About me

Krzysztof Zanussi talks about his film Imperative and working with Robert Powell

What can you say about Imperative?

“After having seen Robert Powell, specially in Jesus of Nazareth, and after I met him at New Delhi Film Festival, I talked to him and asked him if he was interested in acting in a low budget film to play a character that I was going to write specially for him. He accepted and encouraged me. Finally I wrote that script for Robert, and the starting of that film was really dramatic. I’ve written about it in my memories.

“My producer didn’t wanted Robert for the film, basically because he tought Robert wouldn’t play for such a low fee. We’ve also lost our co-producer. When the co-producer left us, our German producer told us that we absolutely needed to change Mr Powell for an unkown German actor. I refused! Finally he contacted a German actor and proposed the role to him without my permission. So I called Robert and asked him if he didn’t mind to be paid a lesser salary. He accepted.

“Nevertheless, our producer didn’t want to believe him. He said that Robert was going to change of mind as soon as he’ll be here, that it could be dangereous for the film. He even was opposed to make it in English, and that it would be better to make it in German. So it was very dramatic because Robert decided to come personally, he bought a ticket for Frankfurt, where I need him because the film was about to be shoot. It happened at the time there were great ecological demonstrations against the widening of the airport. So Robert arrived and I was unable to get closer to the terminal. Robert saw nobody there to come and fetch him, and he then decided to take the next flight to London. He said himself that he did his best coming here, but that if we were unable to come and fetch him then this wasn’t serious.

“It was extremely dramatic! I was there with a German young man who was my assistant and my driver. He found an excellent idea to break through the policemen barrier who were surrounding the airport. Of course we could get into the terminal, but just by train, and if we took the train then we would lose one our. You know, at that time you didn’t have a cell phone! A cell phone could have saved us! My assistant then bought Avis caps, and we went towards the policemen and told them that we were Avis’ drivers and we had to evacuate the cars from our company because they were in danger, because the demonstrators were tossing firecrackers and could damage them. The policemen left us get closer to the airport, where I found Robert Powell who was checking the flights to London. Thanks to this coincidence the film was saved.

“Really, we’ve started with this stress and tension. But I was pleased with this collaboration, it was very effective. After that I had the opportunity to have him for another film – lesser important for me. And he’ll always be my best actor. I’ve changed a lot the script with Robert in order to gave him the opportunity to star “The long conversation with a bird.

 “We are always in contact. I hope two films are not enough, probably the third is coming…

Have you proposed it to him?

“Not yet. The production doesn’t know about it. It must be an English co-production. It must be something for him. He can’t play anything. I’m not going to offer him to play any role. The role must be particular for him. There are some actors who can play some characters, but not any character. That’s his problem, he doesn’t have enough proposals because he has a special character, let’s say aristocratical. We don’t have many roles for that kind of actor. It’s not ‘à la mode’. There are times for actors.

“I don’t say times change because they get old. It’s the ‘mode’ which is changing. It’s not the age, for each age you have different styles. There are certain periods when certain styles are more interesting than others. It changes throughout generations. I do not follow any style nor fashion, I try to create it. It’s more important. It’s more ambitious for the artist to be the source of it, not a slave.

Could you write now a role for Robert Powell?

“Surely, but I have to see if there is any real chance of financement. For the moment I don’t think we can.

Did Robert’s Jesus of Nazareth inspired you to write Imperative?

“When you meet the actor, you create the character. He’s closer to the character. I am also an ex-physicist, I’m interested in those circles: mathematics, physics. It is really a very special role for me, but it has nothing to do with Jesus.

What can you say about  The long conversation with a bird”?

“I was inspired in a book about an actor in crisis, which is not requested for any role. Then he falls in love of a 14-year old girl. It’s a bit like ‘Lolita’. So this man has the courage to refuse this temptation. He is strong and wise enough to understand that this girl who is mad about him it’s just a “girl’s whim”. A whim is not a valuable feeling. He doesn’t want to have this affaire. It’s a film very moralist, totally the opposite to the script. In the script he does have an affaire with this girl, who then runs away from home after having consumed her love. We have changed the script: she runs away because the love is never consumed. We changed a lot the dialogues with Robert. He played the role very well: he is really tempted by this girl, and she’s desperated, she absolutely wants to make love with him.But finally he refuses.” 

Gisela Esparza, translated from French. 2th January 2003.