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What The Cast Of The Pianist Is Up To Today

When controversial director Roman Polanski released "The Pianist" in 2002, critics immediately lauded the film. Roger Ebert gave it 3.5/4 stars, commenting on the film's incredibly personal subject matter. The film, which is based on a true story, revolves around Władysław Szpilman, a classical pianist living in Poland with his family as WWII breaks out. Soon after the German invasion of Poland, Szpilman and his family are immediately subjected to antisemitic laws put in place by the Nazis. Polanski himself had grown up during the Holocaust in Poland and narrowly escaped a concentration camp as a boy.

The film spans the entire German occupation of Poland, showing Szpilman's hometown of Warsaw slowly transforming from a lively city into an impoverished ghetto. Nazi soldiers callously assault Jewish residents with impunity, eventually leading to the transportation of Polish Jews from Warsaw to death camps. Throughout all this, "The Pianist" depicts the efforts of Szpilman and his family to survive under dehumanizing conditions.

"The Pianist" was a massive success, earning seven Oscar nominations and three wins, for best actor, best director, and best writing. The cast of "The Pianist" featured some of Hollywood's top stars, including Adrien Brody, Frank Finlay, and Thomas Kretschmann. More than two decades after its release, this is what the actors from "The Pianist" are up to today.

Adrien Brody - Władysław Szpilman

The main character in "The Pianist" was the Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman, played by Adrien Brody. The film captures Szpilman's life before, during, and after the Holocaust, as he witnesses atrocities and barbarity from the occupying Nazi war machine. Szpilman, a real person whose memoirs the film is drawn from (via The Guardian), finds himself struggling to survive as the Nazis slowly take everything from him.

By the film's end, Brody portrays Szpilman as an emaciated shell of a man, traumatized and barely alive. Szpilman survives the war, due to the kindness of a German officer, and the film notes that he lived until he was 88 years old. Brody, in playing Szpilman, thoroughly embraced the role and utilized a questionable Method-based approach that actually endangered his health — both physically and mentally.

He won an Oscar for the film, but soon ran into controversy at the ceremony when he planted a presumably nonconsensual kiss on Halle Berry, who was presenting his award. Still, Brody has had a very successful career, having been recently nominated for an Emmy for his appearance in the TV show "Succession." He has also had notable roles on shows like "Peaky Blinders" and "Chapelwaite," as well as appearances in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The French Dispatch," and "Blonde."

Jessica Kate Meyer - Helena Szpilman

Before her current career as a rabbi, Jessica Kate Meyer portrayed the character of Helena Szpilman in "The Pianist." Helena was Władysław's sister, and she is shown as a caring and compassionate person in the film. She lives with the family in Warsaw, and constantly worries about what will happen to them during the Nazi occupation. She is transported to a death camp in the film, where she presumably is murdered by the Nazis.

"The Pianist" was one of only a few productions that Meyer took part in. She also had a guest role on the TV show "Scrubs," and was most recently seen in the 2011 movie "Rise of the Damned."

According to an interview she gave to WBUR Boston, Meyer stated that while she was getting into character as Helena she would often listen to Jewish music mixtapes. She recommitted herself to the Jewish faith, after previously being non-observant, and soon had to choose between her acting career and her faith. Meyer chose Judaism, and soon she started attending rabbinical school at Newton, Massachusetts' Hebrew College. She now works as a hazzan at a synagogue in San Francisco, and recently released an album singing various Jewish songs with other members of her congregation (via The Jewish News of Northern California).

Thomas Kretschmann - Capt. Wilm Hosenfeld

One of the most pivotal characters in "The Pianist" is the sympathetic German officer played by Thomas Kretschmann. In the film, Captain Wilm Hosenfeld comes across Władysław Szpilman as he is hiding from the roaming bands of Nazi soldiers searching the Warsaw ghetto house by house. After learning that Szpilman plays piano, Hosenfelt has him play a song for him. Hosenfeld then helps shelter Szpilman in an abandoned house, keeping him alive with food and supplies. Hosenfeld's character survives the war, but is killed in a POW camp in the Soviet Union.

Kretschmann was already a seasoned actor by the time he played Hosenfeld, having started his career back in 1985. Since "The Pianist," Kretschmann has kept busy, appearing in several blockbuster films, including "King Kong" (which also starred fellow "The Pianist" alum Adrien Brody), "Central Intelligence," and "Avengers: Age of Ultron." He has also starred in several other WWII-related films, including "Valkyrie," "Stalingrad," and "U-571."

