Actress Agata Kulesza, co-star of Paweł Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning film ‘Ida’, may be a new name to her international audiences. In Poland, however, the veteran actress has been performing on stage and in the movies for over two decades. Kulesza first gained widespread popularity as a contestant on the popular show ‘Taniec z Gwiazdami’ (‘Dancing with Stars’), and since 2011 she has performed regularly at the Ateneum Theatre in Warsaw. In 2012 she received the Polish Academy Award for Best Actress for her leading role in the film ‘Róża’, directed by Wojciech Smarzowski.
However, her performance in ‘Ida’ elevated Kulesza from a domestic star to international fame. In the film, Kulesza plays Wanda Gruz, a Communist Party functionary and the aunt of the title character, Ida. Wanda is a hard-drinking woman with a bitter edge who represents a cruel regime. As a Jew, Wanda’s family suffered tremendously during World War II , yet as a Party member she is a part of an oppressive system. What gives Wanda depth, and where Kulesza shines, is that she is both victim and perpetrator, both sympathetic and contemptible, and Kulesza plays out the contradiction with skill. “I had to accept the fact that there were real women – as in this case – who did evil things, but who could also remain charismatic and very easy to relate to,” Kulesza said in an interview with The Varsovian, an internet portal.
For her performance, Kulesza won both “Best Supporting Actress” from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) and “Best Actress” at the Gdynia Film Festival in 2013. Pawlikowski refers to her simply as “Kulesza the virtuoso”.
Due to the worldwide success of ‘Ida’ and Kulesza’s impressive performance in the film, her career has taken on a second life. She is now a sought-after actress for international directors and is currently working on a movie called ‘Innocent’, which is directed by Anne Fontaine and features a joint Polish and French cast. “I am always looking for a powerful story … one that moves something in me and hopefully something in the viewers,” Kulesza said.