originally published in Paris Match
translation by Delsa
After France and the United States also Japan is applauding her interpretation of Edith Piaf. Accolades that push the young French woman to the doors of Hollywood.
Currently part of a global promotion tour for La Vie En Rose, directed by Olivier Dahan, Marion Cotillard won the hearts of the Japanese who have known her since her appearance as Lili in Taxi, alongside Samy Naceri. Before working on the role of Piaf, Marion had seen her career evolve slowly, “without any brutal explosion”, she says. In France, the movie already drew 5 million viewers to the theatres, the DVD is now on top of every list. And now, it is the door of an international career which is opening for the former high school student from Orléans whom her headmaster had warned “Actress is not a profession!” Next step: Hollywood thanks to a possible nomination to take part in the race of the best female performance.
“After La Vie En Rose, I will stop this! Or maybe just for another [film] and then it’s over!” she told us before starting the shooting of the movie which would bring her international recognition. But for 6 months now, Marion has accepted to live the nomad life of an actress who linked herself to a legend. There’s no time to catch her breath and she will have to be on a set under the direction of Rob Marshall who just hired her for his movie adaptation of Nine. She will work alongside Penélope Cruz, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sophia Loren. With her participation in this Broadway musical adaptation, Marion will fulfill one of her 2 biggest dreams as an actress; to be completely happy, she’d also like to take part in a Racine play. A dream of a child of Dramatic Arts [“backstage child”]. Both her parents are stage actors. They gave her the passion which, today, almost suffices to fill her life. Yet, Marion still has a “secret garden”: her house and her potager garden.
In Tokyo, Marion has the honours of the presidential suite of the Park Hyatt hotel. No reason for her to deny herself a few moments of jokes and games with Shinjuku, the business district as her view. A volcanic playfulness beside an apparent softness: the Cotillard cocktail which is making the Japanese melt. “Édith Piaf was terrified by solitude, which she had fled from since her childhood. On the contrary, I live alone and like it even if I have a boyfriend.”
With much ado, Marion is to arrive in Hollywood. Piaf leads her, while La Vie En Rose drives her there. The currently most talked of and in vogue actress of French cinema, has only just ended the global tour she had embarked on for the movie by Olivier Dahan – which sold more than 5 million tickets at the box office in France. Flanked by her director, the young 31-year-old actress just spent 6 days in Japan to prepare the release of the full-length movie narrating the life of Piaf at the end of September. A big press conference and 50 interviews with journalists were the most part of this very studious sojourn organized in the Park Hyatt hotel of Tokyo (where Sofia Coppola shot Lost in Translation). In addition to the guitar, which never leaves her, Marion had “brought” our reporters. While hosting dinners in her suite, falling exhausted asleep , coiling up as a ball on the sofa, singing in the corridors of the hotel, quickly engulfing sushis she had sometimes helped the cook preparing, and being carried by the crowd [allusion to the lyrics of Piaf’s “La Foule”] of dozens of Japanese fans in the street, she revealed to us that she now wants to leave behind this character which still inhabits her a bit. It will be difficult. First, the movie’s DVD is a best-seller. Besides, her embodiment of Piaf places Marion well in the race for an Oscar nomination in the Best Actress category. That is why she accepted to play the game and to officially enter the competition in Hollywood. Marion, now, seeslife not only in pink but in rainbow colours. This while well and truly cultivating her garden [reference to the morale of Voltaire’s Candide; more or less meaning that one is experiencing and learning so getting closer to self-development & happiness…].
Interview by Henry-Jean Servat
In those 6 months following the coming out [in France] of La Vie En Rose, what did you do?
Nothing. Well, many things and nothing. In fact, I spent most of my time, and that’s what I am still doing here in Japan, accompanying the movie from premiere to premiere. I have been travelling during those 6 months and I don’t have time for anything else, let alone seeing my friends. I still give my time – almost on a daily basis – to the movie and to Piaf in a way. Before preparing to leave them.
And are you happy about it?
Not to be able to see my friends any more: not at all. But to follow the movie, this particular movie, through its adventure: yes, very happy about it.
And your tour finishes in Japan?
Yes, indeed. The film, which has received a formidable welcome so far, still has to be released in South America but I won’t be able to go there. It’s the second time I come to Japan for working purposes. And I still haven’t had the time to explore Tokyo.
Does it disturb you not to have acted for more than a year now?
I didn’t want to. I needed rest and actually simply wanted to take my time.
Yet you certainly received several scripts, right?
Yes, I’ve read a lot of them since La Vie En Rose. Very diverse, very different ones. Just like I had not only received bimbo parts after Taxi. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. Thanks to the character of Piaf which completely inhabited me, I discovered so many emotions and went through so many experiences that afterwards, I felt kind of groggy and stayed that way for a bit of time. For long months now my life is turning around Piaf and this movie.
Looking back, what touched you the most [about this experience]?
The fact that Olivier [Dahan] wrote his movie with me in mind despite the fact that we had never met before.
Before the shooting, you said you didn’t know the reasons behind his choosing you for the part. Have you asked him since?
I have never asked him but I finally know why. I learned it during an interview we gave together. He thought about me, it seems, because of a similarity he saw in my eyes and in those of Piaf. He thought I had the temperament of a tragedian. And Piaf was the ultimate tragedian/drama queen.
Was he right about this tragedian temperament thing?
My actress dream is to play Racine. Actually, to play Racine on stage and to play in an American musical.
The latter is going to be realised next year…
I went and did several auditions, both in London and New York, for different parts, one character then another, of different ages, to play as soon as next spring in the cinematographic adaptation of Nine, the famous Broadway musical. From Rob Marshall who already directed Chicago. Penélope Cruz, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Javier Bardem and Sophia Loren take part in the adventure as well.
