For someone whose name has made headlines for the past 40 years, Roman Polanski is a bit of an Artful Dodger when it comes to his own publicity. At the outset it looks as though it will be a harder job to get Bill Sikes to go straight than to get Polanski to talk about his new film Oliver Twist. Since his libel victory over Vanity Fair, he has gone to ground at home in Paris, not even answering requests for interviews from a British press he believes has always had it in for him. I telephone his office and by sheer luck Polanski himself answers. ‘Why should I make an exception for you?’ he asks, in that voice fascinatingly poised between French and Polish. Because he’ll enjoy it, I tell him. ‘Bullshit,’ he replies. Then laughs.
As Charles Dickens knew so well, it’s amazing what a little laughter can do. A week later I am sitting opposite Polanski in L’avenue, a trendy restaurant situated among the Guccis and Chloes of smart Avenue Montaigne, just next door to where he lives with his third wife, the 39-year-old French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, and their two children, Morgane, 12 and Elvis, 7.
‘I am widely renowned, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf,’ the director wrote in his 1984 autobiography Roman. But that was then. The Polanski I meet is an attractively rumpled family man with a thick head of grey hair, expensively creased linen jacket and trainers. While certainly small, he is slim and agile and, like many people who lost their childhood in the Holocaust, looks much younger than his real age, which is 72.