I was born in December 1952, so I spent my childhood at the beginning of Gomułka’s „little stabilization”, the beginning of Poland’s great stagnation.
I grew up with my grandparents until the age of 7, which shaped me significantly. I was the most important person in the house, everyone took care of me and had time for me. They read books to me, talked with me, told me fairy tales, stories, sang me lullabies and fueled my artistic appetites.
What made the biggest impression on me after I left my grandparents and came to Warsaw was the TV set. I remember when I entered our flat there… Władystaw Gomułka’s speech was on. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and I understood… this is where I wanted to be, here, with this TV! Then, with the first money I earned, I bought my grandparents a TV set. They only watched it for my appearances. They dressed festively and cleaned the house. Apart from these moments, the TV didn’t interest them. They loved the radio. Grandma, dying, with her last breath uttered a sentence full of regret and resentment – “and Krysia became an actress!” – as if it was the greatest shame and disappointment they had endured.
Going back to me being 7 years old – I started learning piano, French and Spanish. My parents wanted to keep me and my younger sister occupied, so that we wouldn’t get any silly ideas. Our great discovery was the public library just around the corner. We started reading continuously, including at night, in torchlight under the duvet. A book a day. I started with authors whose name began with “A”, alphabetically, no one advised me on what to read. I don’t know how much of what I read I understood, but I read on. Also books that had “sin” or “love” in the title. For this reason I read Żeromski’s „History of Sin” when I was nine years old. When, years later, I watched Borowczyk’s film I was reminded of my childhood. I believe that the director understood more or less as much as I did back then.
I fell in love for the first time at the Ursus Mechanical Plant’s summer camp, when I returned home, separated from my beloved, I thought that I would die. I laid in bed for three days refusing to eat or drink. After three days, in order to impress my girlfriends and dull the pain, I pretended that I was learning to sing and sang them soprano opera arias in foreign languages. And then, for the same reason – the desire to impress and prove my uniqueness — I put my leg around my neck and the emergency services had to respond. On the other hand, an ambulance? Responding to a leg wrapped around a neck? What was all of that about? Maybe a loosening injection? My girlfriend did one better though, she had a mother who was a prostitute and she once confessed that she also wanted to be a prostitute. That was that. I knew I couldn’t beat that.
With the beginning of primary school I started going, or rather taking the train, to music school. I remember frostbitten hands and knees in a mini skirt, waiting for the socialist railway to arrive, choir practice, piano lessons and the nightmare that is musical dictation. Also the surprise of being approached by much older pupils of the school, really quite grown up. I thought they were perverted and I was right, as it turned out later. Three years of music school I was running from a red-haired pedophile, but I always managed to outsmart him. He sang with me in the school choir and was a tenor. I didn’t confide in anyone about my worries, I thought that it was normal, that it had to be that way. Fortunately, the pedophile was afraid of our dog.
Then a thought hit me, I applied to a newspaper advertisement, won a competition and started attending the ballet studio at the Warsaw Operetta as well. Two years of incredible feats of gymnastics and history of dance to top it off. Fortunately, it turned out that I had a serious spinal defect, which saved me from the fate of a retired dancer, never very good, at the age of 35.
At the same time, as a surprise even to me, I got accepted to the Warsaw Lyceum of Fine Arts in Łazienki Park, probably the most elite school back then, which had a status of an experimental school, and there I understood freedom, the avant-garde, originality, personality, exaggeration, and also art, all of which I understood in a certain, rather narrow sense. Oh, and most importantly, I understood that art does not need to be understood, that art is art and not something to be understood. And that art isn’t bollocks — as my father believed. I was very young.
My high school was totally apolitical, in truth anti-socialist. There were never any commemorative academies there and free-spiritedness was nurtured. Once my chemistry teacher dismissed me from class because I told him that I had to go to the cinema to see „Mad Peter”, that the last screening in Warsaw was about to start. He replied – “There is no chemistry lesson that can give you what Godard’s film can.” After 1968 our headmaster and school founder Antoni Mączak and vice-headmaster Włodzimierz Tiunin were removed, and the straightening of the school’s spine begun. But by then I was already beginning to understand who I was and what was going on. I was beginning to understand what country I was living in. Being there, studying at this wonderful high school turned out to be the basis for everything since. The only problem I had was with creativity. My classmates painted abstractly with ease, as for my work, my teachers said that my paintings, sculptures, compositions were „too theatrical”. I read the first Gombrowicz, Solzhenitsyn, Herling-Grudzinski published in “Kultura Paryska”. Then Bukowski and Nabokov’s „Lolita” and immediately the „flames of fertileness”, broadly defined fertileness, engulfed me. I was on fire. Painting, sculpting, writing, composing, dancing, for a moment I joined the hippie movement, where I was made to steal in the Supersam on the Plac Unii square. I couldn’t do it and I cooled off.
