Maureen Lipman

The Pianist

Interviewed by Jamie Russell

Maureen Lipman stars in Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" as the mother of Adrien Brody's character, Wladyslaw Szpilman. A veteran performer in British theatre, film, and television, Lipman has starred in everything from "Educating Rita" and "Carry On Columbus" to Coronation Street.

What was it like working with Roman Polanski?

It's an eye-opener! It was often very moving, particularly when we were in Warsaw because every time he said "Cut!", all the extras applauded. They just loved having him back in his home country. As a director, I think Polanski's got the whole film on a show reel in his head - the sound, the costumes, the atmosphere. He wants you to be precisely what the character is. So you have to do it pretty much as he wants it.

Did that make things difficult?

There was one scene where Adrien Brody had to slide down a tiled roof headfirst, and he asked if someone could do it for him first to make sure that it was safe. And Polanski went, "Ah Jesus, you actors!", and then slid down the roof himself! But then, of course, Adrien had to do it about eight times...

Did you have any reservations making a film about the Holocaust?

I think almost anything is suitable for dramatising, depending on how sensitively it's done. You hope that when you tell a Holocaust story you're talking not just about bad Germans and good Jews, but about genocide.

The Holocaust is the most systematically nasty of the genocides, but it is just one of them. And if I'd been asked to make a film about the genocide in Rwanda, or about what's been going on in Burma for the last ten years, I'd have been just as happy to make that. I think that all these things are universal and not specific.

Was the subject matter emotionally challenging?

There were times when it was difficult. Being loaded onto a goods train with 50 other people and having the doors shut on you does stir embers of a memory you didn't know you had. It's frightening when you see those things and think that, but for the English Channel, that would have happened to me.