from San Francisco Chronicle / by John McMurtrie
Marion Cotillard has had better days. Looking a bit pale, bundled up in a black cowl-neck sweater and slouching deeply into a sofa, she occasionally reaches for a cup of tea. With any luck, the drink will help fight off a cold that’s left her with a rib-rattling cough.
Behind her, outside the 12th-floor window of a downtown San Francisco hotel, the sky and surroundings are dull gray, streaked with heavy rainfall; it’s not unlike a typical winter day in Paris, which may make the 32-year-old Parisian actress even more homesick. She’s been away from her terre natale for a year and a half, doing publicity for the biopic “La Vie en Rose,” in which she plays Edith Piaf, and she says she longs to be back with her family and friends.
Not that she’s complaining.
“I can’t say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m fed up, baba baba baba,” she says in charmingly accented English, employing her equivalent of yada yada. “If I would say this, I wish someone would say, ‘Eh, hello! Do you know what’s happening to you? Do you know that people would love to be where you are right now?’ ”
Many people would indeed.
Last month, Cotillard won a Golden Globe for her tour de force performance as the tempestuous, hard-living and tragic chanteuse who died at age 47 in 1963. More impressively, she’s been nominated for a best actress Oscar. Astonishingly, in the Academy Awards’ 79-year history, only one actress speaking something other than English (Sophia Loren in 1961’s “Two Women”) has won the award.
Those odds don’t exactly favor Cotillard – and all the talk seems to be about Julie Christie in “Away From Her” – but Cotillard appears genuinely unconcerned about her prospects.
“I don’t think about the chances,” she says with an easy smile. “I want to appreciate the present time and really, to be nominated for an Oscar with a French movie is something so huge that I really don’t want to think about anything else.”
Before “La Vie en Rose,” Cotillard was little known outside France. She starred in the popular action-comedy franchise “Taxi,” but audiences in the States probably remember her best as the vengeful, cunning killer Tina Lombardi in “A Very Long Engagement,” from 2004.
When director Olivier Dahan approached Cotillard to play Piaf, revered as something of a demigoddess in France, she reacted as any sane actress would: “I was freaking out,” she recalls with a laugh, widening her big blue eyes. “I was like, ‘Wow, how can I do this?’
“I don’t have much confidence in myself,” she adds, “but I know one thing which helps me: I can work hard.”
That ethic served Cotillard well for a part that required her to play the diminutive Piaf as a ravaged, shrunken woman aged beyond her years – the actress’ hair and eyebrows were shaved as part of the extensive makeup work. And it meant spending countless hours lip-synching to match Piaf’s style of emotive singing.
As demanding as the role was, Cotillard says, “It was really a big adventure to be her. And I really fell in love with her. The cohabitation – that’s a word? – was going pretty good.
“So when she had to leave,” she adds, laughing, “I was alone.”
A trip to South America helped.
“I traveled in a country I’ve always wanted to go to, which is Peru,” she says. “And it washed myself. My mother went to Peru, and when she came back it was so close to her, so I wanted to go there.”
Both of Cotillard’s parents are stage actors. With their help, she got her start on the boards at age 5. TV roles followed in her teens. A career in acting wasn’t a given, Cotillard says, “but I considered so many things that I told myself maybe the best job to do a lot of jobs is to be an actress.”
Her younger twin brothers are in the arts as well – Guillaume is a writer and Quentin is a sculptor who has lived in the Bay Area for a couple of years.
Cotillard says her parents’ influence motivated her and her brothers to pursue their passions and try to do good in the world.
“My parents always told me that if you want something, you can do whatever you have to do to get it,” she says. “As long as it’s not against someone else.”
Cotillard may love acting, but listening to her, she’s most lively when discussing global inequality and threats to the environment. “There are chemicals everywhere,” she says, “and I track.” (At one point she rattles off an impressive list of scary-sounding chemicals that can be found in household products.)
A friend tired enough of hearing Cotillard simply complain about the state of the world and encouraged the actress to become an activist. She met with people from Greenpeace, and when she has the time, speaks on behalf of the organization.
In the meantime, however, there’s plenty of work to be done in Hollywood.
It was recently announced that Cotillard will play Billie Frechette, moll of the infamous bank robber John Dillinger – played by Johnny Depp – in “Public Enemies.” Michael Mann (“Heat,” “Collateral”) will direct.
Cotillard is already nervous about the film, and no, it has nothing to do with getting cozy with Depp, whom she met for the first time only a few days ago.
“When I see what I have to do with this movie, ‘La Vie en Rose’ is a piece of cake,” she says, laughing. “There’s no way she [Billie] has a French accent.”
Then comes “Nine,” in which Cotillard, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz and Sophia Loren will star in an adaptation of the Broadway musical. Directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), the film will give Cotillard the chance to actually sing, and not just move her lips, as she did in “La Vie en Rose.”
She can’t wait.
“If I had to go back to the lip sync – pfft!” She throws her hands up. “O la la, it is so hard to do. And to do the same again and again and again and again and again – at a certain point it’s just boring.”