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How It Happened

Two years ago, actress Jessica Meyer, 23, home in Washington D.C. on vacation from drama school in London, learned from an older sister that their favorite director, Roman Polanski, had just bought film rights to “The Pianist,” by the famous Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. The book, originally published in 1945 and recently reissued, recounts the author’s story of his survival in wartime Warsaw. After reading the book, which she loved, Meyer murmured to her father that she’d like to just call up Polanski and ask him if she could play Halina, the sister of the main character.

“My dad laughed, and said, ‘Yeah, Jess, I don’t think that’s the way it works!'” said Meyer.

When Meyer returned to London, she immediately called the production company. Turns out that Polanski likes to hire unknown young actors. Seems Meyer won’t be unknown for long: three months after she made the call, she found out that she’d landed the part.

“The Pianist,” which stars Adrian Brody as Szpilman, won the Palme d’Or award in Cannes this year. The film will premiere in North America this December. Meyer, who lives in London, has already finished filming her second movie, shot in Spain.

“I felt so lucky to go from playing a Jewish girl in World War II Warsaw to an upper-class British girl with blond hair,” said Meyer, referring to her role in “South of Granada,” about members of the literary Bloomsbury Group. “When I was back in the States, people kept saying to me, you look too Jewish for this or that. I was afraid I’d be stuck in some ethnic box,” she said, with a hint of the British accent that she worked hard at attaining in drama school.

But Meyer noted how difficult it is for her, as Jewish woman living in England, to witness the recent frequent and ugly expressions of British anti-Semitism. “As a Jew,” she said, “I feel so lost here.”