Katarzyna Figura is a film and theatre actress, born on 22nd March, 1962 in Warsaw.
Film and theatre actress. Born on 22nd March, 1962 in Warsaw.
In 1985 she graduated from the Acting Department of the National Higher School of Theatre in Warsaw. She debuted on the stage in 1985, playing Irina in Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, directed by Maciej Englert at Warsaw's Współczesny Theatre. Two years later, she played Hella in an adaption of Bulgakhov's The Master and Margarita, also directed by Englert.
She started working in film early on. While still a teenager in the 1970s, she played in two youth productions. During her acting studies, in 1983, she starred in Jacek Koprowicz's directorial debut – Przeznaczenie (Destiny), a biographical film about Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, as Laura, the poet's muse. Afterwards, she worked with Piotr Szulkin and Daniel Olbrychski, playing a young prostitute, Once, in the fantasy movie Ga, ga. Chwała bohaterom (Ga-Ga: Glory to the Heroes, 1985), a continuation of Szulkin's cosmic trilogy. She also played Mimi Zarzecka in Jerzy Sztwiertnia's Komediantka (The Deceiver, 1986). A breakthrough came with her subsequent roles – Ala in Juliusz Machulski's Kingsajz (1987) and, most of all, the main role in the bitter yet comical film about dreams, Pociąg do Hollywood (Train to Hollywood, 1987), directed by Radosław Piwowarski, in which she created a portrait of a small-town Marilyn Monroe. She played Mariola Wafelek, a train buffet worker who writes letters to Billy Wilder. She believes that one day the director will hire her. The young actress, with feminine curves and large breasts, full of sex appeal, soon became the epitome of the Polish sex bomb.
Once I became a woman and, at the same time, a professional actress, my entire, long journey consisted in trying to be perceived as more just my appearance. For many years, my feminine looks caused many to refuse me my talent, and often also my intellect.
– said Figura (Exklusiv no. 5, 2006).
Her next film roles were, among other, the self-serving Marta from Barbara Sass's psychological film W klatce (In the Cage, 1987), Superblondyna in Marek Koterski's Porno (1989), and Karolina in Panny i wdowy (Maidens and Widows, 1991) by Janusz Zaorski.
In the 1990s, the actress gave Hollywood a shot. She had some minor roles in Robert Altman's movies, The Player (1992) and Prêt-à-Porter (1994). She also acted in several TV films: Red Shoe Diaries by Zalman King (1992) and Fatal Past by Clive Fleury (1993). Back in Poland, she continued to work with Juliusz Machulski, such as in Kiler (1997) and Kiler-ów 2-óch (Two Kilers, 1999). She gradually broke away from her sex bomb image as she started playing the roles of women with greater self-awareness and wisdom, both in film and theatre. Her protagonists also began demonstrating feelings of bitterness, disappointment, mental maturity, sometimes fragility or perversity, distance, and humour, previously absent from the actress' work. She started being offered increasingly interesting roles. In Radosław Piwowarski's Autoportret z kochanką (Self-Portrait with a Lover), she played the interesting role of Diana, a mature woman taking care of the rebellious boy Kuba (played by Waldemar Błaszczyk). The story of their relationship is simultaneously a story about a turbulent youth and growing up to be an adult. Figura also offered a convincing performance as Polish immigrant Teresa in Szczęśliwego Nowego Jorku (Happy New York, 1997) directed by Janusz Zaorski, based on a drama by Edward Redliński. She played in some of Andrzej Kondratiuk's films: Wrzeciono czasu (The Spindle of Time, 1995) and Słoneczny zegar (The Sundial, 1997) – two out of three parts of saga about the Kondratiuk family, as well as in Historie miłosne (Love Stories, 1997) by Jerzy Stuhr. Janusz Majewski cast her next to Marek Kondrat in Złoto dezerterów (Deserters' Gold, 1998). For her role as Gosia in Marek Koterski's Ajlawju (1999), she received the Golden Lion award at the Gdynia Film Festival. She also did a great job playing Podstolina in Andrzej Wajda's adaptation of Zemsta (Revenge, 2002) by Aleksander Fredro. She also starred in Roman Polański's Oscar-winning The Pianist (2002), as a neighbour who denounces the title character.
