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Mug Shot

Małgorzata Szumowska i Mateusz Kościukiewicz (Photo: Magda Wunsche i Agnieszka Samsel )

The leading role in Małgorzata Szumowska's new film Mug (Twarz) is played by her husband Mateusz Kościukiewicz. The director says she chose Mateusz because in a project as difficult as this one, working with someone you know inside out produces the best results. They talk to Małgorzata Bela shortly before the premiere.

Małgorzata Szumowska – film director, aged 44. She is lively and high-powered. She likes living and working in a state of creative chaos while having everything under control at the same time. The 2015 film Body (Ciało) has earned her the most awards; it won the Silver Bear in Berlin, the Golden Lions in Gdynia, the Polish Film Award and the European Film Award.

She is a self-confessed feminist, mother and wife, and she is controversial. She will talk dismissively about women paying too much attention to their looks, but she also likes to dazzle. If the need arises, she throws back her hair or suddenly reveals one of her long legs. She sees the human body as an artistic battlefield. In Stranger (Ono), the main character has to cope with unplanned pregnancy; 33 Scenes from Life (33 sceny z życia) deals with death and the disintegration of a body tormented by pain. In the utterly sensual Elles (Sponsoring), set in Paris, young women sell their bodies to finance their studies, and they find pleasure in doing so. Body depicts a woman who suffers from anorexia.

Mateusz Kościukiewicz – actor, aged 31. Once a hothead and a crazy guy, he is now a settled husband, father and nurturer. If I didn't know him better, I would describe him as a shy person. It is only in front of our photographers' cameras that he unleashes his wild side. I can imagine him doing the same on set. He has recently played leading roles in Amok by Katarzyna Adamik and in Three Seconds by Andrea Di Stefano.

The role in Mug

We were watching the film together with Małgorzata and Mateusz. I could see Mateusz following himself on the screen and going through every scene and every shot again. He feels satisfied with his role. He plays a man who has to undergo a face transplant after an accident on a construction site, so he had to wear a mask on the set. It imitated post-surgical deformities but enabled facial expressions. (The excellent make-up is by Waldemar Pokromski, who usually works with film directors such as Michael Hanneke and Terrence Mallick.)

Mateusz Kościukiewicz: This role has restored my passion for acting. I had never worked with a mask before, or rather with a prosthesis stuck to my face. That was a challenge. I had to make a great effort to show any facial expression. But on the other hand, the mask enabled me to make my own grimaces without inhibition; I could be furious or desperate, and the camera didn't see it because I was hiding behind the make-up. I would show fewer emotions by means of facial expression and at the same time I would take more liberties with my face hidden by the mask.


Mateusz has already worked in several countries. He likes observing and analysing different approaches to the acting profession.

Małgorzata Szumowska i Mateusz Kościukiewicz (Photo: Magda Wunsche i Agnieszka Samsel)

MK: I have been acting for twelve years now and I have taken part in American, Italian and German productions, so I have managed to develop a certain set of skills. I am impressed by the professionalism of foreign actors. No matter whether they get millions or just an average wage for the film, they are always fully involved. Even in seemingly negligible, secondary scenes. I have the impression that their approach to art and work is different from what I can see in Poland. Actors in our country don’t take it seriously; there is a lot of nonchalance and too little professionalism. That's a shame.

Age difference

They married six years ago. She was 38, and he was 25. Mateusz says that he does not see the age difference when they stand in front of the mirror. But he sometimes feels that he has experienced far less in his life.

Małgorzata Szumowska: This doesn't matter at all. Think about Brigitte Macron. What should she say? Her husband isn’t even allowed to grow a beard, and a bearded guy always looks a bit more credible! Anyway, we have long forgotten the age difference, especially as my husband is a real family man and this gives him authority.

Together, they are raising their spirited five-year-old daughter. Mateusz also gets on really well with Małgorzata's twelve-year-old son from her earlier relationship.

Brain gender

They both agree there is no such thing. True, women, unlike men, can multitask and concentrate on several things at the same time, but that stems from the roles that have long been ascribed and imposed on them. Thank God all that is changing right in front of our eyes. The stereotype of a guy who orders the woman to “show me your tits” (which the viewer also gets a taste of in Mug) is falling into decline.

MSz: I am absolutely on the side of women's revolution; of course, this revolution is not without victims. I am happy at the prospect that our five-year-old daughter, when she grows up, will live in a world based on completely different principles.

Working together

Of course, there is friction. There always is between director and actor. But for Małgorzata and Mateusz, being a couple seems to be an asset.

MK: On set, time is precious. Since we know each other inside out, we don't have to waste it discussing things over and over again. One glance is enough for me to know what Małgorzata thinks about the way I have played a scene.

Msz: I chose Mateusz because he is made for the part. There might have been four other actors whom the role would also have suited, but I decided on him because I knew he was going to be fully involved. I knew that he would understand me instinctively and that he wouldn't take offence if I shouted or got angry. I knew he wouldn't go into a sulk. I didn't have to live up to any kinds of expectations that he could have of me as a director. This makes things a lot easier.


Mateusz has treated our photo session like an acting challenge, and this time too, he has committed himself fully. You could see that he really wanted to impress Małgorzata and that he was successful in doing so.

Msz: It is cool to look at your partner in a film or during a photo session. At home, we wear tracksuits or pyjamas, total slobs. It's nice to be reminded that I have such a photogenic husband.

There is one other thing that you can see in their photos, something that is difficult to act out. Certainly, the light was beautiful, and yes, the models are attractive, but this ease of manner, trust and mutual chemistry are not that easy to simulate.

Translation Elżbieta Pawlas/Solid Information Solutions

Małgorzata Bela
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