We met with one of the best Polish actresses, Magdalena Boczarska, at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, where Dr Irena Eris, a long-time partner of the biggest celebration of Polish cinema, created the phenomenal look of the actress. We talk about her latest roles, the search for her inner voice and the emotions that accompany her during the intense work on movie sets.
Sense of Beauty: Your metamorphoses are quite intriguing! You mentioned in an interview that you like the costumes and transforming along with the character. The preparation for historical roles is probably quite different from that for contemporary roles, for instance in TV series?
Magdalena Boczarska: I would make a different distinction. It takes a whole different approach to play the role with an original character. Then you have to face the original character – this was the case with the role of Michalina Wisłocka or Maria Piłsudska. There is a key difference between the two, too, because no one today remembers Maria Piłsudska anymore, while Wisłocka is very much alive in the memory of many people. I knew that those who remember her would verify the role and hold me accountable for the character. This situation was additionally stressful, not only because of people’s peculiar attitude to this character, but also because playing an older person is a huge challenge. It’s easy to turn the character into a caricature.
Were you held accountable for your resemblance to the real Michalina Wisłocka?
Yes. People examined how much I was similar and consistent with their memory and coded image of this person. Of course, everyone knows that the actor lends his or her face and personality to the character, but people will always look for these similarities.
You mentioned that when you were building her character in “The Art of Loving” the accessories – a handbag and pants from those years – were helpful. These touches and nuances that help an actor build a role are fascinating.
To be honest, I myself am still surprised by this – after all these years on the job, and still there is no universal key to building a character, there is no patent of some sort for the role to come to me. Nor is it at all obvious that chemistry between me and the character I play develops right away. Sometimes, however, it is so great that a really big emotional tear is left once the shooting is over. Because a movie set is not only about the character, but also about the accompanying circumstances – sometimes nothing interesting ever happens, we just finish the work and move on, but other times magic happens and it always translates into an effect, which is later evident on the screen.
The chemistry with screen partners is usually evident, too.
Though it happened that I did not have chemistry with my partners and anyway produced a creation that really moved the viewers.
So it is possible!
It happens, this is what acting is about. It is, by the way, remarkable that I am lucky to get such roles, which, colloquially speaking, “take no prisoners.” Recently I realized that directors bring us, actors, into these created worlds, entice us, offer us roles, and when the shooting is over, no one takes us out of it, we have to handle the return to reality ourselves.
Perhaps this is a niche for therapists, helping actors get out of their roles?
Maybe not necessarily out of the roles, but certainly out of the emotional crucible the role leaves behind.
It would probably be difficult to immerse yourself in the character, but on the other hand somehow shield yourself from it?
There are roles where you can't. This year I worked on two films, with completely different themes – “Heaven in Hell” and “Little Rose 2” – which absolutely blew me away. It's been a long time since I've had such an intense schedule. The films are extremely different, but when it comes to emotions they are similarly powerful. I spent half a year non-stop on the set, balancing work with taking care of my child and family – it’s not easy to return to reality afterward. These are roles to which I gave absolutely everything I had. Down to my guts. I have opened many shelves that I normally keep marked “do not open.”
Do you think actors somehow deal with their own, often intimate and difficult topics through their roles?
I think you can treat acting as a kind of therapy. I am not ashamed to admit it and say openly that I am in therapy myself, I have matured into getting into it after many years, once I found the right therapist. It seems to me that it is not by chance that certain personality types choose this profession. What I mean is that perhaps subconsciously, already at the stage of deciding about myself and my adulthood, I felt attracted to a kind of vivisection, which is working with a role. Acting is exhibitionism, and I think I recognized from the beginning that there was an opportunity in it to launch my inner voice, to find an outlet for my emotions. This work is my great passion and fascination, but there are also many moments when it brings emotions of such a caliber that I feel like saying: “I can’t stand it, enough.”
Acting is also associated with pervasive criticism. Everyone, bluntly, can comment on how you acted or how you look. Does it bother you?
It does, sometimes. I’ve been an actress for almost 20 years now and I haven’t gotten over it at all. It affects me, and I can usually only tell my loved ones about it. There’s something else to it too – not many professions carry such exposure of all their femininity. During photo shoots, which I try not to retouch, you can choose the best shot, but when you want to act well, you can’t control yourself and think about how you look. The camera sees every wrinkle, I’m judged on so many fronts, and not only in terms of my work, it’s often a vivisection study of my physicality, and that’s not always easy for me.
But you are usually cast in roles of beautiful, attractive women, and rarely for the sake of the film do you have to look bad.
