Jan Nowicki

A stage and film actor. A legendary figure on the Polish arts scene. He has starred in over one hundred films, and several-dozen stage plays. After his iconic performance in the eponymous Sylwester Chęciński film, he has often been referred to as the “Big Shar” of Polish motion pictures. Was also considered the principal heart-throb of the Polish cinema.

This renowned Polish actor, born on 5 November 1939 in Kowal near Włocławek, has been associated with Kraków and the Helena Modrzejewska National Stary Theatre for the majority of his artistic career. Between 1958 and 1960 he studied at the Acting Department of the Leon Schiller State Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź. and subsequently transferred to the Ludwik Solski State Drama School in Kraków, where he graduated in 1964. The same year saw his stage debut in a play entitled Wariatka z Chaillot/The Madwoman of Chaillot. His first appearance in a feature film was a role in Pierwszy dzień wolności/The First Day of Freedom, directed in 1964 by Aleksander Ford. Two years later, he was cast as Captain Wyganowski in the Andrzej Wajda screen adaptation of Popioły/The Ashes, by Stefan Żeromski. From the very beginning, he worked as a stage actor, and performed in plays directed by the most-distinguished creators – Jerzy Jarocki, Zygmunt Hübner and Bohdan Korzeniewski.

His first leading role was in a feature film entitled Bariera/Barrier, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski in 1966. His portrayal of a Scottish noble – Hassling-Ketling of Elgin – in Pan Wołodyjowski/Colonel Wolodyjowski by Jerzy Hoffman (1969), gave rise to a succession of roles in films directed by the most-outstanding figures of the Polish cinema. He appeared in Życie Rodzinne/Family Life (1970) and Spirala/Spiral (1978) by Krzysztof Zanussi, the screen debut of Andrzej Żuławski entitled Trzecia Część Nocy/The Third Part of the Night, and Sanatorium pod Klepsydrą/The Hourglass Sanatorium, based on the stories by Bruno Schultz, and directed by Wojciech Jerzy Has, and also in Zmory/Nightmares by Wojciech Marczewski and Golem, by Piotr Szulkin. He reprised the role of Marek Sobota from Życie Rodzinne/Family Life in the 2009 Krzysztof Zanussi film Rewizyta/Revisited. He also starred in four films by Filip Bajon: Bal na dworcu w Koluszkach/The Ball at the Koluszki Junction, Poznań ‘56, Przedwiośnie/The Spring to Come, and Magnat/The Magnate, in which his co-star was a Toruń native, Bogusław Linda.

His roles in famous films of the 1970s gave him immense popularity and recognition. At that time, he began his long-term cooperation with Marta Meszaros, a brilliant Hungarian director, who later also became his life partner. 1976 marked Nowicki’s first role in her film, Kilenc honap/Nine Months; he then starred in several of her subsequent pictures. He also appeared multiple times in films made by other Hungarian directors.

This decade also saw Nowicki’s brilliant performances at the Stary Theatre in plays directed by Jerzy Jarocki, and also in the exquisite works of Andrzej Wajda – Noc Listopadowa/November Night (a drama by Stanisław Wyspiański) and Nastazja Filipowna/Nastasya Filippovna (based on The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky). These roles gave Nowicki the reputation of one of the most-outstanding Polish actors, and he became embedded in the history of theatre in Poland.

The 1980s began with one of the most-popular films Nowicki has ever starred in.
The eponymous role of a card cheat in the blockbuster film Wielki Szu/Big Shar, directed in 1982 by Sylwester Chęciński, further increased Nowicki’s popularity. It was his “iconic” performance, in which – according to the critics – he displayed his “sarcastic grimace” and “diabolical smile”, which made the 40-something-year-old card-sharp one of the most-distinct screen characters of the previous two decades. He also starred in three follow-ups to this title: in Sztos/Cheat (1997), Chwila nieuwagi, czyli drugi Sztos/Polish Roulette (2011) by Olaf Lubaszenko, and in an independent production by Bartosz Brzeskota entitled Nie ma takiego numeru/No Such Number (2005), which referred to the original film by Chęciński. Nowicki returned to this character – under the “right to quote”, in a sense – by playing the role of Jerzy “Big Shar” in a picture about old age, passing away, and acting, entitled Jeszcze nie wieczór/Before Twilight by Jacek Bławut (2008), filmed primarily in Toruń. For this performance, he received the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Gdynia Film Festival.