Are you still inhabited by Piaf as you said you were?
I had let myself get invaded by her. I wanted to read everything, to know everything, to see everything, to be aware of everything about her. I wanted to let myself be available at the maximum so that all those Piaf-related information could impregnate me. Not in anything was the method I opted for reassuring because in fact I chose not to rehearse but instead to completely jump in the unknown without asking myself any questions. Actually, I never asked myself how I would play her. I just wanted to understand her.
And when did you manage that?
When I stopped judging her. The day, I was looking at her childhood.
Maybe at the same time at yours?
The childhood fears of Piaf, her dread of solitude, opened doors and gave me keys. I understood that she was terrified by loneliness and would have done absolutely anything to never experience it again. As far as I am concerned, I don’t need to perpetually be surrounded by people. I don’t search to always be with my friends. I like being alone a lot.
Do you live alone?
Yes, I do.
But you have a boyfriend, don’t you?
Yes, I have a companion. I don’t have children but I’d like to have some later. I’ve just moved into a new apartment but I love the country where I have a house with my cats. I like spending time there.
When have you settled there?
A year ago or so. For a long time I had believed that I only loved the city and wouldn’t be able to live anywhere else. But I was wrong. I can’t live without green surroundings now. It is literally a need.
Do you have other animals there?
No, because it implies looking after them and it is impossible for me. But I have a flower garden and a potager garden.
Do you take care of them?
Not of the flower garden. I don’t know anything about acres and hectares but it is big. I do take care of the potager though. What I actually care about is to sustain myself, provide on my own for my needs.
Where did this idea come from?
Thinking about my grandparents who where market gardeners and who achieved this when they retired. Of course, doing your grocery shopping is pleasant. But picking what you eat in your own garden is easy, yet it does a lot of good to everybody on this earth.
So, what do you grow in your garden then?
Potimarrons, beans, leaks, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers and many other things. Moreover, I also have a lot of fruit trees: plum trees, fig trees, mirabelle plum trees.
And did you plant all of these yourself?
Yes, really. For this big potager, I did it myself. With the help of friends, I planted, looked after it, and picked and I was excited like crazy by the growing seeds. When I made my home there, the place was invaded by wild vegetation. I weeded it and despite not having a clue, I followed my instinct and you know what? I only destroyed the wild weeds as planned
And do you eat your vegetables?
After cooking them, yes.
So this is a way of life?
Yes, definitely. I have been sorting my garbage for a long time already. I try to support the activity of different ecological movements regarding nuclear energy, forests, water. Nowadays, I see my duties in being human first and a citizen next, actually. And I love to cultivate my garden, with all that it implies. And I love to work.
Meaning to act?
Yes, to act but I also like all the preparation period before embracing a role. To learn, to scrutinize.
Have you always wanted to be an actress?
Always. For my life, I have many hopes. And the desire to achieve lots of things. Acting allows me to do that in a way. I find the adventure that this profession is, great and beautiful. There is something strong and thrilling about it.
To the point of losing yourself?
No. I love to work but should I find myself very – and too – unhappy I would stop. I would never go, like Piaf did, as far as endangering my life to go on stage.
What triggered your embracing of this career?
My parents. When I was a child, I watched them working and I was fascinated. They had a lot of fun, they transmitted their passion to me and gave me this vocation.
You’ve been travelling with the film around the world. Have you kept count of the times you’ve watched it and seen yourself with a shaved hairline and all the prosthetic makeup?
I’ve seen the movie 3 times now. For me, that is quite an achievement…and one time too many. Notably at the Berlin Film Festival where I was sitting next to the Culture Minister so I could not go out of the room. So I spent the time of the screening, 2 nightmarish hours and a half trying to think about my shopping list. Usually I watch the movies I’m in twice. The first time around, I can’t do it. And then, the second time I manage to watch them, but with difficulty. And I just can’t watch dailies.
Are you going to watch the DVD which has just come out in France?
Not the movie for sure. But I will watch the two deleted scenes in the bonus section. One is Piaf shouting at Moustaki and the other one is where she is talking with Cocteau. I loved playing those scenes so I am looking forward to discovering them since I haven’t seen them yet.
Do you think that you will manage one day to live at peace with Piaf’s ghost?
I’m getting rid of it – even if I don’t like this word – little by little. I am leaving it. During the shooting, I could have nailed any quiz concerning her, such was my focus/obsession on everything related to her. I didn’t ignore a single thing from almost every instant of her existence. Now, I have forgotten half of it. I’m taking back my place inside me.
Now you keep traveling the world with Piaf. In the street, in restaurants here in Tokyo, people stop you…
Here, it’s the “Taxi effect”, which lasts…
The Piaf effect is also going to last. You’re going to bring it to Hollywood, where your quasi electoral campaign for the Oscars is beginning…
It is very exciting. I started hearing about this Oscar story after the Cannes Film Festival. Now it is launched. They explained to me, that we had to engage – the movie having made a strong impression in Hollywood – in a long series of meetings, receptions, parties.
And you’ve started this under the leadership of the producer Alain Goldman and of the American distributors of the movie, right?
Yes, I have – even if I am not really looking for prizes. I don’t dream of garnering nominations or statuettes but there are definitely worse things in the life of an actress. Even though I hate to undergo any kind of pressure/stress, I gave my agreement so I have to keep my word. What appeared exciting was very abstract at first and is now becoming very real. I hate interested people but I meet interesting people. All of this, in a way, thanks to Piaf, whom I am moving away from slowly but surely – but whom I really love very much.