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.


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