In the 1990s, he played in a blockbuster entitled Młode wilki/Fast Lane by Jarosław Żamojda (1995), Historia kina w Popielawach/The History of Cinema in Popielawy by Jan Jakub Kolski (1998), a monumental screen adaptation of Przedwiośnie/The Spring to Come, a Stefan Żeromski novel, directed by Filip Bajon in 2001, and also in many other films. He portrayed the Mother, one of the men in their sixties, in Tulipany/Tulips (2004) – a warm film about old age directed by Jacek Borcuch. In the same year, he created the dramatic character of Imre Nagy – the leader of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 – in Niepochowany/The Unburied Man, by Marta Meszaros, for which he received the Tarnów Film Award. Nowicki was also cast in numerous television series, such as Apetyt na miłość/Appetite for Love, Egzamin z życia/Life Exam and Magda M.

In 2011, Nowicki played a minor role in a period drama entitled Daas by Adrian Panek, in which his co-star was fellow Toruń native, Magdalena Czerwińska. His most-recent appearance was the character of Bogdan, an angler, in a short film entitled Fanatyk/The Fanatic, directed in 2017. A unique picture, it is the first Polish screen adaptation of so-called “copypasta”, i.e. anonymous online posts with enormous comedic potential, which are at the same time full of obscenities and street vernacular. “Copypasta” can be considered a form of online “literary graffiti”.

For several years, Nowicki has permanently resided in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Voivodeship, near his birthplace in Kowal, in the historical Kuyavia region. Since 1999, he has been an Honorary Citizen of Kowal.

Selected filmography

1964 – „Pierwszy dzień wolności”/„The First Day of Freedom” dir. Aleksander Ford
1965 – „Popioły”/„The Ashes” dir. Andrzej Wajda
1966 – „Bariera”/„Barrier” dir. Jerzy Skolimowski
1969 – „Pan Wołodyjowski”/„Colonel Wolodyjowski” dir. Jerzy Hoffman
1970 – „Życie rodzinne”/„Family Life” dir. Krzysztof Zanussi
1970 – „Dziura w ziemi”/„A Hole in the Ground” dir. Andrzej Kondratiuk
1971 – „Trzecia część nocy”/„The Third Part of the Night” dir. Andrzej Żuławski
1973 – „Sanatorium pod Klepsydrą”/„The Hourglass Sanatorium” dir. Wojciech Jerzy Has
1975 – „Noce i dnie”/„Nights and Days” dir. Jerzy Antczak
1976 – „Kilenc Honap”/„Nine Months” dir. Marta Meszaros
1978 – „Zmory”/„Nightmares” dir. Wojciech Marczewski
1979 – „Golem” dir. Piotr Szulkin
1982 – „Wielki Szu”/„Big Shar” dir. Sylwester Chęciński
1986 – „Magnat”/„The Magnate” dir. Filip Bajon
1989 – „Lawa”/„Lava” dir. Tadeusz Konwicki
1989 – „Bal na dworcu w Koluszkach”/„The Ball at Koluszki Junction” dir. Filip Bajon
1993 – „Pajęczarki”/„Spider Women” dir. Barbara Sass
1996 – „Dzieci i ryby”/„Children and Fish” dir. Jacek Bromski
1997 – „Sztos”/„Cheat” dir. Olaf Lubaszenko
1998 – „Historia kina w Popielawach”/„The History of Cinema in Popielawy” dir.
1999 – „Córy szczęścia”/„The Daughters of Fortune” dir. Marta Meszaros
2004 – „Tulipany”/„Tulips” dir. Jacek Borcuch
2006 – „Fundacja”/„Foundation” dir. Filip Bajon
2009 – „Rewizyta”/„Revisited” dir. Krzysztof Zanussi
2011 – „Daas”, dir. Adrian Panek
2017 – „Fanatyk”/„The Fanatic” dir. Michał Tylka

Selected awards and distinctions

The Commander’s Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta; the Gdynia Film Festival – the Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in Jeszcze nie wieczór/Before Twilight; the Tadeusz Szymków Film Acting Festival – the Platinum Puppy Award for outstanding achievements; the Tarnów Film Award for lifetime artistic achievements; the Quest Europe International Authors’ Film Festival in Zielona Góra – the Big Nod Award for lifetime achievements; Kołobrzeg Suspense Film Festival – the Kołobrzeg Acting Award “Polish Cinema Icon”; “Pola and Others” Film Art Review in Lipno – the Politka Award; B the ulgarian Feature Film Festival in Varna – the Special Award for Best Actor in Ratunek dla miasta/Spasenieto; the Golden Duck Award – nominated for Best Actor in Polish Action Films for Sztos/Cheat (1997) and Wielki Szu/Big Shar (1982), etc.