Kretschmann had a somewhat personal connection to the film, as he was born in East Germany following WWII. According to an interview he gave to Korean Times in 2017, he escaped from East Germany to Yugoslavia when he was in his 20s, which gave him "lessons in my life and for my acting."

Frank Finlay - Samuel Szpilman

Playing the part of Władysław Szpilman's father Samuel is veteran actor Frank Finlay. Samuel is one of the most tragic and sympathetic figures in the entire movie. He starts out optimistic that the war will be over when the family hears news that the Allies have entered the war effort, but he quickly starts to lose his faith. In one of his final scenes, he buys a small candy and splits it up between the family in what turns out to be their last meal together. Samuel is sent to an extermination camp with the rest of his family and is never seen in the film again.

By the time Finlay was cast in "The Pianist" in 2002, he was certainly no stranger to the big screen. He had started his career five decades prior in the 1950s, and in 1965 he starred as Iago in "Othello" opposite Laurence Olivier, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. After appearing in "The Pianist," Finlay worked primarily in television, with featured roles on "Life Begins," "Four Seasons," and "Merlin." He passed away in 2016 at the age of 89.

Maureen Lipman - Edwarda Szpilman

Władysław Szpilman's mother Edwarda was played by veteran actress Dame Maureen Lipman. In the film, Edwarda's character is emotional yet very strong, constantly working to keep the family together in the midst of upheaval and tension. In one of the most tragic scenes, Edwarda is seen crying and lamenting the destruction of her life under the Nazis. The family's savings are completely diminished and the Nazis force them into increasingly desperate circumstances, which crushes Edwarda's spirit. Her character is sent to the extermination camp with the rest of the family, and she never returns.

Lipman started her acting career in the late 1960s and is currently starring in the British soap opera "Coronation Street." Her Jewish upbringing gave her a personal connection to her character Edwarda. Lipman is a strong supporter of the state of Israel, and in 2021 resigned her position in Actors' Equity, an industry union, over comments they made about the country (via The JC).

Most recently, Lipman wrote a eulogy for Queen Elizabeth after her death in September 2022 (via Jewish News). Elizabeth's son King Charles III had made Lipman a Dame Commander in 2021, and Lipman had a meeting with the Queen just prior to her 2022 death.

Emilia Fox - Dorota

One of the most important recurring roles throughout "The Pianist" is the role of Dorota, played by Emilia Fox. Dorota's character was introduced to Władysław Szpilman through his piano playing, which she greatly admires. She is married, but she and Władysław have a very close connection. Dorota appears sporadically throughout the film to help Władysław as he is hiding from the Germans. She brings him supplies and helps get him medical care when he is ill.

"The Pianist" was Emilia Fox's first feature-length film. Since her role as Dorota, Fox has kept very busy acting, currently starring on the British TV show "Silent Witness," where she has appeared in more than 170 episodes since 2004. She also had a recurring role on television shows such as "Merlin," "The Tunnel," and "White Dragon," as well as featuring in the 2020 remake of "Blithe Spirit" alongside Isla Fisher and Dan Stevens. She is also currently a patron for DrugFAM, an organization centered around helping people and families struggling with addiction.

Ed Stoppard - Henryk Szpilman

One of the main roles in the first act is Władysław Szpilman's brother Henryk, who is played by English actor Ed Stoppard. Henryk is portrayed as incredibly cynical, and he displays a dark sense of humor. During the German occupation, Henryk pushes back against the Nazi occupation through small acts of non-violent resistance, and at one point he is kidnapped by the Nazis along with his sister Helena. Henryk is eventually sent to the extermination camp, where he is thought to have perished.

For Stoppard, "The Pianist" was one of the first major roles of his career. He was nominated for a Polish Film Award for best supporting actor. Stoppard has continued to act since "The Pianist," with roles in "The Princess," "Judy," and "Youth." He currently stars on the British TV show "The Undeclared War," and has an as-yet-unnamed role in "Golda," the upcoming 2023 biopic about Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, starring Helen Mirren.

Stoppard's father Tom is an incredibly famous playwright, and Stoppard said in an interview with The Guardian that he struggled to live up to his father's fame. Both Ed and Tom are Jewish, and in 2021, Ed starred in a play written by his father loosely based on his family's experiences throughout the first half of the 20th century, entitled "Leopoldstadt."

