Month: October 2007

Award-winning transformations: Becoming Edith Piaf

from The Envelope / by Elizabeth Snead

Marion Cotillard on performing Edith Piaf.

In “La Vie en Rose,” Marion Cotillard was given the role of a lifetime: bring back to life the tiny, turbulent and tyrannical French singer/songwriter Edith Piaf.

Piaf’s story is the stuff of legend. She was abandoned by her parents, raised in a brothel, then randomly discovered singing in the streets of Paris. Through sheer force of personality and will, she became the most beloved French singer in history.

It took an equal amount of determination for this boot-strapped indie film to find the spotlight.

Doubly so for a young French actress hand-picked to convincingly play a French cultural icon and a self-destructive alcoholic who remains an enigma, even to those who knew and loved her best.

For her efforts, Cotillard received the Actress of the Year award at the Hollywood Awards this week. And with “Rose” now getting Oscar buzz, the actress has absolutely no regrets.

Will Edith Piaf’s life be relevant to audiences today?

She was an icon for her time, and we were initially afraid that young people would not come to see the movie. But she had such an incredible life, very extreme, and she lived with such passion. I was pretty sure that she would touch all generations. And she really was very rock and roll. She came from the streets. She was the punk of her day.

How did you find out how to portray her physically, her mannerisms, her walk?

I read all the books I could find. But what helped me the most was the footage of her in her personal life, in concert and the movies she made as an actress. The roles she chose were very close to who she was. I got to watch her walking through a room, and the energy she had. She was a small person but you can see the energy in her walk, in every motion. She was so powerful.

And what made her tick inside?

More than the physical aspects, my burning desire was to understand her. At first I wanted to understand who she was. And its’s hard to explain how one does that. How do you finally get to understand a woman without ever meeting her? But I have a very deep and interesting relationship with her. I have the feeling that I have met Piaf.

What was the biggest help to you?

The best friend I could have had to help me understand Piaf was Ginou Richer, her best friend for fifteen years. The second we met, we immediately fell in love with each other. I was so nervous. I had read her book, “Sparrow,” and when she arrived, she said, ‘Oh, I’m so nervous to meet you.’ I said, ‘No, me! I am nervous!’ She shared her life with me, a perfect stranger, when we met. This is so generous.

She met Piaf when she was only 16 and was only 30 when Piaf died. They traveled around the world together. It’s a love story between those two women.

How did Piaf’s childhood shape her life?

She struggled for love all her life. I think that when you are abandoned when you are a baby, you will search for love your whole life. I can barely imagine what it’s like to miss something forever.

And that is why she tried to find love in everyone. She needed the love of the audience. She was not a man-eater, but she looked for one man, one big love. She didn’t want many men, just one to love and protect her.

Was there a part of her personality that shocked you?

I had so much admiration for Piaf that some aspects of her were incomprehensible to me, especially the tyrannical aspect. But my admiration prevented me from understanding her. I would read things she had done or said and thought, “No! Why did she do that?” I had to come to grips with what I didn’t like in her. Finally, I realized that she was terrified to be alone. She would do anything, even tyrannizing the people she loved.

In the film, you age from 19 to 30 to a woman wasting away with liver cancer at age 47. How did they manage this?

The makeup was a big thing, and it took time to find the right person for the makeup. We tried several. Some gave up. Others were not right. But we finally found one amazing guy (Didier Lavergne) who was as crazy as we were to think that we could transform a 30-year-old woman into that tiny little woman who looked so much older than 47 when she died. In the end, it was all about finding the right balance between me, the makeup and the lights.

Just how precise was the lighting?

Sometimes I would do a scene and [writer-director] Olivier [Dahan] would tell me, ‘You have to move five millimeters to the right because the lights do not work.’

In between my lines, he would say, ‘Lift up your chin just a little. There, stop! Now say your lines.’ It was interesting. You could imagine that Piaf could not move, that she had no freedom, and she was like a marionette and actually, I liked this, I really enjoyed this, to be directed in that way, by millimeters, so technical. In that scene when she wants to have a (morphine) shot and go to the countryside, it was an amazing moment. Time stopped and we were playing with millimeters to make it work.

