Tomorrow, more than a year after its Cannes Competition premiere, Roman Polanski's “Venus in Fur” finally opens in US theaters. It's the 20th narrative feature of a career that now spans six decades, so a list themed around the Oscar-winning director's work seemed in order. Given that “Venus in Fur” — Polanski's third film, after “Death and the Maiden” and “Carnage,” to replicate the scale and pace of an intimate stage production — is based so explicitly around notions of performance, and the push-pull relationship between actor and director, a selection of his most successful actorly collaborations seemed the obvious way to go.
Like so many auteurs celebrated for their own idiosyncratic style, Polanski's facility with actors isn't discussed as frequently as his formal abilities and preoccupations, yet he's always had the knack for drawing surprising work out of established stars and newcomers alike — often casting actors intriguingly out of their element, or finding facets of interest in their presence that other filmmakers haven't managed to tap. (Few, if any, directors have seen quite what he did in Adrien Brody.) In his debut feature, “Knife in the Water,” he confidently steered a largely non-professional ensemble, and has since frequently excelled with young or inexperienced actors — three of the names on this list were aged below 23 at the time of filming.
Narrowing down the list was tougher than I thought it would be: I wanted room for Jon Finch and Francesca Annis's fresh, committed work in “Macbeth,” for John Huston in “Chinatown” and Donald Pleasence in “Cul-de-sac,” even for Polanski himself in “The Tenant.” And coming in narrowly at #11 was Polanski's wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, for her vibrant, self-effacing turn in “Venus in Fur.” It's a case of apparent miscasting revealing fresh angles in the material: Seigner is significantly older than the character as written and initially performed on stage, but her performance turns the play into a witty comment on the indignities visited upon older actresses.
I wanted Seigner in there, but the competition was just too strong. Who made the cut, then? Click through the gallery above, and share your own thoughts and favorites in the comments.