Warning: blonds need not apply

Roman Polanski advertised for a slim dark man to star in his next film. Sounds easy but not everyone got the message
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The Independent Culture

It was a bizarre sight: hundreds of men queuing up patiently outside a building in London's Covent Garden, the line snaking its way from Seven Dials to St Martin's Lane, doubling up opposite The Ivy and continuing practically to Charing Cross Road.

It was a bizarre sight: hundreds of men queuing up patiently outside a building in London's Covent Garden, the line snaking its way from Seven Dials to St Martin's Lane, doubling up opposite The Ivy and continuing practically to Charing Cross Road.

They had begun lining up at around 7.30am on Saturday morning, hoping to be plucked out of obscurity and thrust onto the silver screen. A small ad, announcing an open audition for the lead in the next Roman Polanski film The Pianist appeared in The Guardian two weeks ago, and was picked up by the news agencies and the internet. So, here was a queue which numbered around a thousand men by 11am, and 750-odd auditions later, at 1.30pm, had not diminished.

And they had come from all around the world: Germans, Dutch, Belgians, Swedes and Israelis, all more or less fitting the bill of dark and slim, aged between 25 and 35. There were those who felt a personal connection to the story of a Jewish pianist from a Warsaw ghetto; there were others who just wanted a break.

Some had seen newspaper articles, others had been told about it by their aunts, their mothers, their girlfriends' cousins. One guy I spoke to was moving house that day, and had furiously packed up the removal van overnight to make it: "My wife was as determined that I should be here as I was."

Dror Sharon Zohar had come over with his wife from Tel Aviv. They had flown in on Friday and were going back on Sunday. "This story has family connections to me, and I must be a part of it. I have a strong sense of purpose. I know I'm right for it," he explained with barely concealed emotion. Others, like Igor Dumont, who had come from Brussels, were here because of Polanski: "I want this role," he told me, "because of the quality of the director."

It was a street of dreams: David Omerod, a postman from Brighton, told me it was "a chance in a million. It would be like winning the lottery". One tall, blond, city type didn't even know what he was queuing up for, he had stood in line in case something interesting was going on - he sloped off pretty embarrassed at the howls of laughter from all around him.

The line began to move forward at about 10.30am, as groups of about 20 were given raffle tickets, asked to sign their names and led in. The "audition" itself lasted maybe five minutes; the group stood in a circle as the casting director walked past them, only pausing to ask those that she liked the look of where they were from. "It was very short," Dror told me later. "They are after a very specific look, and an English accent." He didn't get through. "I'm disappointed," he admitted. "They didn't find out what I can do." But he wasn't sorry he made the trip: "If you don't try, you'll wonder forever whether it might have been you."

By mid-afternoon, something of a party atmosphere had taken over pockets of the line. One group of London chancers were here really for the experience - the mad tale they would be able to recount down the pub later. Richard (who was keeping his surname to himself, for fear of his bosses finding out) had done this kind of thing before: "I went to one of these in Prague for a film called Love Lies Bleeding," he told me. "I didn't get the part, but I did end up with six lines opposite Faye Dunaway."

I did meet a couple of guys who made it through to the next round. Elad Stefansky, another who had travelled from Tel Aviv, was delighted to have made it through to round two: "I'm an actor and a musician, and I'm Jewish. It would be great to do such a part."

But one hopeful, Harvey Klein, was struck by the irony of the process: "It is very odd, lining people up to wait patiently for their fate, and when you get in there, it is like the extermination in reverse - people are being excluded for not looking Jewish enough.

"It was bizarre - in my group there was a blond German gentile who left shouting, complaining furiously that he hadn't been picked."

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