Oscar-nominated The Dress star Anna Dzieduszycka on smashing dwarfism stereotypes, the challenges of filming sex scenes, and why diversity in film is more important than ever

TW: This article contains references to rape and sexual assault. 

The Dress is not a film that centres around disability. That’s the key takeaway I get from interviewing its lead actor Anna Dzieduszycka, who is a person of short stature as she has dwarfism. 

The Oscar-nominated short film is, according to its official press release, a “universal story about longing that affects everyone, regardless of the barriers and differences that divide us.” And so echoes its star – “What I really hope is that everyone will actually see themselves in this film” – during our fascinating chat.

Michal Sierszak / Warsaw Film School

There’s no getting around it: the Warsaw Film School’s contender for the best live-action short film Academy Award is undeniably a tough watch. It’s set at a bleak roadside motel, told with naturalistic, moody shots and centred around themes of social rejection and sexual violence.

 Anna’s character, Julia, a cleaner in a roadside motel, receives frequent verbal abuse from customers. Early on in the film, she is bullied while smoking a cigarette. “‘You will never grow if you smoke,” says a customer, before adding cruelly when Julia does not smile, “I thought your kind was funny.” 

But, stresses Anna, these are all universal themes that many people can, sadly, relate to, regardless of their size. “I hate stereotypes,” she says, “I think they create barriers”.

The film’s director, student Tadeusz Lysiak, delivers his message of relatability gently yet effectively. What’s clever about the film, which clocks in at just over half an hour – a short is defined as 40 minutes or less – is it doesn’t individualise the experience of sexual violence and trauma. It’s strongly implied that Renata, Julka’s close friend and confidante, has also experienced it, making light of her ‘wife beater’ partner and saying of losing her virginity that she’d rather not relive the experience: “It’s a long story.”