HOLLYWOOD -- When Poland imposed martial law two years ago, Joanna Pacula decided her acting career had little future in Warsaw.
The exotic brunette opted to sit things out in Paris where she was vacationing when Poland became an armed camp.
Now the 24-year-old brunette is making her Hollywood debut in 'Gorky Park.'
Gray-eyed Joanna was not a political refugee. The Polish entertainment complex -- theaters, movies and TV -- had come to a standstill and she concluded there was little to be gained by returning home.
That key decision began a curiously circuitous route to Hollywood and a bright new future.
In the movie version of Howard Cruz Smith's best-selling novel, Joanna plays a young Siberian woman trying to escape the Soviet Union.
Joanna's feelings toward the U.S.S.R., like those of all the Poles she knows, are hostile. It was, therefore, easy for her to play someone anxious to leave that country.
Her Slavic features must have played a part in Joanna's winning the role of the love interest for co-stars Lee Marvin and William Hurt, but she says her heavy accent had nothing to do with her good fortune.
'I got the part because I was in the United States on a three-month tourist visa when Michael (director Michael Apted) was looking for an unknown Eastern European actress,' Joanna said.
Even so, Joanna would not have been in this country when the producers sent out the call had it not been for a thief who stole her purse and passport in New York on the eve of her return to Paris last year.
'Because of the political situation in Poland, the Polish counsel in New York could not issue me a new passport,' Joanna said. 'All he could give me was a paper saying I was a Polish citizen.'
In a way, Joanna became a stateless person, unable to travel except back to Poland, which she didn't want to do.
So she remained in New York and was contacted by Apted and producer Howard W. Koch Jr. They were immediately mesmerized by her haunting beauty -- reminiscent of the young Lauren Bacall -- but frustrated that she spoke no English.
They took Joanna to an English tutor for a week and then gave her a screen test. She passed with flying colors and was shipped off to Stockholm and Helsinki where 'Gorky Park' was filmed.
Those cities were about as close to the Soviet Union as Joanna wants to get, although she spent two weeks in Leningrad studying Russian film techniques.
'I wouldn't want to live there,' she said, smiling, 'but they do make fine films and have good schools for cinema and television.
'It is much larger than what we have in Poland. There are only about a thousand people involved in filmmaking and TV at home. And there are only 10 or 15 actors who make a good living at it.
She made 11 movies in five years.
'My country makes about 80 films for theaters and television each year but they are seen only in Poland. I don't think 'Gorky Park' will be shown there for a while, if ever. And I don't think it would be welcome in Russia because it is very anti-communist.'
Joanna is careful to avoid discussing politics. She loves her homeland and would like to work in Poland again. She is determined, meanwhile, to establish herself as an international star in Hollywood pictures.
'Acting is just a job in my country. Although I am recognized by people in the streets, acting is not considered anything special or glamorous. It just doesn't mean as much to Polish people.
'We do live a little better and make somewhat higher salaries than other people, but not much. For me acting was an escape from a rather boring life.
'There is no difference between acting in Hollywood films and Polish films. The problems are always the same. And I didn't find any great culture shock between Poland and America.
'To me the biggest culture shock of all was coming from New York to Hollywood.'
Joanna has settled down in a Beverly Hills house, found an agent and is reading scripts. She is also striving to lose her Polish accent to broaden her opportunities.