I have just starred in the film “Heaven in Hell”. It is a story of love on many levels - mother to daughter, daughter to mother, but also love with a much younger man who appears in my character’s life. The context of the passage of time and the age difference was not something I had previously confronted on a daily basis, despite the fact that I have a younger partner. For the sake of this role, however, it was often emphasized, and when the shooting was over, I was left with this, rather disturbing reflection, whereas previously I hadn't thought about it at all. This is a huge sociological topic in general, the pushing of old age aside, one actually only talks about youth, often treating it with absurd worship.
And what does beauty mean to you?
It is primarily charisma, charm and sense of humor. Beauty doesn’t exist without an intriguing personality.
When creating a character you often have to activate areas within yourself that are challenging, but what if you simply don’t have such emotions within you?
Well, it’s not like that, after all, you don’t have to murder someone to play a murderer. I always draw on what I have experienced and what I have inside me. When constructing an emotion in myself that is completely foreign to me, I base it on the one I know, which I think is closest to such a state. It’s like working on a living organism. In both films, I happened to have very emotional scenes, after which I could not recover for a long time. Interestingly, it is just as costly for me to prepare for a scene as it is to get out of it.
What are your go-to methods to calm down and get on with ordinary life? After the emotional rollercoaster on set, everyday life may seem dull and insufficient.
After years of experience, when entering the set I already know that this is a kind of temporary delusion. Without the foundation of private life, it would be very difficult for me to pursue this profession. However, it always takes some time to return to reality, it is never easy. There are films that are very difficult to forget, you miss the role, the emotions, the people you worked with.
How does it feel that so many people you don’t know know you? They can read a lot about you and see you in movies or in the media. Like you or dislike you.
I don’t think about it at all! I feel like a painfully ordinary, normal person who goes to the store without makeup and puts a cap on when she’s having a bad day. I know people, maybe not in Poland, who embraced the “star life” because they have reasons to do so, but let’s be honest, we are not in Hollywood, being a well-known actress in Poland does not offer that at all (laughs). As for how people see me, I usually experience incredibly nice things. The fact that someone wants to approach me and say something kind is very uplifting.
Actors now have another responsibility besides acting – managing social media.
I try to run my channels carefully. They serve me mainly to build my image as an actress, they are not an extension of my personal life or some kind of a diary or confession outlet.
They are not fake either, because it’s hard to pretend what kind of world we live in.
Besides image building, social media can also serve a good cause. They are a platform through which I can express my opposition or support, share something that hurts me. I am not indifferent, I believe that being a public figure is a sort of duty.
Waldemar Pokromski, a world-renowned make-up artist, worked on the set of “Little Rose 2”. How was it to work with him?
Waldemar is not just a make-up artist – he is quite a persona! He is 77 years old, but when we were in Jerusalem he had so much energy that at times we couldn’t keep up with him. He is absolutely gorgeous and has an amazing, strong personality. The team loved his sayings. He doesn’t have to do anything, he works because he wants to. He picks projects that he believes in. He has a kind of clarity, fulfillment and joy in what he does. The films he has worked on speak for themselves: “Schindler’s List”, “The Pianist”, “Funny Games”, “The White Ribbon”, “Perfume”, “Cold War”.
Could you be doing anything else in life?
I can’t imagine that. I very much appreciate daily home life, but I think it would be difficult for me to find myself without a kind of outlet, which for me is acting. With all the baggage it brings, good and bad. This is a very difficult profession. Beautiful but very difficult. And I say this from the position of a fulfilled person who plays lead roles and can’t complain having no offers.
Born on December 12, 1978 in Kraków. She graduated from the Faculty of Acting at the National Academy of Theatre Arts (PWST). Already during her studies, she received the Mikołaj Grabowski Award at the Festival of Theater Schools in Łódź, for her role in the play “Paradise Garden”. Soon after her graduation, she made her debut on the stage of the New Theater in Łódź with the title role in the play “Kurka Wodna”, which was awarded at the XXVIII Opole Theater Confrontations as the best debut. In 2003, she moved to the National Theater in Warsaw, where she continues to perform today.
Her first cinema role was as Ania in the film “The Underneath”, in 2006. She won an Eagle Award for her lead role in “The Art of Loving. The Story of Michalina Wisłocka” (2017), and awards from the Polish Film Festival for her leading roles in the films “Little Rose” (2010) and “Piłsudski” (2019). She has also appeared in many popular films such as “Lejdis” (2008), “Idealny facet dla mojej dziewczyny” (2009), “Bejbi Blues” (2012), “W ukryciu” (2013) and “Obywatel” (2014); in series such as “39 i pół” (2008-2009), “Druga szansa” (2016-2018), “Pod powierzchnią” (2018-2019), “Król” (2020) and “Żywioły Saszy” (2020), among others, as well as more than a dozen plays. In 2022, she became a brand
ambassador for Dr Irena Eris.