I fell in love twice in a row, without any break, the second time, it seemed, very seriously. I was refusing to eat again. Nota bene, as an aside or as a parenthesis, a few years later, divorcing, I lost 10 kg and was almost gone, you can see it in the film ‚The Conductor’. For love I always paid with hunger. Then I really fell in love, for 30 years, and got fat.
Surprisingly even to me and by coincidence I went to the entrance exam not to the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw but to the Higher Theatre School for the acting department, three streets away … I got in and didn’t really understand what it meant. I was led by some instinct, a premonition. After a month I knew this was where I belonged. I split with my fiancé because this particular infatuation was getting in the way of my newfound passion — acting and theatre. To my parents I said I was studying Polish philology and I managed to uphold this lie for a year.
After the first year I was given an individual course of study, Professor Jan Kreczmar, my lecturer, who was dying at the time, sent the decision from hospital. I was surprised. At the same time, practically, it was of no consequence. Even though, as I understood it at the time, he was suggesting that the other lecturers let me do whatever I wanted. I was hard-working and greedy, as Professor Rena Tomaszewska phrased it. She never taught me but I felt insulted just in case. Nonetheless, I passed the theatre studies as if I was dreaming. Deliciously.
Many lecturers made an electrifying impression on me. Classes with Tadeusz Łomnicki. The 45-minutes of getting up from the floor in Herbert’s play ‚Lalek’ – torture and a lesson in modesty and perseverance, singing with prof. Bardini and his ‚brutal’ truths – “Understand who you are and like it, don’t pretend to be anyone else, see how Kalina Jedruskik’s career collapsed when she lost weight and her husband made her believe she was the Polish Marilyn Monroe”. Prof. Janina Romanówna and Her all-encompassing, dominating femininity and grace. Watching Her left an inkling of what a woman can be, what a magnificent and ephemeral being, an innocent “phenomenon”. Delightful, erratic and capricious. In socialism, such women were nomore. I only knew resourceful, strong, resilient and brave women. Tractor women. Unpredictable, just like the ones at the Arts High School.
I fell in love with Andrzej Seweryn, he was a lecturer. Tadeusz Łomnicki’s assistant. At the end of the third year I got pregnant, because I decided that the fourth year at the Drama School was unnecessary and, above all, to avoid going to what was then Leningrad, now St Petersburg, where I was invited to finish my studies and receive their diploma, because I supposedly had great talent but no technique. It was supposed to be an honor, to me it seemed like exile, I still think that way today. At the very thought I could smell pee in the gates, rancid oil and the forshadowing of a dull imitation of some strange methods. I did not want to go there, but refusal would have been politically inconvenient for the school, so the only thing that could save the school, rector Łomnicki, dean Łapicki, and me was pregnancy.
In September 1974, after my 3rd year at the drama school, I married Andrzej Seweryn, engaged a housekeeper and moved away from my parents. I settled in Plac Zbawiciela and made my debut, 5 months pregnant, in a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, directed by my beloved Professor Aleksander Bardini. The professor was my mentor, always and forever. He believed, apart from this mentorship, that I would be somebody, which I didn’t really understand, but that I was mainly suited to be a lover and not a wife and he was surprised by my pregnancy and my marriage. That’s why, he told me, I was given the role of Masha – Chekhov’s eternal mistress – in „The Three Sisters”.
On the day that play was aired I got a call from what must have been all the theatre directors in Warsaw, offering me a job, but I was pregnant, my cat was missing, I was crying and I didn’t understand what was going on. In the end I joined the company of the Ateneum Theatre, where my then husband also worked. It was not the best move, I was liked and valued by the director Warmiński, but disliked by his wife and the first actress of the theatre, Aleksandra Śląska. I hardly „tasted” the big repertoire. I was pulled out of there after 11 years by the director Zygmunt Huebner to join the Powszechny Theatre, where I had already played as a guest, giving me as my first part Medea, for which I received all possible awards in the world of theatre. In spite of everything, independent of what was going on around me, I was always happy with the audience in both theatres.
