05.09.10

Has Hollywood Turned on Polanski?

After portraying himself as a victim in his public letter earlier this month, the fugitive director has lost support in the movie industry that once defended him.

Roman Polanski had better hope his recent statement—breaking his silence on his arrest last September and asking “to be treated fairly like anyone else”—falls on more sympathetic ears in Switzerland than in much of Hollywood. Because if industry power players were judging whether to extradite the 76-year-old director, chances are he would be on the next flight to Los Angeles.

“I can remain silent no longer!” Polanski director declared in a French magazine earlier this month. Repeating that refrain, he denounced the alleged misconduct of a now-deceased California judge in his 30-year-old case, accused the current district attorney of exploiting it for political purposes and argued that the government was demanding his extradition “to serve me on a platter to the media of the world.”

“It’s very straightforward,” one executive says. “He’s committed a crime and it’s never been resolved.”

“I didn’t think his letter was very smart,” says a film executive who worked with Polanski in the past. “I don’t think anybody has very much sympathy for him because I don’t think he’s handled it in a way that’s sympathetic.”

In the years since he was arrested for raping a 13-year-old in 1978, this executive observes, Polanski has consistently cast himself as a victim rather than expressing remorse for his crimes. That’s why this executive passed when asked to sign a petition on Polanski’s behalf following his arrest. (Dozens of big Hollywood names did sign, including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Michael Mann.) “It’s very straightforward,” the executive says. “He’s committed a crime and it’s never been resolved.”

Having said that, the executive adds, “I’d work with him in a heartbeat. I think he’s a great filmmaker.”

Just a few years back, in 2003, Hollywood rose to its collective feet as Polanski accepted—from a distance—the Oscar for directing The Pianist. But for many, that ardor seems to have cooled. “I certainly don’t think he should get any protected treatment because he’s an auteur or any of that bullshit Europeans think,” says a top studio executive. “Most people consider that a pretty heinous crime.”

“I have a young daughter,” says a prominent agent. “Need I say more?”

Even a producer who some years ago spoke about Polanski as an artist who should be forgiven his “excesses” now says the director should be extradited. “I don’t think anybody should get to run away and escape justice,” he says.

It’s hard to say whether Hollywood’s support for Polanski was never really deep or whether a change has been effected by recent media accounts of harrowing and forgotten details of the crime or even Polanski’s recent statement. Perhaps it’s merely that many years have passed since Polanski was part of Hollywood’s clannish community. “I’ve never met him,” says the head of one studio. “I have no opinion about him whatsoever.”

Even one of the few Hollywood players still close to Polanski seems weary at this point. “He’s been incarcerated for seven months,” he says. “He’s 76... I’d like to see him home in Paris with his wife and kids.” Asked why Polanski would issue a seemingly tone-deaf statement portraying himself as a victim, this associate says people tend to “come across in a way that reflects their life experience”—an allusion to the director’s suffering during the Holocaust.

Now that the California Second District Court of Appeals has denied Polanski’s request to be sentenced in absentia, he remains under house arrest in his Gstaad chalet while the Swiss authorities consider his fate. One producer notes that should Polanski be extradited, he will likely sit in a cell in Los Angeles as the wheels of justice grind. Polanski might ask for bail, this observer says, but given his flight and 33-year absence, the court may not be inclined to grant it.

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Kim Masters covers the entertainment business for The Daily Beast. She is also the host of The Business, public radio's weekly program about the business of show business, and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.