Actor, Piotr Głowacki talks about losing 20% of his body weight in preparation for his role as Polish boxing champion Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski:
What were your preparations for the role of the legendary KL Auschwitz boxer Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski?
Piotr: “Every time I work on a character, what interests me is the profession, the skills that the character has. They are the key to his body, movement and psyche. Here such a distance was significant. We are dealing with a boxing champion, a man who fought in a bantamweight before the war. From the very beginning, I saw a long way to go, especially since I had never practiced any martial arts before. I had a lot to show off, but also work to be able to represent him on the screen.
“During several months of preparation, for the purposes of the role I lost 16 kg, which is 20% of my body weight. It was the result of a proper diet and intense physical activity under the supervision of trainers. I was offered the role in The Champion in 2018. We set up a preparation plan very quickly. I started my first strength exercises in July 2018, and boxing training in September of the same year. I worked with two coaches, Konrad Ostrowski and Michał Pluskota, who made sure that we were going in the right direction, and this was the direction of Tadeusz Pietrzykowski’s photos from before the war.
“Due to the fact that I had to be in the training room several times a week, I had time to make friends with the character, feel his effort, sports path, fascination and passion for boxing. At the same time, I was also studying Teddy’s story. During the preparations, I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. Thanks to the very friendly attitude of the museum staff, I spent several days there, having access to all places, archives, warehouses and, above all, to the enormous knowledge of the people working there. I had a chance to live for a few days in this place, which was the prison of Tadeusz Pietrzykowski, but also the place where, paradoxically, he achieved his greatest boxing success.
“At the end of the preparations, I managed to establish contact with one of the oldest Polish active trainers – Mr. Marian Basiak. It was important, because he himself, like Tadeusz Pietrzykowski, was a student of the legendary Feliks Stamm. We also wanted to show what pre-war boxing looked like. During several months of preparation, I was able to stay in places where both amateurs and professionals train. I talked to them, we met during the exercises.
“The issue of training is not just a matter of building your body, it is also networking, meetings where you hear stories, meet people, watch boxers during training. During the preparation for the role, you train in the gyms, both with people for whom it is a hobby, a way of life, and also with those who are true masters. You then see this distance between the amateur and the professional athlete. At the same time, you are preparing to become a boxing champion, so you can see that even in a year of training, you will not achieve such a high level. So your job is not only to learn authentically what you need for the role, but also to learn how to present it to create an impression of championship on the screen. In the training room, under the guise of observing exercises, you also see the way of being, behaviour, psyche, habits”.
How do you remember working on the set?
Piotr: “What I remember above all is the enormous commitment of all people working on this production. The film paradox is that when we touch scary or painful topics, we also do it out of our passion for cinema. It is beautiful that The Champion is about not only the evil that hit the world at that time, but that we made a film about a passion that allows you to oppose this evil.
“It was possible thanks to the passion of the entire team. These moments when everyone was focused on a specific goal and managed to achieve it are the most beautiful and probably the most memorable moments of this work.
“For the first time on the set of this film, I had the opportunity to work with the director Maciej Barczewski. Thanks to this, it was an adventure with elements of getting to know and trying to get along and it was a really interesting experience. I remember when I started reading the script I had very strong naturalistic associations at first. It is thanks to Maciej that we have reached such a degree of formal meditation that raises this topic to the level of the main character’s passion. Everything was done in harmony and based on calm dialogue. Maciej was very open to any suggestions and ideas from each member of the team.
“As for the actors, I have worked with most of them before. It is interesting in this profession that we meet on the set in different configurations. For example, we have already appeared in a war movie with Marcin Bosak (who played the role of Lagerführer). We met for the first time 15 years ago on the production set of the Warsaw Uprising”.
What made you not use the stunt-double on the set?
Piotr: “At a certain stage of the preparations, Maciej Maciejewski – the stunt coordinator, told me that he has such kind of support for me. However, we agreed that it would not be needed. We went through this movie scene by scene knowing what my fitness needs would be, what the demand for my movement would be. I really wanted to be able to be at any moment with my character. In a film where body and physicality are the essence of his fight for life, every moment of his presence on the screen is a story about this character”.
Why do you think this movie is worth watching?
Piotr: “While working on The Champion, we thought about someone who, thanks to a strong will to survive and his passion, could overcome the greatest, unimaginable evil. I think that this is a picture which, by showing closely the individual fate of Tadeusz Pietrzykowski, can give hope that if we strongly believe in something, if we work hard for something, we are able to overcome all adversities, including our fears and anxieties. I treat the title of the movie The Champion as a word that has many different definitions and interpretations. The entire film is an attempt to answer the question: What does it really mean to be a champion? We are bidding farewell to the last people who experienced Second World War personally. Hence this story has a mythical / mythological element, especially for the young audience. We show this story to give people confidence in themselves and in what they do. Thanks to this, everything is possible”.