Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

Jakub Gierszał: The Polish actor lived in Germany for 11 years. Where does he feel best?

Jakub Gierszał he was born in Krakow, and when he was a few months old he went with his parents to Hamburg. In 1999, at the age of eleven, he returned to Poland and lived with his mother in Toruń. He is a graduate of the Krakow State Theater School. On the screen debuted in the film “Everything I Love” Jacek Borcuch. His role in the film brought him popularity “Hall of suicide”, for which he received the award. Zbyszek Cybulski. He has played many roles in German and Polish films. He recently appeared in a movie “Doppelgänger. The Doppelgänger” Jan Holoubek, for which he was nominated for the Eagle award, now he can be seen in “White Courage” Marcin Koszałka, and will be released in cinemas at the end of this year “Simona Kossak” with his participation.

Here is the conversation with Jakub Gierszał.

PAP Life: Agnieszka Holland, accepting the Polish Film Award Orzeł 2024, said: “Today we live in a world where monsters are starting to rule. A huge part of the world is already ruled by them. Honest and quite scared politicians stand against these monsters. And we cannot be so honest and pretty scared filmmakers if we want to be more than just escapist entertainment.” Do you also think about the role of cinema in the modern world in a similar way?

Jakub Gierszał: – I have always been a fan of such films that may be entertainment – because I think that, for example, “Forrest Gump” is also entertainment – and at the same time they are about something, they carry a universal message. Maybe such a film does not have a strictly political connotation, but it certainly has an emotional tone and can also influence a person and his life. At least that’s what I believe. Of course, nowadays we have a lot of movies that are pure entertainment, such as Marvel movies or superhero movies. Personally, I’m not a big fan of this type of cinema. However, I also think that Mrs. Agnieszka Holland comes from a generation in which cinema had another function. When the oppression of the totalitarian system watched over everything, including filmmakers, when it was necessary to cleverly convey to viewers a message about freedom and human rights.

– Today we live again in very turbulent times. This is not the world that was in the 1990s or 2000s. Therefore, I believe that a certain amount of responsibility rests on us. As an actor, I am addicted to the proposals that come to me, but I always try to choose those that focus on a person, their emotions, choices and leave some trace on the viewer.

Such a film is certainly “White Courage” by Marcin Koszałka, in which you played the role of Nazi anthropologist Wolfram von Kamitz, who in a truly devilish way convinces Jędrek Zawrat to the idea of ​​Goralenvolk.

– For me, “White Courage” is a film about people’s attitudes in a given historical context. This context is of course important, but for me, as an actor who was hired to fulfill a certain dramatic sequence of the whole, the most important thing is the people. And that’s why I was interested in the character of Kamitz, whom I perceive as a deeply tragic hero.

Kamitz in “White Courage”, previously the spy Hans in the film “Doppelgänger” by Jan Holoubek, the psychopath Piotr Langer in the series “Chyłka”. In each of these films, you were cast as an antihero, a morally ambiguous character. Aren’t you afraid of being put in the “bad guy” box?

– No, I’ve never had such concerns. When I started my acting adventure and starred in “Suicide Room”, I was asked if I was worried about being pigeonholed into hysterical teenagers. I try not to think in these categories, because then I would have to be very careful and probably not act in half of the films I starred in. On the other hand, it seems to me that such a moral ambiguity of the hero is something interesting. I treat it as an acting challenge: how to present a character that we would define as evil in advance, so that the audience can identify with him or even sympathize with him. One of the first famous pop culture antiheroes was probably Francis Underwood “House of Cards” played by Kevin Spacey. Putting aside what later happened privately around this actor, it was probably this role that started the fashion for antiheroes. Nowadays, series about serial killers are being made, so these are areas increasingly explored by cinema, and as an acting task, they are simply interesting.

In “White Courage” you play a German, in “Doppelgänger” you play a Polish spy who pretends to be a German, and previously in “Lost in Translation” you play a Pole in Germany. In each of these films, there is a theme of identity – very important in your case. You were born in Krakow, and when you were a few months old you left with your parents for Hamburg. When you were 11, you returned to Poland with your mother, lived in Toruń, and then studied at the Theater Academy in Krakow. Today you are in Warsaw, but in a few hours you are flying to Hamburg. Where is your base?

– Poland is my base, I work here most of the time, I have my life here, also private, so everything revolves around Poland, but I try to work regularly in Germany. Now I’m shooting for a series of films in which I play a policeman, so for balance it’s an absolutely morally positive character.

This hero is German?

– I really liked this character arc. He has one parent from Poland, the other from Germany. I play a bilingual character, someone like me. But I also play Germans. I just try to combine life here and there, work in Germany as much as I can. This is important to me because it is a part of my identity and my well-being. But Poland is definitely my home.

You spent your childhood in Germany, today you are 36 years old. How do you look at the German phase in your life now? Is it a burden that has hindered you from understanding who you are or an added value?

– I think it was changing. The fact that I spent the first years of my life in Germany certainly had a huge impact. I was the child of emigrants who left, actually fled from Poland in 1988. It was always felt that we were emigrants in Germany, so it had its burdens, which I felt even as a child.

Emigrant or worse?

– It’s true that German society is very integrating and it’s not like we were made to feel it at every step. However, emigration is always associated with a certain sense of loneliness and rootlessness. It was a bit different for me. Germany was the first country I got to know, German was the first language I spoke, better than Polish. But there was family in Poland, I always spent my holidays here, so these two worlds were in me from the beginning. But when we returned to Poland, I didn’t speak Polish as well as I did German and I couldn’t read Polish either, which created various difficulties and stress to cope at school. Children think you’re stupid if you can’t read at 11. Sometimes I had a problem with switching to the Polish mentality, and today I have a problem with switching to the German mentality.

– So it’s a mix that influences my structure, which in turn predisposes me to certain roles. In the film “Between Translation” by Urszula Antoniak, I played someone who is trying to get rid of his own identity, but also fights and searches for it. In “Doppelganger” it was rather a story of a man who had no identity at home and tried to somehow gain it through the recognition of everyone around him. Maybe I understand these characters better because I have two worlds within me?

When you are in Germany, do you behave differently, think differently?

– There’s definitely something like that, which was said in “Lost in Translation” when my hero suddenly spoke Polish in front of his boss: “When you speak Polish, it’s like you’re a different person.” Anyone who has spent some time abroad will understand exactly what I mean. However, the interior remains the same. Because culture and various cultural influences are part of our identity, but they are not our hearts and souls.

You recently became a co-producer of the film “Ultima Thule”, in which you also played the main role. Do you want to produce films?

– We’ll see. I treated this film as my first adventure towards co-creating cinema, and not just being employed in it. However, I know that steps must be taken slowly. I’m very glad that we managed to get theatrical distribution and draw attention with this intimate, micro-budget film. The producer path is somewhere natural in my profession. Actors have been doing this in the West for a long time, and in Poland too.

But you don’t slow down in acting either. This year we will see you in two films – “Colors of Evil. Red” (Netflix platform) and “Simona Kossak”, in which you play the partner of the title character, played by Sandra Drzymalska.

– A very interesting experience. Nature plays an important role in “Simon Kossak”, in fact it is one of the characters. The time spent in Podlasie and meetings with Joanna Kossak, the Kossak heir, made me very sensitive to this subject.

Are you a precise actor? When preparing for a role, do you break it down into prime factors?

– Very different. I try not only to change roles, but also not to have one technique. I think you have to learn and evolve. I rather try to make it a creative process. I just want to work well, so that the films I appear in are well made and have something to say.

Interviewed by Iza Komendołowicz