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Roman Polanski discusses impact of his 1977 sex crime conviction

Director Roman Polanski attends a news conference for the film "La Venus a la Fourrure" (Venus in Fur) during the 66th Cannes Film Festival
Director Roman Polanski attends a news conference for the film "La Venus a la Fourrure" (Venus in Fur) during the 66th Cannes Film Festival

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director Roman Polanski, in a rare interview published on Thursday, shares his frustrations and feelings about being the object of hatred due to a complicated legal case stemming from a sex crime more than 30 years ago.

Polanski, 80, the Polish-French director of films such as "Rosemary's Baby" and 2002's Oscar-winning "The Pianist," pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with 13-year-old Samantha Geimer during a photoshoot, fueled by champagne and drugs.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Polanski said he felt more persecuted after he was arrested in 2009 in Switzerland at the request of the United States than he did when he was convicted of the crime.

"I didn't have that at all then. This was much more like the assassination of Sharon and what happened afterwards," the director said, referring to misleading rumors that he was involved in the 1969 murder of his wife, actress Sharon Tate, and her friends, who were killed by the Manson family gang.

The interview comes ahead of a Showtime documentary, "Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out," by Marina Zenovich, to be aired on U.S. television this month. Zenovich also co-wrote and directed the 2008 documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," which explored the impact of the sex crime case and was used by lawyers to reopen the case after 30 years.

Polanski served 42 days in jail as part of a 90-day plea bargain in 1977, but he fled the United States in 1978 after believing the judge hearing his case could put him in jail for up to 50 years.

"It was such a shock to learn that it's not finished, after they let you out of prison. Free! With your bundle under your arm, with the lawyer waiting for you outside, standing there, in your mind it's all over, it's finished. And then the judge changed his mind. And I have to go back to prison, and nobody knows how long. I just could not go through that," Polanski said about his decision to leave the U.S. for France.

Polanski was arrested in 2009 en route to the Zurich Film Festival, and spent two months in a Swiss jail. He was then placed under house arrest at his chalet in the upmarket Swiss ski resort of Gstaad. In July 2010 Swiss authorities said they would not extradite the director to the United States.

The veteran director responded to reports that he was living as a fugitive in Europe, answering: "I was moving freely for 32 years" between homes and projects in Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Tunisia.

Despite having left Hollywood four decades ago, the director still has his supporters, such as actor Jack Nicholson, who is quoted throughout the Vanity Fair article, and his films are a regular on awards and festival circuits.

The full interview with Polanski will be in the October issue of Vanity Fair, on newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Thursday, and nationally on September 10.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Ken Wills)

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