Dubbed the ‘master of metamorphosis’, he always tries to escape being typecast. As an actor, he has a characteristic appearance and great plasticity, and he combines intuition with scrupulous preparation. He started his career in theatre and commercial comedies before winning the appreciation of audiences and critics alike for his roles on the silver screen.
He was born in 1977 in Legnica. At first, he wanted to become a visual artist. Later, inspired by his uncle, a missionary, he decided to join a seminary but he remained there for just half a year. He became passionate about theatre because of his high school Polish teacher. While he was still a teenager, he got his first serious contract. Because of his performances on the stage, he flunked the matura exam which made him postpone his attempts to enrol in theatre school. He retook the exam and passed when director Jacek Głomb offered him full-time employment in Legnica’s Helena Modjeska Theatre where he played minor parts. He debuted as a 19-year-old as one of the millionaires in Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz’s Madame Tutli-Putli directed by Wiesław Cichy. It was a sensation – Kot was hired by a municipal institution before he'd even graduated from drama school. Still, he did enrol in drama classes in Kraków – and managed to do so on his first try. He graduated from the Ludwik Solski Academy for the Dramatic Arts in 2001. As he says himself, the theatre was a revelation for him: it fascinated him and, afterwards, allowed him to conquer his shyness.
After his studies, he was performing in the Bagatela Theatre in Kraków. Among other works, in Gogol’s The Government Inspector directed by Maciej Sobobiński, Gombrowicz’s The Wedding adapted by Waldemar Śmigasiewicz and in Andrzej Saramonowicz’s highly popular Testosterone directed by Piotr Urbaniak. After moving to Warsaw, he performed in the New Theatre in Praga district (where, among other things, he assembled a tandem with Wojciech Mecwaldowski in Mrożek’s The Emigrants, directed by Artur Żmijewski) and in Polonia Theatre (in Przemysław Wojcieszek’s play titled Love Will Forgive You Everything and in Gabriela Zapolska’s Four of Them directed by Jerzy Stuhr).
His film debut was the role of Ryszard Riedel, the legendary leader of the Polish blues band Dżem, in Destined for Blues directed by Jan Kidawa-Błoński (2005). This part brought Kot a nomination for the Orzeł prize for the best leading male role, a prize for the best actor debut of the last decade at the Młodzi i Film Koszalin Film Debuts Festival, and the president of Gdynia award at the 30th Polish Film Festival in Gdynia.
For this role, as for all his future roles, Kot prepared with great diligence and complete devotion: he lost 8 kilograms, visited the MONAR branch in Kraków (a Polish NGO which helps drug addicts), and went on tour with Dżem.
In effect, an exceptional artist was emulated by a superb performer: Tomasz Kot resembled Ryszard Riedel not only in physical appearance but also in terms of his rebellious, untamed nature.
In 2010, Kot played the main part in the well-received psychological drama Erratum – Marek Lechki’s debut as a director. The film received the Grand Prix at the Film Festival in Gdynia in the debut category and the Best Screenplay Award at the International Film Festival in Thessaloniki. Erratum is a story about a trip home to take care of business matters which transforms into a difficult process of coming to terms with one’s past. In Dwutygodnik magazine, Rafał Marszałek wrote about ‘stellar acting’ (Ryszard Kotys and Janusz Chabior co-starred with Kot) and Tomasz Kot’s ‘performance of a lifetime’.
Tomasz Kot’s brave performance as Zbigniew Religa in Łukasz Palkowski’s film Gods was the next revelation in his career. He received the two most important Polish film awards for this role: the Orzeł Prize and the Golden Lions Prize. Gods verified Kot’s unusual talent of imitating the nuances of his characters’ behaviours.
Thanks to careful preparation, despite great pressure and unfavourable opinions regarding this casting decision, Kot managed to reproduce the legendary professor’s characteristic persona. As he told himself in one interview:
I used the experience I gathered during the work on Destined for Blues. I already knew, however, that the method of changing one’s skin to impersonate someone else comes to a end sooner or later. I have to imagine everything. I knew that I don’t have to wear Religa’s suit for three months and instead I have to work on his physical characteristics: his slouch, his look. People who worked with him in the 1980s said that he was a ‘walking instinct’, that he had wilderness in his eyes. […] I needed photographs from that era. […] And on that basis I devised fragments of that role: here he’s in a forest, and here his hair is unkempt. While working with the mirror, I tried to mimic his grimace, I started to work on my facial expressions.
Łukasz Palkowski’s film received astounding seven Orzeł awards, including the prizes for the best director, screenplay and for male actors, and also the awards for the best film and the audience’s award.
Kot continued his non-comedy career: in 2014 he starred in the Russian-Polish co-production Photographer directed by Waldemar Krzystek. It is a story of a psychopathic murderer who terrorises Moscow’s citizens. Filming took place in Kot’s hometown, among other places. In 2015, the actor starred in Maciej Bochniak’s mocking debut, Disco Polo, in which he became Daniel Polak – the disco polo king. Kot had to practice his English speaking skills for his next role in the Polish-British film Bikini Blue (directed by Jarosław Marszewski, premiered in 2017). Once again he made use of his flexibility and creativity as an actor:
Already some time ago, I understood that the actor’s tool is the imagination […]. I numbered all the lines in the screenplay and I imagined that each one is a lizard in a big terrarium. Some of them were gentle – they were the easy ones to memorise. Others were slithery and leery – these had to be tamed. So, in the film, I spoke my tamed lizards.
Kot received two main awards for his role in Marszewski’s film: he was dubbed the best leading male role at the Directors Cut Film Festival in Canada and the International Filmmaker Festival in Milan.
destined for blues
He did not have to undergo a physical transformation in 2018’s Cold War directed by Paweł Pawlikowski (for which the director received the Palm d’Or and a several-minutes-long standing ovation during the festival screening). The role of Wiktor Warski – a ‘Mazurek’ folk band’s composer and pianist – brought Kot recognition in Poland and abroad. He was dubbed ‘Eastern Europe’s Gregory Peck’ and ‘the Polish James Bond’ and compared to Bogart. Cate Blanchett herself congratulated him on his role. This creation turned out to be a real breakthrough in the actor’s career and the final testimony that his talent for comedy goes hand in hand with his talent for psychological drama. His duo with Joanna Kulig (who played the roles of the band’s singer Zula) dazzled the critics and the audience. Still, following all this international hype, Kot remained a modest, sensible and somewhat withdrawn actor. He does not have exorbitant ambitions and does not envision himself making a career in Hollywood. As he says himself: ‘I don’t shuffle between different versions of the future in my head’. He tries to focus on here and now.
In 2015, Kot received a Prominent Achievements Award from the Polish Minister of Culture and Heritage Małgorzata Omilanowska. He was awarded alongside artists such as Adam Zagajewski, Olga Tokarczuk, Krzysztof Globisz and Michał Zadara.
Sources: filmweb.pl, filmpolski.pl, wyborcza.pl, zwierciadlo.pl, dziennikteatralny.pl. Originally compiled in Polish by Marcelina Obarska, July 2018, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Nov 2018
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