A rosy future French actress’ research allows her to inhabit Piaf role
from Back Stage West / by Sarah Kuhn
Even before taking on the role of Edith Piaf in the biopic “La Vie en Rose,” Marion Cotillard felt a connection to the iconic French singer. Cotillard often uses music to prepare for particularly emotional scenes and has a few of Piaf’s songs in her play list. “I had a personal relationship with her songs, which have helped me a lot for other movies,” the French actress said. “But I really didn’t know anything about her life. I had to discover everything.”
Director Olivier Dahan had Cotillard in mind for the role from the beginning, even as he was writing the screenplay.
Cotillard, meanwhile, felt an immediate bond with the filmmaker. “When we met, magically, something very natural, something obvious appeared,” she said. “We understood each other. … On the set, we had the same vision of Piaf without talking. We never talked about the script; we never talked about the character. Of course, we talked about Piaf — but like two fans.”
In preparing for the role, Cotillard did extensive research, learning all about the singer’s colorful life. The film follows Piaf’s journey from her poverty-stricken youth through her blazing stardom and tragic later years. Cotillard read books and studied old footage, but she also did a lot of “inner work” to capture Piaf’s distinctive essence. The result is a ferocious performance that doesn’t merely mimic Piaf; Cotillard inhabits the role so fully, it almost seems she’s channeling the legendary singer. “I didn’t want to imitate her,” she said. “I never tried to have the same voice or to move like her. My aim was to understand her heart and try to understand her soul.”
The Paris-born Cotillard got her start in a 1993 episode of the TV series “Highlander” and became well-known in France after winning a lead role in the Luc Besson-penned film “Taxi,” which spawned two sequels she appeared in and landed her a nomination for most promising actress at the 1999 Cisar Awards (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards). She considers her role as vengeful prostitute Tina Lombardi in 2004’s “A Very Long Engagement” a breakthrough of sorts, as it netted her a Cisar for best supporting actress, gave her the opportunity to work with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and got her noticed on an international level.
Cotillard likely has other great opportunities ahead of her, but one thing is certain: Playing Piaf is something she will remember forever.