Day: June 7, 2007

Interview: Marion Cotillard

from (US) / by Benjamin Crossley-Marra

If you met Marion Cotillard in person you probably wouldn’t draw any association with France’s beloved icon Edith Piaf. Marion is tall, demure and extremely striking. Edith was diminutive, held a slight hunchback never bothered to carry herself in an overly lady-like manner. But a peculiar aura surrounds them both. This aura is what director Olivier Dahan must have felt when he chose Marion to portray Edith Piaf in his latest film La Vie en Rose.

When Marion walks in the room all eyes immediately lighten up and everyone becomes transfixed with every word that drops from her mouth. When Edith Piaf sang at concert halls the audience felt as if she was singing each song just for them. It’s this energy that makes Marion the perfect choice to portray this legend.

Cotillard was born in France in 1975 and made her mark on French cinema in 1998 starring in Luc Besson’s Taxi. Since then she has appeared in a number of notable films including Jean Pierre-Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement and Ridley Scott’s A Good Year.

Dahan chose Cotillard to play Edith prior to meeting her and steadfastly refused to consider anyone else. His intuition proved ingenious, as Marion’s performance is certainly one of this year’s best. She manages to channel Piaf with such ferocity and emotion it’s hard to believe that young Marion is under all that make-up.

Piaf was not an easy part to play. From the time she was seventeen to her untimely death at age forty-seven her life went through several dramatic changes. She was raised on the streets, became involved with underworld clubs, contracted arthritis at an early age, become addicted to morphine and suffered cancer in her later years. All this required extreme physical demands from the actress.

I met Marion in New York to discuss her performance, her life and her views on acting.

Q: How hard was it to transform into Edith? What was the process like?
Well it’s not so hard…it’s just work and trying to have fun with something vertiginous. There are some technical parts which are hard like lip-syncing. But there was also a technical part about the character. Of course because I didn’t know anything about Edith’s life I had to read a lot of books and watch a lot of her work that’s available on film. The most important thing was to try and understand who she was and I guess, really, this is not something technical or a process that you can explain. In discovering the life of a person you find some things you like and some things you don’t. I think it’s looking at the things you don’t like and then abandoning your judgment that you will truly find someone else’s heart and soul.

Q: What was your favorite experience while making this film?
There are so many things, but I was so afraid I would not be able to manage Edith, as her character got older. She died in her forties but looked like she was in her seventies. I was so scared but then I found my marks and when we started shooting it felt so good to be able to play like this. Ironically, I felt like I was a kid again playing pretend. It felt liberating because kids playing pretend don’t try to be good actors, they just play and have fun. Once I found out how to play with this character at that age I began to have a lot of fun with it. Especially when she’s older and in California, I loved shooting those scenes.

Q: A lot of darkness surrounded Edith’s life. Was it sometimes hard to leave all that drama back on the set at the end of the day?
I have never used, nor will I ever use, my personal life to feed a character. I don’t want to do that because I think it’s dangerous for me to think of sad events in my life to achieve certain emotions. I’m not the person who will be sad about someone’s life and go into that kind of emotional state. I see Edith’s entire life and, yes, parts of it were sad but she was also a very “living” person. As an actress it gives me great pleasure playing tragedy because it involves huge emotions where you can express a lot of things and really let go.

Q: What do you draw from to achieve the emotional state of the character then?
I think that it’s as if you take – the emotion you give to the character of course it’s your own emotions – but it’s as if you take the technical side of what the emotion is and apply it. This is really hard to explain because emotions are not really that technical. I think people who are close to their emotions can project them. When I first read the script I had an emotional reaction because it touched me so deeply, so I used that emotion in bringing Edith Piaf to life.

Q: Are you afraid to be stuck with Edith Piaf?
I think those things only happen when you think about it too much. For example, when I first got into movies in France I had great success playing bimbos. But I never believed that I would be put in a box. I think if you have that inside of you it won’t happen.

Q: But Edith Piaf is a very iconic character.
Yes, but it’s not so much about her being an icon. It’s not a matter of the subject it’s a matter of you and what you want to do. I want to have a lot of other amazing journeys and I am ultimately responsible for whether I’m in a box or not. I’m sure of this.

Q: What were your first impressions when you met with Olivier Dahan?
I had read the script before I met him. When I read the script I was speechless, I couldn’t believe Oliver would think that one person could portray her for a majority of her life. I didn’t think one actress would be able to do all those scenes. But I had just read my dream role, so when I met him it felt very natural. From our first meeting we both shared the same vision for Edith. I loved the sense of intimacy that Oliver had put into the script. From that meeting on we never really talked about his script or the character again. We just shot it.

Q: What did you learn from the experience of playing Edith?
It’s hard to explain with words what you’ve learned for yourself because it’s a feeling that you will keep forever; once you’ve had that experience of letting go. To abandon yourself to the point of being one with what you’re searching for. Maybe I feel stronger in a way?

