In a rare press interview, Roman Polanski has addressed the decades-old sexual assault case that continues to dominate any discussion of the 84-year-old Oscar-winning director or his work.
Polanski is currently in Zurich promoting his latest film, Based on a True Story, which stars Eva Green and Polanski’s wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner. The thriller, which screened as a work-in-progress in Cannes earlier this year, gets its world premiere in finished form Monday night at the Zurich Film Festival.
But it’s a strange homecoming for Polanski. It was here, in Zurich in 2009, that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office initiated extradition proceedings against him for a crime he committed back in 1977.
Most of the facts of the case are undisputed. On March 11, 1977, Polanski, at the time the toast of Hollywood as the director of Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, was arrested and charged with drugging and raping then-13-year-old Samantha Gailey (now Samantha Geimer). As part of a plea bargain, Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, underwent psychiatric evaluation and spent 42 days in jail.
But in 1978, when he heard that a judge was going to disregard the plea bargain and make an example of him, reportedly by giving him up to 50 years in prison, Polanski fled to Paris. He has remained a fugitive ever since, despite repeated attempts, including several pleas by the victim, to have the case dismissed. Last month, California judge Scott Gordon rejected Geimer’s latest request, saying the Polanski case would go forward.
“As you know, Samantha Geimer has been asking for over 30 years for this thing to end,” Polanski said. “But, I’m sorry the judges who dealt with it the last 40 years were corrupted, one covering for the other. So I don’t maybe one of them will [eventually] stop doing it.”
Polanski’s attorney, Harland Braun has suggested the L.A. court sentence Polanski in absentia to 334 days in custody, which is equal to the time he’s already served over the years in detention in U.S. and Switzerland, where he spent nearly a year under house arrest before the Swiss courts rejected the U.S. extradition request and set him free.
“As far as what I did: It’s over. I pleaded guilty,” said Polanski. “I went to jail. I came back to the United States to do it, people forget about that, or don’t even know. I then was locked up here [in Zurich] after this festival. So in the sum, I did about four or five times more than what was promised to me.”
The controversy over the decades-old case was reignited earlier this year after Polanski agreed to serve as president of the Cesars, France’s equivalent to the Oscars. The director eventually withdrew after vocal protests by women’s groups. The Polanski case and the controversy surrounding it have been the subject of two acclaimed documentaries from director Marina Zenovich: 2008’s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired and Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out (2011).
Speaking in Zurich, Polanski said it was “unfortunate” that his films are now viewed through the filter of the case and surrounding scandal. Based on a True Story was well received by critics in Cannes (The Hollywood Reporter called it “good fun from master craftsman Roman Polanski) and it marks a new turn in the veteran filmmaker’s acclaimed career.
“To make a film with two women, I’ve never done that. I don’t mean just two women on the set, but a conflict between them. All my films have conflict between men or between men and a woman. But two females, no. So that was one of the things that really interested me. … Between men, conflict is more in the open, you know? With women it is hidden. They are more perfidious than the men, in general. In the film, in this story, the real confrontation comes very late. With two men, it would come right after the beginning of the relationship.”
Polanski said he spent much less time rehearsing with Seigner and Green than he typically would on a film “with so much dialogue,” instead letting both actresses come up with their own interpretations of their characters and individual scenes. “I directed them less than I usually direct [male] actors.”
Sony Pictures Classics, which released Polanski’s Carnage (2011), will distribute Based on a True Story in North America.
The Zurich International Film Festival runs through Sunday.