dir. Maciej Bochniak
- 2015 - 11 minutes, dir. Jerzy Skolimowski
- 2014 – Obietnica, director: Anna Kazejak
- 2013 – Bezdech, director: Andrzej Bart, received an actor award at the Festival of Polish Radio and Television Theatre "Dwa Teatry" in Sopot
- 2013 – Chce się żyć, director: Maciej Pieprzyca
- 2013 – Ida, director: Paweł Pawlikowski
- 2012 – Jesteś Bogiem, director: Leszek Dawid, awards Best Supporting Actor at the Gdynia Film Festival.
- 2015 - Martyr, director: Grzegorz Jarzyna. TR Warsaw.
- 2014 - The Second Woman, director: Grzegorz Jarzyna. TR Warsaw.
- 2012 – Nietoperz director: Kornél Mundruczó. TR Warsaw. Grand Prix award at the 53rd Kaliskich Spotkania Teatralne
- 2012 – Bracia i siostry, director: Maja Kleczewska, Kochanowski Theatre in Opole
- 2011 – Brand. Miasto. Wybrani, director: Michał Borczuch, the Helena Modjeska Stary National Theatre in Kraków
- 2011 – Klub Polski, director: Paweł Miśkiewicz, Drama Theatre of Warsaw
- 2011 – Babel 2, director: Maja Kleczewska, the The Ludwik Solski State Drama School in Kraków, Individual award at the 29th Festival of Theatre Schools in Łodz
*Unless otherwise stated, all quotations were sources from interviews with Culture.pl.
Sources: Polityka, NaTemat, Exclusiv, culture.pl, author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, October 2013, translation: SMG 09/10/2013