Q: A lot of younger people have come out to see the film in France. What connections do you think they are making with Edith Piaf?
It’s the story of an amazing woman who shared her emotions all her life and who wrote the most beautiful love songs. For her time she was (actually) kind of punk rock (laughs). She was very modern and I think even today’s youth can pick up on that. Even now with shows like American Idol (we have several variations on that in France) many of the contestants choose to sing Piaf. I think it’s because the songs break through generations and are universal. Of course they don’t actually know her life. But her life was so intense and so beautiful that I think it can touch everybody.

Q: You’ve worked with a lot of interesting directors including Ridley Scott and Jean Pierre-Jeunet, is there a particular director whose process you prefer?
Well I like to work in different universes with different directors. It’s like human beings: you can’t really say what type of human beings you prefer exactly. What I really like are strong universes with strong imaginations like Jeunet, Dahan and Tim Burton. So it’s kind of hard to answer that. It’s always different because all of those directors are unique in their own way. That’s one of the things I love about this job is the opportunity to be invited to so many places

Q: Do you have any favorite songs by Piaf?
Yes, many, but I especially love Padam, Padam. I also really love La Foule and several songs that are not available anymore. I listened to everything I could when doing research.

Q: Are there any other iconic women that you find fascinating you’d like to play?
Each time I hear that question the first name that comes to my mind is someone I can’t do because it’s Aung San Suu Kyi. For obvious and emotional reasons I can’t. But I think a movie has to be done.

Q: Would you consider producing or directing it?
Yes, definitely. I could express many things through directing, I’m not ready yet, but I guess that one day I will have that experience.

Q: Would you do the Aung San Suu Kyi film as a documentary or narrative feature?
: That’s a good question, I don’t really know. She’s still alive and she’s still in prison in her own house. You know I think this story is terrible…really, it touched me and because she couldn’t visit her husband who had cancer…it’s so horrible. I love that woman really, she’s a strong, strong, lady. Fighting against the army and everything.

Q: If you made the film do you think you could change things?
Oh I don’t know, so many people sign things and so many people try to make things happen. But I think that maybe movies can put things in people’s minds more effectively.

Q: Are you writing yourself?
Yeah I try, but writing is…wow…you really have to concentrate. I’m the kind of person that has an admiration complex. I tend to admire other people then get self-motivated. You think that maybe there’s too much ego in a way, to think that you would be able to write like…I don’t know, I’m trying.

Picturehouse Films releases La Vie en Rose in theatres this coming Friday, June 8th

Living La Vie en Rose

from (US) / by Edward Douglas

There are two reasons why La Vie en Rose, Olivier Dahan’s new biopic about the life of legendary French singer Edith Piaf, might be one of the best movies of the year so far. The first is how the filmmaker created a non-linear visual portrait of Piaf’s life through her songs, but more importantly, it’s the astonishing way that 32-year-old actress Marion Cotillard (pronounced “coat-tea-yar”) was able to capture the many phases of Piaf’s life and career from singing on the streets of Belleville in her 20s to her later years, as she lay dying of cancer and could no longer perform.

Recently, had a chance to talk to Olivier and Marion about the astonishing film and a performance that’s likely to be remembered come Oscar time.

To kick things off, Dahan explained why he wanted to make a movie about Piaf’s life, and he told us of the difficulties he had getting others to understand why it was important. “For a long time, I wanted to make a movie about an artist and it seemed to me that Edith Piaf was the perfect example of what an artist could or should be in the way of mixing life and art together all the time, to be totally committed to her art and to be very truthful. No lies. When she was on stage, even when she was sick and dying, she was there for the people. My producer had been working pretty hard to find the money to do this movie. It wasn’t so easy, because there were a lot of people in France telling him and me that making a movie about this old singer wouldn’t be of interest for young people. Most of them didn’t really want to finance the movie because they thought it was dusty and old-fashioned, it wasn’t really modern. I was sure I could make something modern with this character, but at the beginning, it wasn’t so easy.”

“I did no casting,” he said about his search for the perfect Edith Piaf. “Marion was my first idea from the very beginning. I really didn’t think about anyone else. I was sure she was the one, it’s very simple. [My producers] wanted me to meet other actresses just to be polite, but I was sure at this time that Marion would make the movie. From the very start of the writing process, I was just thinking about her. Marion is a good singer but it wasn’t important, because from the beginning, I wanted the real voice of Piaf in the movie.”

“I didn’t know anything about her life,” Cotillard told us when asked if she was intimidated about playing such a legendary personality. “When I started to discover her life, I felt something very close immediately, so I was not so intimidated by the fact that she was an icon. The thing that intimidated me was more to play a sick old lady that looks much older than she is in reality. That was a scary thing for me.”

