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27 August 2015

I jumped at the chance to interview Roman Polanski – but it didn’t end well

Was I projecting my own disturbance on to him? If so, it felt like a void that I could not bear.

By Suzanne Moore

I am not proud to recall that I jumped at the chance to interview a well-known rapist but the truth is that I did. In the early days of my journalistic career, I was always being asked to do interviews. Women are. I was constantly being told that I was “a people person” and offered actors to try to squeeze some interest from. Then, as now, I was a terrible snob and thought that actors only interested each other – but directors . . . Directors were gods.

It was Roman Polanski. He’d just made Bitter Moon, an S&M oddity starring Hugh Grant. This was not a masterpiece.

Although Polanski was viewed by the world as “an evil, profligate dwarf” – or so he wrote in his autobiography – he was and is a giant of cinema. As a woman, as a feminist, as someone with a vague grip on the moral compass, I should find it easier to dismiss his work. But it’s not easy. Chinatown, The Tenant, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby are profound works of psychic disintegration.

I was sent to see him in Paris at one of the grandest of hotels and had been told not to ask him about Sharon Tate. It remains a primal memory for me: creeping downstairs to read my mother’s tabloid when those murders happened. My mother said that I must not read “that sort of thing”. Therefore, I consumed every detail of the slaughter.

As an adolescent, I went on to consume everything I could about Charles Manson, who stood in a courtroom telling a horrified America, “My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system . . . I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.”

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Now I was taking tea with the man whose wife and child Manson had murdered and he did talk to me about it. “The only sense that I can make out of it is that it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Polanski’s mother had died in Auschwitz. There was nothing but darkness in his past, yet I tried hard to see some light. He was unfailingly polite and utterly explicit about only wanting young women. He was about to become a father for the first time with the then 26-year-old Emmanuelle Seigner. He told me that, all through his life, the line between reality and fantasy had been “hopelessly blurred” and said I should stick around while the photographer took the pictures.

A good journalist would have done so but I could not. All I wanted to do was to get away from him. Was I projecting my own disturbance on to him? If so, it felt like a void that I could not bear.

I went to a bar to meet an old friend and I drank too much. Some guys offered to take us somewhere else. I needed some light relief. The barman called me over.

“Do not leave with them. They have knives. I know what those men do.” Everything was hopelessly blurred.

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This article appears in the 26 Aug 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism