Day: June 6, 2007

A star is reborn

from Time Out Chicago (US) / by Cliff Doerksen

Actress Marion Cotillard takes on the role of a lifetime in ‘La Vie en Rose’.

To say that legendary chanteuse Edith Piaf (1915–1963) is an icon of French culture is a bit like saying that Elvis Presley has a healthy following in the U.S. This week a new biopic about the singer premieres in Chicago. Titled after her best-known song, ‘La Vie En Rose’ it stars actress Marion Cotillard as the diminutive songbird. We spoke to the 32-year-old Cotillard by telephone in late May.

Were you at all intimidated by the idea of playing such a revered figure?

Yes and no. To play a national treasure is not without risk, but I was not scared once I read the script, which gives such a full-blooded picture of her life that I knew the film would show the same Piaf that people keep in their hearts.

Were you already familiar with the facts of her turbulent life when you read for the part?

I knew almost nothing about her life. I knew her songs and the sound of that distinctive voice, and of course I had a mental picture of her in that little black dress.

Would that be true of most French people your age and younger? Is Piaf slowly being forgotten?

Not her sound or style. We have a TV program that’s the French equivalent of American Idol, and each year you see contestants who are perhaps 18 or 20 who try to sing like Piaf. And the film itself has really created a lot of new interest in her music and life among young people here.

Most Americans know the name and the voice but not a lot more than that. It was only while preparing for this interview that we learned that Piaf was accused of being an accessory to the murder of her first manager, though ultimately was acquitted.

That’s only scratching the surface of what a turbulent life she lived. She was raised in a brothel. She had many famous lovers, including Maurice Chevalier and Yves Montand. She fought against the Nazis and saved lives working as part of the Resistance. Jean Cocteau wrote a play for her. She lived through addiction and heartbreak and tremendous sorrow.

Sounds like an exhausting role, and that’s not even counting all the makeup and the facial prosthetics that you wore to become Piaf. Does altering your face like that help or hinder you as an actress?

I don’t know how other actors feel, but for me it helped immensely. You have this heavy and warm thing on your face and it somehow takes you out of your accustomed feeling and appearance and really lets you inhabit the character you now resemble. It’s well worth all the time you spend holding still in the makeup chair.

How do you expect the film will do in America?

I think the life of Édith Piaf has a passion that translates across the boundaries of language and culture, and if it brings lots of Americans to discover her music, that would be beautiful.

No regrets

from Time Out New York (US) / by Elisabeth Vincentelli

Marion Cotillard finds herself by losing herself—in Edith Piaf.

Biopic acting is its very own beast, as thespians maneuver to avoid both reverent imitation and showy histrionics. The challenge is even greater when the subject is known as a singularly magnetic performer. Such is the burden that fell upon Marion Cotillard, 31, when director Olivier Dahan cast her as Edith Piaf in his film La Vie en Rose. As if this weren’t daunting enough, Piaf and France itself remain so symbiotically linked that portraying the singer is like being asked to play Judy Garland and De Gaulle rolled into one.

The doe-eyed Cotillard was able to eerily immerse herself into her role, no doubt helped by the fact that despite having starred in three hit (in France) Taxi movies, she had a low celeb profile—even if alert cinephiles had spotted her in Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s perverse Innocence, or as an angel of death in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement (both 2004). TONY got on the horn with the soft-spoken actor, calling from her home base of Paris.

Did your artistic family have anything to do with you going into acting?

My parents are theater actors and directors. I didn’t have a preference for theater or film, but I got the opportunity to make movies rather quickly and I found something there that suited me—a way to express what I needed to express, a very intimate dialogue with the camera.

You’ve always alternated between big commercial movies like Taxi or Ridley Scott’s A Good Year, and smaller, artier ones like Innocence or Abel Ferrara’s Mary. Is this a conscious decision?

It isn’t so much a choice as a way to conceive of this job. I was really lucky, for instance, to meet Abel Ferrara, who’s passionate and possessed by what he does. And in addition to being a lot of fun, that experience allowed me to work with Forest Whitaker, whom I’ve admired for a long time.

You’ve often given life to opaque characters, like Mademoiselle Eva in Innocence—there’s not that much to them on the page. How do you fill in the blanks?

There’s a lot of wealth in mystery. That’s why I’m attracted to these parts: They leave room for imagination.

It’s the exact opposite with Piaf: Her life is well known, so you had to deal with information overload.

Right, but you can have a lot of information about someone and have that person remain mysterious; her dimension is so great that you can’t know or understand everything. As a matter of fact, I knew almost nothing about Piaf’s life when I got the role. But when I started to discover her reach, I felt closer to her, and her iconic status became less scary. I was actually more afraid at the prospect of playing a 47-year-old woman—especially considering that at that stage of her life she looked 20 years older than she actually was—than an icon. I was 30 at the time, and it wasn’t easy to make it all work.

Was the film shot chronologically?

We shot in order of what made sense economically. So we started the heavy-makeup sessions on the fourth day. But that’s when I realized that dealing with all her ages in the first weeks was best. There were almost three different characters: a girl of 19, a young woman of 30 and a woman in her forties; as weeks went by, I had figured out all my technical and emotional marks within each era of her life.

Your lip-synching of Piaf’s songs looks remarkably natural.

I started by taking singing lessons to understand Piaf’s technique. Lip-synching realistically to someone else’s singing means learning how that person “breathed” the songs. The entire body also plays a part, and I needed to understand how to position myself.

Then I figured out that the best way for me to actually lip-synch was to sing at the same time as the track, knowing I had to hear it more than my own voice—those days were pretty painful for the crew because I asked them to turn the volume way up! I knew that if I didn’t emit any sound, it wouldn’t work.

What has the movie changed for you as an actor?

There’s a new sense of closeness—the feedback I get is very emotional. During her lifetime, Piaf triggered very strong emotions. That people are able to feel them by watching the movie is a testament to Olivier’s achievement.

La Vie en Rose opens Fri 8

Being Edith

from The Village Voice (US) / by Leslie Camhi

Already generating Oscar buzz, Marion Cotillard chats about channeling her inner chanteuse

I’d last seen Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose, director Olivier Dahan’s film about the life of the great French singer Edith Piaf. Born in destitution on the streets of Paris, Piaf reached the summits of artistic achievement and international celebrity before dying of cancer at age 47, her body wracked by decades of emotional turmoil, overwork, and addiction. So meeting the radiant young actress in a New York hotel suite recently was something of a shock. On screen, Cotillard embraces this role-of-a-lifetime body and soul; in person, she’s calm, cool, and utterly self-possessed.

Leslie Camhi: What does the voice of Edith Piaf mean to you? Marion Cotillard: Her whole life is in her voice, both her enormous strength and her great emotional fragility. And then it’s a unique voice, full of character, authentic and earthy, a voice of the people and of the Parisian street.

Is that a milieu with which you are personally familiar? Well, I didn’t have a miserable childhood, as she did. But I grew up in a poor and working-class suburb of Paris, in the projects. When I was little, it was great, everybody’s door was open all the time. There were Chileans, North Africans—you got to know a lot of different cultures and people who were managing to survive on very little money.

How did you become an actor? I come from a family of theater actors and directors. So I took classes with my parents, and then I met some people who helped me along. When I wanted a coach for the role of Piaf, I called one of my old teachers, Pascal Luneau. Our goal was never to mimic Piaf, but to understand her heart and soul.

As Piaf, your speaking voice is almost as extraordinary as her real-life singing voice. I spent an enormous amount of time listening to recordings of her voice, and to her songs, of course. During the film’s preparation, I was afraid that if I tried to speak like her, I’d end up with nothing more than an imitation. Two weeks before the shoot, I was still wondering if things would work out. But I could sense things falling into place inside of me.

It must be difficult to play the end of someone’s life and career, when you’re close to the beginning of your own. Yes. And then there’s the death itself—I really couldn’t identify with that.

How long was the makeup? Three to five hours for the later scenes, and though uncomfortable, it also helped me a lot. The lenses covering my eyes, with red veins to make them look older, the prostheses—it was all very heavy and hot on my face. And there was a heaviness in Piaf, too, toward the end. I remember, when I found out that she had died at 47, I couldn’t make the connection between that age and the pictures of her. And then, with all her excesses, it made sense.

Is there a moral in the film? It’s the story of a woman who took things all the way, who put all of her energy, all of the time into love and the sharing of emotions. So it’s beautiful, and at the same time that childlike innocence she wanted to keep her whole life also pushed her to extremes. I don’t see a lesson in it, exactly; I see the logic of human disaster. [She was] abandoned by [her] mother as a baby, so she had this great fear of abandonment, which fueled her tyrannous hold on people. And at the same time, the way she used this disaster in her art was magnificent. What remains of it are the most beautiful love songs ever performed.