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Polanski Interview







by Harlan Kennedy


 Against a backdrop of trailing green ferns, stately palms, and the rattan furniture of Blakes Hotel in London, Nastassia Kinski sips tea and tries to explain why the role of Tess in Roman Polanski's new film has changed her life.

"It's really unbelievable," she says, brushing back her long, honey-colored hair. "I've changed so much with this part. It might sound silly, or it might sound like what a lot of actors say, 'I still live the part.' But what can I say? It's really true. Tess is such a rich, complex character. Without ever thinking about it as you play the role, you find yourself taking on her patience and strength and courage. "

Nastassia Kinski is eighteen years old. Her first name is actually spelled Nastassja; for Tess, Polanski has had her anglicize it. She was born in Berlin, and as a child traveled around the world with her father, the eminent actor Klaus Kinski; she was educated in such places as Munich, Paris, Rome, and Caracas, and speaks four languages.

She made her movie debut at the age of thirteen, playing a deaf-and-dumb girl in Wim Wenders's The Wrong Move, and then appeared in To the Devil a Daughter with Christopher Lee. But her first real recognition came in a German television movie, Tator Krimi's Reife­zeugnis (School Report), in which she plays a seductive schoolgirl whose charms discomfort her teacher.

Spurred by her success, Nastassia moved to America with her mother and became a much sought after model. It was at this point that she met Roman Polanski.

The director had been commissioned to design the 1976 Christmas issue of the French Vogue, and among the models he selected for one section was Nastassia. Dressed as a pirate's moll, she draped herself over gaming tables and treasure chests for a tableaux drawn from a story called "The Pirates" (a cherished Polanski movie project).

Polanski recalls, "We put a black wig on her and tried to make her look funny rather than pretty, but it was not possible. She's got a face which is always interesting, however you photograph it. At that time I thought she would make a perfect star. She's got one of those looks that are perfect for the cinema. But it was later that I realized she would make a perfect Tess."

At Polanski's urging, Nastassia entered the Actors Work­shop in New York and studied with Lee Strasberg for four months. More movies followed: a leading part in Andre Farwagi's Passion Flower Hotel and a starring role opposite Marcello Mastroianni in Alberto Lattuada's Stay as You Are.

When Polanski turned to Tess, he suggested Nastassia go to England to study with dialogue coach Kate Fleming and to learn the regional accent. "I lived with a family in Dorset who owned a farm," she recalls, "and I tried to pick up the life. I was milking cows, going to pubs, listening to the way country people talked. I worked hard with Kate, and I gave my time to Dorset. And Kate, Roman, and Dorset gave me Tess."

Nastassia found Polanski a demanding and punctilious director during the shooting. "He tells you exactly what he wants down to the last detail," she says. "Some directors tell you things and you listen, but it doesn't go inside you – you don't totally understand. When Roman tells you something, he injects it, it goes into your veins. And then he just pushes you to see what you can do with it. When he meets a person, he sees through them very quickly, especially if they are actors. He knows what demands he can put on you."

She laughs at hearing of Polanski's attempt to use a double in the Stonehenge scene rather than subject her to a damp and wintry vigil lying on a stone. "It was so cold, and, you know, the Victorian corset stops your blood running, and my feet were numb. But I thought, No, I'd rather get used to lying here, because Roman with his perfectionism changes his mind every two seconds, and it was so far to my trailer. I thought, Let it rain. "

Her spirits were dampened less by that experience than by the fear that some of her earlier films will be used to cash in on the success of Tess.

"I dislike Passion Flower Hotel so much I wish I had the money to buy it up and burn it," she says. "And with the Lattuada film, although I signed three contracts concern­ing the release of pictures from that film, I find that they have appeared in Playboy. I was brought up to believe that there is nothing shameful about the naked human body. Nudity does not bother me as such. It's beautiful and quite natural. But when pictures are taken out of films, and the context is lost, it's perhaps a different thing."

Pouring the last of the tea, and seeming with her fresh complexion and cream-colored dress more like an English girl from Dorset than a German film star, Nastassia Kinski turns once more to her absorption with Tess.

"I've always dreamed of being a person like her," she says. "She's not spoiled by the society she moves through. She still stays untouched. She goes through everything for love."







©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.