She returned to theatre at the end of the 1990s. In 1997, she played in Grzegorz Skurski's monodrama Lustro (The Mirror) at Kraków's Theatre Scena STU. In 2002, she performed at Wybrzeże Theatre, in the mature and dramatic role of Hanka in Stefan Chwin's Hanemann, directed by Izabella Cywińska. As Roman Pawłowski wrote:
This performance's biggest discovery was Katarzyna Figura as Hanka, who enacts here – warning! – a tragic character. Her Hanka is equally powerful when washing the floor and when fighting for her step-son. The suicide scene, in which she, covered in an embroidered towel, as if she was about to partake in a Ukrainian wedding, goes to open the gas taps, is breathtaking. (Gazeta Wyborcza no. 24, 2002).
In 2006, Figura started working at Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw. She performed in Dirk Dobbrow's Alina na zachód (Alina Goes West, 2006), directed by Paweł Miśkiewicz, in the role of the Mother – a disillusioned woman initially hiding behind a mask of carelessness and smiles.
The actress employs farce (ecstatic washing of windows and toilet, as if in a commercial for a cleaning product), as well as more subtle means; it is pleasant to observe the changes in her manner of movement, tone of voice, and even laughter – from a warm and sensual one, through artificial and gushing, to child-like and spontaneous.
– wrote Anna R. Burzyńska. (Tygodnik Powszechny no.4, 2006).
In 2006, Figura also appeared as Masha in Three Sisters by Per Olov Enquist, loosely based on Anton Chekhov's play, staged by Piotr Cieślak (Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw) and in Oksana Zabuzhko's monodrama Field Work in Ukrainian Sex, directed by Małgorzata Szumowska at Warsaw's Polonia Theatre. Figura was forcible, intense, and a lot of the time, poignant, in her portrayal of a story of a writer seeking – just like her – happiness across the Atlantic Ocean.
While working at the Gustaw Holoubek Dramatyczny Theatre, the actress also collaborated with Paweł Miśkiewicz; She played The Woman in Green in Peer Gynt. Szkice z dramatu Henryka Ibsena (Peer Gynt. Sketches from Henrik Ibsen's Drama, 2007) and The Red Queen in Alicja (Alice, 2008) by Lewis Caroll. She also appeared in Krystian Lupa's Persona / Marilyn (2009), in which the director pondered on the personality of a man tangled up in social expectations and requirements, and wondered about the idea and limits of theatre. In it, Lupa carried out a vivisection of the acting individualism of Marilyn Monroe (Sandra Korzeniak), as subjected to the pressure of the people surrounding her. One of them was Paula Strasberg (Katarzyna Figura) – an acting coach, for whom Marilyn stood as a pop culture icon and, at the same time, someone bigger than Jesus Christ. Figura proved to feel comfortable in Lupa's intimate theatre, demonstrating her ambiguous relationship with the main protagonist.
Paula Strasberg (Katarzyna Figura), a friend and mentor, on one hand supports Marilyn, tries to reinforce her tenuous self-esteem and convince her that she is bigger than Christ. While on the other, she envies her, because she sees in Marilyn her own younger, and more perfect in each regard, reflection. The women are bound in a strange relationship – not maternal, neither erotic, nor spiteful.
– wrote Anna R. Burzyńska (Dwutygodnik no. 3, 2009).
Figura created excellent and poetically varied roles in film at the turn of the 21st century. In Piotr Szulkin's Ubu Król (Ubu Roi, 2003), based on Alfred Jarry's play, she played Mère Ubu next to Jan Peszek (as Père Ubu), expressing a manic passion that highlighted the surrealism in the story. Ryszard Brylski cast her as Halina Iwanek in Żurek (White Soup, 2003). As the director said:
The previous roles stereotyped her a lot, but even after it, she was sending clear signals that her abilities went far beyond that. This emanated from her somehow and I noticed that. I wasn't afraid (Przekrój, no. 47, 2003).
happy new york
szczęśliwego nowego jorku
pociąg do hollywood
train to hollywood
gdynia film festival
Figura, playing an exhausted widow raising a teenage daughter, created a sincere, naturalist-like role in a film about love and the search for truth. In 2007, she appeared in the award-winning television production Aria Diva, directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, as the titular opera diva Joanna, who meets a settled but unfulfilled married woman Basia. Soon, the two protagonists develop deep feelings for each other – ones that exceed fascination and fondness.