But I’m racing ahead again. So Masha at the Television Theatre, later March 1975, childbirth, daughter Marysia and a rocking chair with the baby at my breast, and the conviction that this was the end of my career, a year at home and no propositions. And then, suddenly, within five months – Aniela in „Maidens’ Vows” (Śluby Panieńskie) at the Teatr Ateneum, Dorian Grey in „The Portrait of Dorian Grey” at Teatr Mały, „Agnieszka” in Wajda’s „Man of Marble” and a meeting with Marek Grechuta and „Chewing Gum” (Guma do żucia) at the Opole Festival, because of which the whole of Poland got to see me, as the television repeated this performance every 15 minutes, for months. I owe this popularity via television to Mr. Mariusz Walter, who was a big fan of my Opole appearance.
Thus, „Man of Marble” and everything that followed. During these first years I was mostly acting in movies, the film set was my home. I acted, acted and acted. Amongst others I did 4 films with Andrzej Wajda and they established my position in the world of film, also abroad. Together with the roles I played for Wajda, I entered film encyclopedias as Andrzej Wajda’s actress-slash-fetish and Jean-Luc Godard wrote a big essay about me, about my part in „Man of Marble” in “Cahiers du Cinema”. About my critical eyes and personal freedom, as far as I remember. Proposals began to come in from abroad. In the meantime I also played on stage, including in Italy. As a result, in those years I did a total of 10 films abroad, and for the Helma Sanders-Brams movie “Laputa” I won several awards.
In Poland I also finished one movie after the other, sometimes four films a year, and I became the main actress of the so-called “Cinema of Moral Unrest” (Kino Moralnego Niepokoju). The film Interrogation (Przesłuchanie) had been lying on the shelves for 10 years, but people watched it secretly, some secret copies in the basements of churches and so on. After the regime change, I got the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for my role in ‚Interrogation’. But before and after that there were many more awards, including the Silver Shell in San Sebastian.
In the meantime, during the filming of “The Conductor”, I parted ways with my husband Andrzej Seweryn. I swore that I would never marry again, and entered into an informal relationship with Edward Kłosinski, an outstanding cinematographer, whom I married a few years later, only because they did not want to register us together in our newly-purchased house. Our relationship lasted 30 years and today I can say that he was the man of my life.
I spent the period of martial law with my husband and Marysia in France and Germany making two films in succession. On my return I continued to work, amongst others a series about Helena Modrzejewska. I started directing. My life changed completely and my priorities changed because after many years of trying I gave birth to two sons, a year and a half apart, and for three years I practically left the profession and devoted myself to the children and their upbringing. All the offers following the Palme d’Or were lost. I had no regrets.
I started writing columns during my pregnancy and have been writing them continuously for over thirty years. They were successively compiled into several books, with new editions still being printed today.
I eventually made my debut as a theatre director, film director, television director and, finally, opera director. Today I direct almost constantly, with more than 30 theatre plays, 15 directed performances for TV Theatre, one feature film and two operas to my name. But first and foremost I am an actress. I have played about 180 roles in total. I don’t keep count.
In the year 2000 I built a website where I continuously kept a diary and answered letters from internet users. Until the authorities changed, the government and people became wolves, and I learned a painful lesson in human intolerance. Nonetheless, this website is the most complete record of my activities. Openness, the need to interact with people, audiences, Poles. Then, after the coming of the PiS party, my dislike for this ideological formation, one could say my fiery dislike of and oposition to their way of thinking, their actions, to how they treat Poland, people, culture, everything, chiefly women, resulted in mutual hatred. Me – for depriving us of meaning and the distortion of basic concepts such as patriotism, truth, lie, justice, righteousness, humanism. For taking away our freedom all over again. They – for it being me. For the second time in my life I have been banned from appearing and working on public television, and if I did appear, it was only in negative, false contexts, amongst perpetual slander against me. I was banned the second time, because the first time I was „being banned” by the communist authorities.