It’s rare for one actress to do a film like this. Was there ever a time when you thought it might not work?

Yes, Most of the time, when it’s a whole life, it’s two actresses, like in “The Notebook.” But Olivier only wanted one and lots of close-ups, which are difficult. At first, the photographer said, ‘We have to back off with the camera. We are too close! She’s 30! Can’t you see? It’s impossible!’ And the makeup artist said, “I cannot put more makeup on her. She already has five layers of Latex!” And Olivier was like, ‘It will work. You will add more makeup and you will change your lights.’ He was very calm. But they were arguing for hours. I was a little afraid, but when I would look at Olivier, who is the most stubborn person ever, I knew it would work. He wants it to work and he will make it work.

Did you want to do the singing as well?

If we had had the time, I would have tried to do the singing. At first I was frustrated, but when we found the singer, she was so perfect. When I met her, I saw that it was meant to be that she was involved in the project. We asked her to do difficult things. She had to record Piaf’s less well-known songs. We asked her to sing not so well in the beginning. She has a deep Southern accent, and I asked her to have a strong Parisian way of speaking (making a nasal sound). She committed herself and gave us everything we needed.

The makeup must have been grueling. You had to shave off your eyebrows and raise your hairline!

I had about 30 days of heavy latex makeup. One day I was in the makeup for fifteen hours. I was allergic to the protection you put on underneath the latex. It was horrible that first day, so we got rid of it. It took from three to five hours to put it all on. At the end, it was five because I also had to wear the bald cap so you can see her scalp.

The costumes span so many decades.

Marit Allen was our costume designer, and she did an amazing job. She had no money. None at all. She found things in thrift stores, had some things made, remade jewelry. And she had to dress all the extras from the ’20s through the ’60s.

Did you ever dream of a meaty role like this at your stage in your career?

When I read this script, I could not believe it. Wow, this is for me? I knew Olivier wanted to do it with me, and I had never met him before, and I was like, Wow! That guy wrote this amazing script, and he thinks I can do this. It’s the most beautiful present I could ever have gotten.

11th Annual Hollywood Awards etc

I’m somewhat short in time but I simply HAD to update on this. New appearance pictures! Marion Cotillard attended the previously mentioned ‘Meet Marion’ screening organized by Back Stage and The Hollywood Reporter and the Hollywood Film Festival where she was honoured with the Hollywood Breakthrough Award. Congrats again!

33 ‘La Môme’ Backstage West Screening
40 Hollywood Film Festival’s 11th Annual Hollywood Awards

Maid Marion

from NY Times T: Fashion & Beauty Winter 2007 / by Lynn Hirschberg

In “La Vie en Rose,” you play Edith Piaf from age 17 to her death at 47. Piaf was a brilliant singer, but she was also a drug addict with a deeply dramatic personality. Was it challenging to play a woman who was so extreme in her emotions?
When I read the script, I was really scared. But, of course, I was also intrigued. The director, Olivier Dahan, wrote the script with me in mind.

I never knew why, but then he told journalists, “There was something about Marion’s eyes.” He saw some tragedy in my eyes, something terribly sad that reminded him of Piaf. And I have to say, I did feel close to her. As an actress, I could understand her behavior. That made me less afraid of playing an icon that so many people love.

In the end, a role this huge is like the biggest present. So your initial fear becomes a fake fear — just a manifestation of your ego. I didn’t want to waste my time asking myself, Will I be good or not good? I realized I just had to have less ego and do more work.

Did you shoot the film in sequence, from young Piaf to old?
No. We didn’t have a big enough budget for that. On the fourth day of shooting was one of the biggest scenes — the moment in 1960 when Piaf collapsed and canceled her performance at the Olympia theater. It was the big jump right away. From day to day, I was skipping from Piaf as a girl to Piaf at the end of her life. But it was better that way — if I had to wait for the last month to be old, I would have been paralyzed with fear.