In the dark comedy Cudowne lato (Wonder Summer, 2011) directed by Ryszard Brylski she played a double role – the main protagonist's (Helena Sujecka) mother and fairy Aurelia. The film wasn't widely popular, contrary to Piotr Mularuk's Yuma, where Figura starred a year later. She was nominated for the Złota Kaczka award for both of these films, in both of them she played with characteristic energy, but it was with the role of the main protagonist's (Jakub Gierszał) aunt and pimp in Mularuk's dark comedy that she made her comeback to popular cinema.
In the recent years she appeared in other popular, but also widely criticised films, such as Przemysław Angerman's Wyjazd integracyjny (Awayday, 2011), Piotr Wereśniak's Och Karol 2 (2011) and Sławomir Kryński's Podejrzani zakochani (Suspected Lovers, 2013), but she mostly showed her talent in the theatre. In Dramatyczny she played, among other things, in two plays by Alfriede Jelinek – in an episode of Śmierć i dziewczyna. Dramaty księżniczek I-V (Princess Dramas: Death and the Maiden I-III and IV-V, 2009) directed by Agnieszka Korytkowska-Mazur and Kupieckie kontrakty (The Merchant's Contracts, 2009) directed by Paweł Miśkiewicz. In 2013 she starred as Kalina Jędrusik in the Kalina monodrama in Polonia Theatre. The similiarities between two actresses were noticed in the reviews:
Who better than Katarzyna Figura to play Kalina Jędrusik? Two sexy females who have made their bodies the main advantage of their acting, which later turned into a trap – wrote Aneta Kyzioł ("Polityka", 9.07.2013).
Since 2014 Figura has been a member of the Teatr Wybrzeże in Gdańsk ensemble. She played, among others, Elisabeth I in Maria Stuart directed by Adam Nalepa, based on Friedrich Schiller's play. Together with Dorota Kolak in the title role, she created a duo which raised a lot of interest among the critics.
The play is duel and a a display of the protagonists' talents. Katarzyna Figura plays a scared Elisabeth, a woman confused, but at the same time full of pride and power, who knows that the throne belongs to her rival. Her Elisabeth shines during the meeting with Maria Stuart. Her gown is then replaced by a fancy suit of a modern businesswoman. She is focused, imposing and – as Maria notices - „cold as a rock”. Elisabeth is Figura's best role in Wybrzeże Theatre – wrote Łukasz Rudziński for trojmiasto.pl (27.09.2014).
In 2015 she played in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor directed by Paweł Aigner and in Gabriela Zapolska's Tresowane dusze (Trained souls) directed by Adam Orzechowski. She had another meeting with the author also on the big screen – together with Krystyna Janda and Maja Ostaszewska she starred in Panie Dulskie (The Dulskie Ladies) directed by Filip Bajon – a modern variation around the famous play The Morality of Mrs Dulska.
- 1987 – Golden Duck – Award from the readers of Film magazine;
- 1998 – Golden Duck – Award from the readers of Film magazine;
- 1999 – Award for Best Actress, for the role of Gosia in Marek Koterski's film Ajlawiu at the 24th Gdynia Film Festival;
- 2000 – Crystal Pomegranate for Best Comedy Actress at the 4th Polish Comedy Festival in Lubomierz;
- 2003 – Award for Best Lead Actress, for the role of Mère Ubu in Piotr Szulkin's film Ubu Król (Ubu Roi) at the 28th Gdynia Film Festival; Award from the Twój Styl monthly for Best Polish Actress of the Festival, for the role of Mother in Ryszard Brylski's film Żurek (White Soup) at the 9th Summer of Films Festival in Kazimierz Dolny;
- 2004 – Eagle – Polish Film Award for Best Actress, for the role of Mother in Ryszard Brylski's film Żurek (White Soup); Audience Award, Jańcio Wodnik Award for Best Actress, for the role of Mother in Ryszard Brylski's film Żurek (White Soup) at the 11th National Film Art Festival Prowincjonalia in Września;
- 2006 – Award for the role of Mother in the performance of Dirk Dobbrow's Alina na zachód (Alina Goes West), directed by Paweł Miśkiewicz at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw, during the 46th Kalisz Theatre Meetings; Master Award from the Warsaw Point magazine for versatile stage enactments.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, June 2007; update by NMR: May 2016, transl. Ania Micińska, NMR.