Andrew Tiernan - Szalas

In "The Pianist," the only way that Władysław Szpilman is able to survive the Nazi occupation is through the kindness of friends and acquaintances. One of the most important is a man named Szalas, played by Andrew Tiernan. Szalas finds Szpilman an apartment to keep out of sight of the Germans, and he also periodically provides Szpilman with food.

In addition to his work in "The Pianist," Tiernan has starred in several other incredibly successful movies. Prior to his role as Szalas, Tiernan had a small role in "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels," and later went on to star in "300" and "300: Rise of an Empire." In the "300" franchise, he plays Ephialtes, a physically disabled warrior who betrays the Spartans to the Persians. He most recently starred in the 1960s period piece "Code of Silence." 

In addition to being an actor, Tiernan has also directed several movies. In a 2017 interview with Dirty Movies, Tiernan described one of his projects, "UK18," which is a dystopian horror flick. In the interview, Tiernan decried the rise of neo-fascism and corporate corruption, saying people needed to stand against it and "be more considerate of their fellow man."

Michał Żebrowski - Jurek

One of the smaller but still important roles in "The Pianist" is that of Jurek, played by Michał Żebrowski. Jurek is a friend of Władysław who lives in Poland when WWII breaks out. Jurek is the brother of Dorota, one of the people who helps Szpilman hide from the Nazis.

Żebrowski is from Poland, and has been acting in Polish film and television since the 1990s. One of his most prominent early roles was as Geralt in a Polish production of "The Witcher," released nearly two years before the Netflix version with Henry Cavill. "The Pianist" was his first role in a major Hollywood production, and he has appeared in several Polish movies since then. Currently, he stars as Dr. Andrzej Falkowicz on the medical drama "Na dobre i na ale."

In addition to his acting, Żebrowski has also done a lot of voiceover work for Polish video games and TV shows.

Roy Smiles - Itzhak Yeller

One of the most disturbing roles in "The Pianist" is that of Itzhak Yeller, played by Roy Smiles. In the film, Yeller plays a Jewish man who works as a police officer collaborating with the Nazis. He frequently beats and harasses Jewish men and women in Warsaw under the direction of Nazi troops. Henryk Szpilman ridicules him as a traitor and thug, but Yeller does play an important role in getting Henryk released from Nazi custody. He also rescues Władysław from being sent to the extermination camp with the rest of his family, saving his life.

Like many of the other cast members, "The Pianist" was the first major motion picture that Smiles acted in. His most recent performance was in the 2012 film "Deviation," and he has also worked as a playwright. In 2009, he wrote a play called "Kurt and Sid," which fictionalized a meeting between the two dead rock stars Kurt Cobain and Sid Vicious, though it received middling reviews from The Guardian. Smiles also has a background in music, having released eight albums.

Richard Ridings - Mr. Lipa

Another relatively small role in "The Pianist" is that of wealthy businessman Mr. Lipa, played by Richard Ridings. In the film, Lipa buys the Szpilman family's piano when they are desperately short of cash. While most of the family is upset that Lipa is buying the piano at such an incredibly low price, Lipa suggests that they should be grateful he is giving them anything at all considering their precarious situation as Jews in Poland.

Ridings is a longtime actor who first got his start in the 1980s. Since "The Pianist," Ridings has acted in several TV shows and movies, including "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Amazing Grace," "The Brothers Grimm," and "Dickensian."

Ridings is perhaps best known for his work on the animated children's show "Peppa Pig," where he voiced the character Daddy Pig from 2013-2019. In an interview with Yahoo, he said that he really likes the role because of the interaction with fans. He noted that sometimes young children would recognize him by his character's voice, and he would often record himself in character for them to make their day.

Daniel Caltagirone - Majorek

The character of Majorek in "The Pianist" was played by actor Daniel Caltagirone. In the film, Majorek is a Polish Jew who works with the underground resistance against the Nazis. He is one of the few Jews to survive being sent to the extermination camp, and becomes one of Władysław Szpilman's only confidants after his family is sent away. Majorek helps organize the Warsaw Uprising, which ultimately fails and forces Szpilman deeper into hiding.

Caltagirone had appeared in a few productions prior to "The Pianist," but the 2002 film was really his big break. He has consistently worked in film and television since, with featured performances in "Britannia," "Medici," and "The Tudors." He currently plays the role of Henry Longines on the Italian and French TV series "The Dirty Black Bag."

Caltagirone was previously married to British TV presenter Melanie Sykes and they share two children together, one of whom has autism. Though they are now divorced, Caltagirone and Sykes work together to parent their kids and are both outspoken activists for autism awareness.