Cotillard told us about the early influences of Piaf on her life before getting the role. “I have an ancient memory from when I was a little girl. I heard her voice, and I thought she had a very strong voice. When I started to work on this project and I discovered all these pictures, the footage and interviews, and the movies she did as an actress, my first impression was the strength and at the same time, the weak person she could be, the balance of these two opposite things was something to discover. Sometimes, I use music in order to help me to get through different kinds of emotions, and several times before this project, on other movies, I used Piaf songs, so I had an intimate relationship with those songs. I had that image of that little sparrow, as they called her, with that black dress and that strong and amazing voice. The thing is that in her time, she would share her personal life with the audience and the press each time she had an accident or a lover. The new generation, they just don’t know anything about her intimate life, but they know her songs, because she wrote the most beautiful love songs. When you have all those shows here like ‘American Idol,’ we have the same in France, and each year, they would sing Piaf. It’s just about her intimacy that the new generation doesn’t know.”

We wanted to learn a bit more about the non-linear nature of the film and how Dahan cut between Piaf’s early and later years quite fluidly, particularly whether he scripted the movie that way or came up with that structure after shooting the film. “I really didn’t change anything during the editing. It was already written like this,” he admitted. “Actually, it was like that from the first draft of writing. The first week, we just shot the very young Edith, and it was a good way to enter for me as a director into the movie, because I really like to work with children. I’m really comfortable with them on the set.”

That must have been difficult for his star who had to switch gears between playing a young Piaf that was closer to her own age and playing her when she was much older. “When I saw the schedule and I saw that the fourth day of shooting for me was the scene where she decides not to do the Olympia and then Mr. Dumont comes and sings [“No Regrets”] and she has that resurrection. I saw this and I was like ‘Wow, man, this is the big jump straightaway.’ I was a little bit scared of that but I realized that it was the better way not to be so scared by starting the young years. The fact that it was all mixed–I was young and then old and then I was my age–I think it was a good thing that they did it like this, because after four or five days of old period, it was so good to come back to the younger one. I found my marks in all the periods and then it was just about enjoying doing something I know I can do and I can have fun with. About the make-up, it was a good thing too, because when we’d take the make-up off, the latex, the glue and everything, the prosthetics, it was like 30 days with the make-up on which is quite a long period, and it’s better if it’s spread over four and a half months.”

The two of them also talked about working with France’s most famous living actor, Gerard Depardieu, who plays Louis Leplée, Piaf’s first manager (and the originator of her name) “He’s such a character,” Marion told us. “He’s an amazing actor that all people know, but on the set, he really creates an atmosphere. He’s a very simple guy to talk with, very open and funny. It was one week, but because we were shooting many emotional scenes, that week was a little piece of happiness and laughing. It was great to work with him. He is one of the most incredible actors in France.”

“Actually, he’s like Piaf, he’s the same kind of person,” Dahan added. “He’s always mixing life and work in a funny way. He has a lot of humor that I like, and it was a very nice experience to work with him. He doesn’t make you feel his experience. He has this great gift, like when you see Gerard talking with anybody on set, he doesn’t care if they’re on the crew or a child, he talks to everybody, he’s not superficial.”

We asked the actress and director what they felt Edith Piaf was searching for and received two very different answers. “I think she was searching for love forever,” Marion said, “and it’s very understandable, because she was abandoned when she was a baby. I guess that when you’re abandoned as a baby, you will search for love your entire life.”

“I think from the very beginning she wanted to be a star, because she didn’t want to stay and sing in the street. From the very beginning, she knew she had a voice, and she wanted to become someone, but not to change herself to become someone else, but just to become what she was. Leplée was the very first one to trust her, because just before that, she was just singing in the street and for the very first time, someone engaged her in a cabaret and she was really singing for an audience even if this audience wasn’t so big but they were there to listen to her.”

“Leplée, he was her savior really,” Marion agreed. “He was the man who got her from the streets, and for her, it was a disaster when he died, because he was like her father, he believed in her, and at that time, because she was accused of being involved with his murder, it was a very big loss for her.”

We asked Marion if she was prepared for the kind of attention she’s likely to receive for her performance as Piaf. “Because I’m not a total newcomer in France, I have that quality to be able to take a step back, so I didn’t have to have a special preparation for this. The people I’m working with, I trust them. I’ve worked with them for a long time and they’re beautiful support for me. It’s something to get that attention, but it’s also about the movie, and I’m very happy this movie has the chance to be seen all around the world.”

And how will she follow up this landmark role and performance? “Nothing that I can talk about right now, but it’s going to be a stage musical, sort of rock opera.”

Olivier concluded by telling us what he hopes audiences will come away with after seeing the movie. “Even in France, people don’t know so much about her life. A lot of French people know her songs because they still play them on the radio, but not everyone knows about the story of her life. Here, it’s worse, because for sure, she’s not American, so it’s different. I didn’t have any expectations from the audience in France, so I can’t have any expectations here neither. I would just like that the people who go to the theatre to see the movie like it.”

La Vie en Rose opens on Friday, June 8, in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.