Roman Polanski himself experienced the Holocaust. His parents were sent to two different concentration camps: his father to Mauthausen-Gusen in Austria, where he survived the war, and his mother to Auschwitz where she was murdered.
The film is based on the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman. The director Roman Polanski tried to make the film as faithful of an adaptation as possible, with additional inspiration coming from events that happened to him while he was a boy during the war.
Adrien Brody lost 14 kg (31 lb) for the role of Wladyslaw Szpilman by eating a daily diet of two boiled eggs and green tea for breakfast, a little chicken for lunch, and a small piece of fish or chicken with steamed vegetables for dinner over a six week period. Initially his weight was 73 kg (161 lb).
The music played for the German officer in the film was actually an edit of Frédéric Chopin's Ballade No.1 in G Minor, (Op. 23, No. 1). In real life, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin's Nocturne No.1 in C# Minor.
Adrien Brody and Marion Cotillard are the only actors to win both a César and an Oscar for the same performance. Brody won both awards in 2003 for 'The Pianist' and Cotillard won in 2008 for La Vie en Rose (2007). Brody is also the only american actor to win a César.
Director Roman Polanski considers this his best film. At the end of the documentary Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (2011), interviewer Andrew Braunsberg asks him which of his own films he believes to be absolutely perfect, and wouldn't change a frame if he could. To this, Polanski replies: "If any film cannisters were to be placed on my grave, I'd like them to be The Pianist's".
Adrien Brody and Marcia Gay Harden are the only actors to win an Oscar without being awarded for the same performance in none of its predecessor awards (Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA). Harden was not even nominated for those awards for her performance in Pollock (2000).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
A nuance for those who don't speak German: In general, the German officers use the informal version of "you" ("du," etc.) when talking to the Jews, which reflects their views (you wouldn't talk to adult strangers that way); however, Hosenfeld (the officer who discovers Wladyslaw Szpilman in hiding) always uses the proper formal form ("Sie," etc.) because of the way he personally feels.
Wilhelm "Wilm" Hosenfeld, the kindhearted German officer who was jailed by the Russians on trumped up charges and died in prison, was awarded Righteous Among The Nations status by the State of Israel. for his sheltering of Jews who otherwise would have been sent to the death camps.