on 1 Jan, 1970
from You Magazine (UK) / by Maureen Paton
Just when I’m thinking how unfair it is that Marion Cotillard should look so cute in a jaunty straw fedora, she whips off her hat to show me what the brim is hiding.
Her browline has been shorn for her latest role as the iconic (and high-foreheaded) French singer Edith Piaf in next year’s La Vie En Rose with Gerard Depardieu. She giggles as she tugs at the wayward tufts growing back.
Although she has bought a house in the French capital, it seems that no one could be less of a typically haughty Parisian than this friendly, chatty actress.
“I think sometimes people here should be less proud of themselves, less cold,” she opines in her outspoken way. English-speaking movie-goers will recognise the blue-eyed, dark-haired Breton beauty from the minor role of Billy Crudup’s wife and Albert Finney’s daughter-in-law in Tim Burton’s film Big Fish.
But now she’s about to get a major showcase as the woman who brings out Russell Crowe’s sensitive side (yes, he does have one) in the big-screen version of Peter Mayle’s best-selling novel A Good Year.
It’s Marion’s first leading role in an English-language film – and as a feel good piece of escapism is a million miles away from the Audrey Tautou film A Very Long Engagement, in which Marion won a Cesar award (the French equivalent of a BAFTA) for her scene-stealing part as a femme fatale called Tina Lombardi who tied men to a bed and shot them with shards of glass to avenge the death of her lover. A Good Year reunites Mayle with his old advertising world pal, director Ridley Scott, and Scott with his Gladiator star, Crowe.
The Oscar-winning actor plays arrogant London banker Max Skinner, who inherits a chateau and vineyard in Provence and falls for independent-minded, hard-to-get girl, Fanny Chenal.
Fanny has to be wooed with tenderness and humility – cue much UST (Hollywoodese for Unresolved Sexual Tension) as their slow-burn romance creates an incredible chemistry between Russell and Marion.
Her screen trademark is a mysteriously melancholy air that makes her perfect for the role of Fanny, a woman with an unhappy romantic history who is determined not to be swept off her feet by newcomer Max (although he does manage to sweep her off her bike, when his car runs her off the road, bad lad).
“I did A Good Year because I wanted a simple story and not too heavy a part like Tina Lombardi. But it’s funny, because although Fanny is in this sunny Provencal atmosphere, I like her sadness actually,” admits Marion. “She has a deep heart and deep feelings.” And we certainly find out how deep when the kissing finally begins.
“Russell is very attractive, a good kisser and a very nice, simple guy. He’s not macho in real life at all,” insists Marion.
“You should see his wife Danielle: I think he couldn’t be macho with his wife because she is a strong character, very smart and straight. He’s a real man, you know, he has that Man Thing,” she adds laughingly, “but he has a very good balance between the emotion and the strength. That’s why he’s an amazing actor and a great guy.”
And despite the short-fused New Zealander’s reputation for not being entirely safe around hotel phones (after a lawsuit last year he allegedly paid a hotel clerk $100,000 after he chucked a phone at him) Marion saw a very different side to Russell during the filming.
“I remember we were shooting during the night and we were behind schedule; people were tired and wanted to go home because it was three o’clock in the morning.
“So he brought red wine along for everyone; it was kind of magic. He was funny and we were all happy because he really took care of the crew. That’s the kind of man he is.” Yet despite their obvious chemistry, the actress confesses that she “hates” love scenes.
“Not because I hate my partners in them, but because it’s quite weird. Eurgghh!” she shudders.
“What was great about A Good Year was that it was very technical. If a director just says, “You will go on the bed and Do It,” you think, “What am I going to do?” But Ridley gave us a choreography for the love scene, telling us exactly how to move. When everything is clear, there’s no paranoia.
“Russell’s wife was staying with him nearby but she didn’t watch our scenes, no, wow! That happened to me once on a movie: I was doing a love scene with a guy and his girlfriend came on to the set. I couldn’t do anything then – it was too near,” she protests.
“I wouldn’t invite my boyfriend on the set during a love scene, definitely not.” She lives with her boyfriend, a singer whose name she gigglingly declines to divulge.
So simple is their life that in yet another departure from the usual image of high-maintenance Parisian women whose hairspray bills alone must blast several crater-sized holes in the ozone layer, she’s a Greenpeace campaigner who carefully recycles everything and tries not to use chemicals around the house.
“I just think it’s normal to take care of the planet you live in,” she shrugs.
For a long time, she felt very strongly that she didn’t want to bring children into a polluted world.
“I thought it was a crime, but that feeling is just changing in me right now,” says Marion, who will be 31 on September 30. Yet Marion, an Anglophile music fan who loves Radiohead and The Pixies and is fast developing a taste for English slang and swear-words, is certainly no joyless Puritan.
Although she could never envisage escaping to Provence to open a restaurant like Fanny, she loves good wine “you don’t have to drink too much if it’s really good,” she tells me solemnly.
No wonder, then, that she got on so well with her fellow wine buff Gerard Depardieu, who has his own winery, when she made the Piaf film.
He reminds her, she says, of the equally earthy Albert Finney, her Big Fish co-star who has a flashback role in A Good Year.
“I was so sad I couldn’t meet Albert this time on set, because I don’t have any scenes with him. He and Gerard both have a similar presence; they are very funny, they have charisma and strength and you can see that they lurve life,” she says, rolling her ‘r’s with relish. In La Vie En Rose, Depardieu plays the man who discovered the Little Sparrow as a golden-voiced street urchin.
Landing the much-coveted role of France’s most famous female singer was a great coup for Marion, who had dreamed of becoming a vocalist herself when she was a teenager.
“It was a fantastic film to do because I have never experimented like that before, although they use Piaf’s own singing voice a lot of the time. But I think people will be surprised by the movie, which is very realistic,” says Marion, who plays the singer from the ages of 19 to 47 when Piaf died of cancer after a roller-coaster life of lovers, drink and drugs.
“Her tragedy was so tragic, her happiness was so happy. She lived like a thousand persons, she was an all-or-nothing character,” adds Marion, who is drawn to “big, emotional” roles.
The eldest child of theatre actors, she played Joan of Arc in an oratorio at Orleans last year and still longs to do Racine and Shakespeare on stage for the ultimate credibility.
“I’m waiting for the Experience, the huge thing on stage,” she declares dramatically. But meanwhile the camera loves the eloquent-eyed Marion so much that movies continue to claim her. As yet, she has no plans to move to Hollywood where her looks alone would open doors.
“My preference goes to the director and the story, although I like to play in English because it’s difficult. It’s true that being beautiful in this business is not the biggest problem you can have,” she remarks dryly.
“But I think that it’s a challenge to prove, like Charlize Theron did in Monster, that you’re a f****** great actress before being a beautiful woman.
“I love Catherine Deneuve, who is a great, fantastic actress, but sometimes people are not fair with her; she’s far better than they say.” All in all, Marion seems such a grounded personality that it’s little wonder she has such a clear-eyed view of her business.
Last year she hit the headlines when she was interviewed by police about the case of Jean-Claude Brissaux, the film director who was credited with having discovered Johnny Depp’s French wife Vanessa Paradis.
Charged with the sexual harassment of several actresses whom he had auditioned, Brissaux stood trial and was found guilty.
“I don’t wanna talk about that,’ says Marion, who met him but wasn’t one of those he auditioned. “I just think he is mad,” says Marion.
“In every job you can have some people who are just mad, ill. The pity is that some girls are not as strong as others. But I’m not affected, me.” Outspoken to the end. No wonder she’s up to the challenge of playing Piaf – and taming the Crowe.