Vrdoljak was born in Imotski, Kingdom of Yugoslavia (currently Croatia). He studied acting at the Academy of Drama Arts at the University of Zagreb. His acting debut was in 1957 film Nije bilo uzalud. One year later he receive great deal of attention with his portrayal of simple country youth in H-8.
In late 1960s, Vrdoljak gradually switched to film directing.
Following the events of the Croatian Spring (1968-71), Vrdoljak became associated with Croatian nationalism. Authorities nevertheless allowed him to continue with his career. This included lavish adaptations of Croatian literary classic like Kiklop (1982) and Glembajevi (1989).
When first democratic elections were announced in Croatia, Vrdoljak was among 200 top intellectuals publicly endorsing the moderate Coalition of People's Accord. By the end of campaign, he switched his support for the more hardline Croatian Democratic Union and Franjo Tuđman with whom he developed a close friendship.
On 30 May, 1990 the new democratically elected Croatian Parliament convened and Franjo Tuđman was elected President of Croatian Presidency. Antun Vrdoljak became one of country's six vice-presidents. As such, he was entrusted with the supervision of 1990 European Championships in Athletics in Split, which was supposed to be the first big test for new government. There Vrdoljak showed many authoritarian tendencies, but had great organisational abilities. He also made a good impression of the international sports officials that would later help him become member of International Olympic Committee.
In December 1990 new Croatian Constitution was adopted, ending the office of vice-president. A few months later Vrdoljak was appointed to the post of general manager of Croatian Radiotelevision (HRT). There, Vrdoljak helped promote Franjo Tuđman and the HDZ policies, working very hard to prevent any criticism of government in the programme, while Croatian opposition was systematically ignored or occasionally attacked. He even suggested in 1992 that opposition leader Dražen Budiša shouldn't be trusted because of his "Byzantine blood", in other words, ethnic Serb origin. When Bad Blue Boys, fans of Dinamo football team, booed Tuđman in protest over change of their club's name to NK Croatia, Vrdoljak said that "those hooligans should be beaten to a bloody pulp". Such statements angered some Croatians who urged Vrdoljak's dismissal, but to no effect, as Vrdoljak remained in his post and a trusted ally. But at the same time, Vrdoljak was one of the rare members of Tuđman's inner circles to oppose or not to fully endorse some of the policies put forth by the government.
Vrdoljak was finally removed from the post of HRT general manager in January 1995. Although he kept a Sabor seat and many important positions, he gradually retired from politics and Tuđman's inner circle. After the HDZ lost power on 2000 elections, Vrdoljak decided to return to filmmaking.
Recently Vrdoljak made news due to physical altercation with his fellow filmmaker, Lordan Zafranović.
Antun Vrdoljak was married twice and has four children. He is also the father-in-law of Croatian actor Goran Višnjić.
He received a great deal of praise for his two early films - Kad čuješ zvona (When You Hear the Bells) and U gori raste zelen bor (There Grows a Pine Tree in the Woods).
Both films, based on the diaries of Croatian Partisan leader Ivan Šibl, gave very honest portrayals of the complex World War II realities in Croatia and difficult choices many people had to make in those times.
After securing funding from new government, he directed Duga mračna noć (Long Dark Night), epic mini-series about WW2 in Slavonia.
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