But the makeup and hair transformations must have been grueling.
After three days of latex to age me, my skin was not there anymore. I shaved my hairline back before shooting began so that I would have a bigger forehead, and I shaved off my eyebrows. It was very disturbing to look in the mirror, but I no longer looked like myself. I could see another person emerge.

Was it personally upsetting to film Piaf’s death scene?
No. Piaf was dying again and again. When she was alive, all the journalists were ready for her death. They prepared the obituaries every week! When you play someone with so many chapters and so many moods, it reminds you that life can have great intensity and depth.

You lip-sync Piaf in the film. Did you want to do the singing yourself?
Yes and no. We really didn’t have the time for me to learn to sing the songs properly. But lip-synching is the most difficult thing to do. I had to breathe like Piaf, and I worked with a vocal coach to learn her technique. I would study how to breathe, when to be silent, how to look natural and yet emotional. I taped myself, and I hate to watch myself, but I studied those tapes again and again. It might have been easier to just sing.

Now you are going to do another musical, “Nine,” opposite Javier Bardem.
I love to sing and dance. I started in musicals when I was very young. Both my parents are stage actors, and I was fascinated by their jobs. My father was a mime. When I was 5, a director friend of my family put me in his movie. I played a little girl with a dog, but I remember my scenes and I was entranced by acting. It was a dream to me — the passion of the profession was contagious.

When I was 16, I moved to Paris with my mother, and I started getting parts in films. In France, film is a strong industry, but it’s also very complicated. The French are very proud of their performers, but they don’t want you to stray too far from France. As a little girl, my dream of acting had no frontiers. I wanted to cross the sea, to meet amazing directors, even if they were not in France. The French don’t like you to leave. But there are opportunities everywhere, and as an actress, I need to tell all kinds of stories.

When you were 28, you co-starred in “Big Fish,” directed by Tim Burton. Was it hard to learn English?
Yes. Three years ago, I flew to New York and I took a Berlitz class for 18 days. I saved my money for one year to do this. I rented an apartment in Manhattan, and I submerged myself in English. There is such a different rhythm to the language. It’s exhausting sometimes, like singing a musical when you’re used to jazz. Even now, in Paris, I try to speak English every day. I have to learn to sound authentic in English — to not just say the correct words but to express feeling, too.

I loved living in New York. I saw such a difference from France. In France, you are supposed to pretend you don’t work, but in America, they give you respect if you work. In France, they don’t like success — for instance, they excoriate their hit movies. They only like the underdog. But in America, they appreciate success. That was interesting to me.

Did you get calls about American films after “Big Fish”?
No. In the movie, I’m a French girl who’s pregnant. So, nothing. No one in Hollywood was interested. But it did change a lot of things in France. It put me in that special, weird place in France. I had co-starred in the first three “Taxi” movies [written by Luc Besson], and they were commercial hits. After that, to have your place in French cinema, you have to prove that you are a serious actress in a noncommercial film.

[She laughs.] When Tim Burton picked me, they were impressed. In France, they see Tim Burton as a kind of film doctor, and the movie was not successful, so voilà!

Do you find it more difficult to star in a comedy or a drama?
Comedy may be harder, but tragedy is such fun! It’s not as narrow a form. It is much easier for me to understand something vast and complex, rather than something light and uncomplicated. Perhaps that makes me very French. But that sensibility is an element of the French that might be beneficial for America. Tragedy is almost always interesting.

NY Times T Magazine Fashion & Beauty

Marion Cotillard is gracing the cover of the winter issue of NY Times’ T: Fashion & Beauty magazine. It was published today, Sunday, October 21. Many thanks to Riikka and RoadToOscar for the heads up. See a preview and read the article here. Full-sized scans coming up next week! I can’t wait since this is an abolutely amazing photoshoot!

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More scans from Japan

Here the rest of the scans from Japanese magazines. I think anyone would agree that the Marie Claire photoshoot is nothing but totally amazing! Enjoy!

If any of you speak Japanese would it be possible to translate the recent interviews for the site? That’d be great!

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