from Savoir Magazine (US) / by Mikael Jehanno
Few movies this year have moved French people as much as La Vie en Rose, a film directed by Olivier Dahan, which sheds a new light on the tragic and tumultuous life of Edith Piaf, the unforgettable voice of France after World War II and throughout the ‘50s. Thanks to Marion Cotillard’s sublime performance, La Vie en Rose has already won the hearts of over five million French movie-goers. From Belleville to New York, from adolescence to glory, Olivier Dahan chose an intimate angle to depict the immortal artist’s exceptional destiny, highlighting her triumphs, her wounds, her loves, and – more than anything – the explosive mixture of strength and fragility that allowed Edith Piaf to express pure, undistilled emotion from the depths of her soul. The movie is coming to American theaters on June 8; it will be a chance for the American public to discover a wonderful actress, Marion Cotillard, and to rediscover the one they had nicknamed “the Little Sparrow” when she sang at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1956 and 1957. We had the pleasure to meet Olivier Dahan and Marion Cotillard last April, while they were enjoying a short stay in Los Angeles.
The daughter of a stage actress and a director, Marion Cotillard decided to become a performer very early in her life. After debuting on the stage, she appeared in My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into an Argument by Arnaud Desplechin and La Belle Verte by Coline Serreau as early as 1996. The mainstream public discovered her in Taxi (1998), directed by Gérard Pirès and produced by Luc Besson. In 2005, she won the Cesar for best supporting actress for her role in A Very Long Engagement, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Her performance as Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan’s La Vie en Rose is a veritable tour-de-force.
Mikael Jehanno: La Vie en Rose has received unanimous praise by the critics and five million French people have already seen it on the silver screen. Did you expect such a success?
Marion Cotillard: You can never expect it. It’s clearly a good surprise.
MJ: What made you decide to play Edith Piaf?
MC: Everything…. After I read the screenplay and saw how much there would be to express, to act, I was seduced mainly by the character as a whole, and I knew I wanted to play her.
MJ: Was it intimidating to get under the skin and into the soul of such an emblematic figure?
MC: I like strong characters. But I never imagined that I would ever have access to a character as strong as that of Edith Piaf. Regarding her status as an icon, when I started working on the project I discovered a woman rather than a legend, and I immediately felt close to her. So I wasn’t particularly nervous.
MJ: How did you gather the substance to play Edith Piaf?
MC: First there’s a rather technical component involving reading, watching videos and listening to recordings. I didn’t know anything about her life, so I had to discover everything. Afterward, beyond all the stuff you’ve read and heard, you have to understand the person. Finally, you abandon yourself into her. Something happens.
MJ: What was your relationship with Edith Piaf before Olivier Dahan offered you the part?
MC: Obviously, Edith Piaf is very important in France. Her voice is unique. She mixes emotion and extraordinary passion. Also, she was my grandmother’s idol.
MJ: What was the impact of the part on your own emotional universe? Is it painful to get out of such a fascinating character?
MC: It’s true that I felt lonely all of a sudden when the filming ended. She and I lived together for two months. It was a cohabitation of two strong personalities, one of which – Edith Piaf’s, of course – was extremely so. When it all stopped it put me a little off-balance to find myself alone, to get back to my own life, my own feelings…. There was an acclimation period. I’m lucky that I really love my life and I don’t want to live someone else’s. But still, it took a few weeks.
MJ: Which are your favorite Edith Piaf songs?
MC: There’s one…it’s not that I didn’t like it before the filming of La Vie en Rose, but I thought it was okay, no more. It’s called “Padame.” It’s one of Edith Piaf’s greatest songs, and I rediscovered it and immediately adored it; I thought it was a little strange that I hadn’t liked it to that point. I remember, as a little girl, I didn’t like the “Padame, Padame, Padame….” It’s now one of my favorite songs, simply because I sat and listened to it with all my heart.
MJ: Just like Edith Piaf, here you are in the United States for a few days. La Vie en Rose dwells quite a bit on the time she spent living in the U.S. In the movie, after some time in New York, she says, “I couldn’t care less about America.”
MC: She said that because she was annoyed and because she was very proud…[laughs]. The fact that she arrived and wasn’t immediately successful hurt her, so she got her revenge by implying that Americans couldn’t understand her. But when you look closely at the story, you see that she spend a quarter of her life here. Then she met Marcel Cerdan in New York City, [and] she lived in California. She came to the United States often, so in fact she loved it here, this country, these people. As far as I’m concerned, coming here is always a pleasure, even and especially when it’s to promote a film. A lot of my heroes and idols do live around here.
MC: I was just going to ask you if there are any American filmmakers who inspire you more than others.
MC: Yes, there are many, but I don’t want to give their names. I can say Tim Burton, because I’ve already worked with him and I would love to work on another of his movies. It’s true that when I was little, movies like E.T. were my favorite thing. E.T. is from here – well, he’s from far, far away…[laughs]. The first films I saw as a child and then as a teenager were American movies. American cinema therefore played a great part in my decision to choose this profession.
MJ: You are also a stage actress. Did playing the part of a singer make you want to get back on the stage?
MC: Yes. I don’t have much experience with stage acting and I’m impatient to return to it.
MJ: Could you tell us about the famous final sequence in La Vie en Rose?
MC: It was a special moment, since we were actually filming at the Olympia. After three months of filming in Prague, we had just returned to Paris, where we were only going to stay for two weeks, and which was her city. She always needed to go back there. In the audience were people who knew Piaf, [and] her best friend was there. It was a special moment in Edith Piaf’s life, her return to the stage after a year long absence. No one expected to see her again, but as she said herself, she couldn’t live without singing. It was one of my best memories of the filming.