And I raced forward again, out of hatred for the right-wing hardliners. In 2004, together with my husband Edward Kłosinski and my daughter Maria Seweryn, we set up a foundation, called the Krystyna Janda Foundation for Culture (Fundacja Krystyny Jandy Na Rzecz Kultury), and in 2005 we opened the foundation’s first theatre, the Polonia Theatre, after which, due to absolute, overwhelming success, the foundation’s second theatre, the Och-Theatre on Grójecka Street, opened in 2010. The theaters quickly established their place and importance and today play continuously on four stages with a total capacity of 800 seats. We play more than 880 shows a year, which is a record in Poland. In the summer we also play on the street, with a repertoire composed specially for this purpose. We play on Plac Konstytucji sqwuare and in front of Och-Theatre on Grójecka Street. Crowds of people gather to see these performances. This whole project was born out of my experience of playing outdoors in Italy. The Foundation has now been running for 17 years, we have had over 200 premieres and for several years now, since the Law and Justice party has come to power, the state has been hindering our progress rather than helping us. But in spite of them we are still going strong, hopefully well into the future.
I am almost 70 years old. Significant accomplishements, a large number of awards, decorations and medals that I value very much, especially the titles awarded by the audience — “The most outstanding actress of the 20th century” and “Man of the 25th Anniversary of Freedom of the Republic of Poland”. “Actress of the 100 years of Polish cinematography”, etc. etc. I was also awarded the Charlemagne Medial, for my „trifling” contribution to the reunification of Europe in the Media category.
In 2008 my husband Edward Kłosinski died and a year after his death, we managed to make the film “Tatarak” (Sweet Rush) with Andrzej Wajda, in a way preserving the memory of my husband forever. It is this, this role, this film, to be my greatest achievement, also professionally. From the moment of my husband’s death I lived with my mother until her death in April 2019. Andrzej Wajda died in October 2016 and recently, during the last few years, the most important events in my life are the passing of loved ones and friends. My world fades with every one of these farewells, it is passing away even though I am, seemingly, in full strength, physiclly, mentally and creatively. There occurs a slow darkening of the painting — to quote and paraphrase the title of one of the plays by late Jerzy Grzegorzewski.
In 2018, the Polonia Theatre produced a play based on Sabina Baral’s book „Notes from Exile” (Zapiski z Wygnania), directed by Magda Umer, for the leading part in which I received many awards. I consider this role one of the most important in my life and the play is still being performed today. Also in 2018 I shot the film „Dolce fine giornata” (Słodki koniec dnia) in Italy, directed by Jacek Borcuch, and for this role I got one of the most important awards of my career at the prestigious Sundance film festival.
I play constantly, over 200 times a year, I’m not going to stop anytime soon because when I’m not playing – I don’t know why I even exist.
I turn 70 in December 2022. I am the president of my foundation, an active director and actress. At the moment I have 6 roles in the active repertoire and am planning new roles in the coming seasons. I direct 2 or 3 plays a year, including opera productions. I live in Milanówek, my adult children live their lives. At any time about 5 or 6 animals find a cuddle in our home, they find their way to us in different ways, usually with painful prior experiences. They are shipwrecks, sick and homeless, who from the moment they arrive here start to rule the world and me. I am panic-stricken at the thought of death, because I have seen many times how easily and without reason one dies, and so I dread every day that comes. I consider my life successful and happy. I enjoy it.
I have no grudge or resentment towards anyone. I enjoy sharing with others. I don’t feel that I have obligations or debts of gratitude towards anyone. I have thousands of them, every day. If anyone thinks otherwise, I ask them to come forward. I try not to speak ill of anyone, not to judge hastily, but I have a big temper and clear views. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone, to touch anyone unfairly, although I think it’s long overdue for many. But I can’t stand conflicts. I like people, life, I can’t imagine it without Art. I think that because of Art, even art with a small „a”, my life is interesting and not somehow lived „in vain”. I have the impression that there is a shadow of a mission in what I do, and this is of great importance to me.
Since the beginning of my career, every 10 years, Grzegorz Skurski, a documentary filmmaker, has made another documentary film about me entitled. „Actress” (Aktorka). There are three such films, the last one from 2004, when the Krystyna Janda Foundation for Culture was being established and we were renovating the historical building of the former Polonia cinema and adapting it for a theatre when the Polonia Theatre was being founded.
Bows to you.