Polanski decided to make a movie about his past — not the past most know about the notoriously exiled director, but rather about his early childhood spent in a Krakow ghetto during World War II. Though technically ”The Pianist” is based on the 1946 memoir of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman and his years spent hiding from the Nazis in Warsaw, screenwriter Harwood (”The Dresser”) says the 69-year-old ”Chinatown” director refined the script based on his own strikingly similar experience. ”[Polanski] would say, ‘I remember the way this looked,’ and we?d add it in,” recalls Harwood. ”He knew if something was accurate because he had experienced it.”
Shot on location in Warsaw and near Berlin, employing ”Schindler?s List” production designer Allan Starski and more than a thousand Polish and German extras, ”The Pianist” would hardly seem to lack for realism — except in Polanski?s choice to use a primarily English cast, with American actor Brody (”The Thin Red Line”) as Szpilman. ”It was big-budget by European standards,” says the 29-year-old, whom Polanski insisted learn to play Chopin, of the reported $18 million cost, ”so it was a big decision for [Polanski] to hire not only an American actor but one who?s not a star.”
THE LOWDOWN After 1999?s schlocker ”The Ninth Gate,” Polanski looks to have struck the right artistic chord: ”The Pianist” edged out stiff competition at the Cannes festival, winning the Palme d?Or for best picture.