from USA Today / by Donna Freydkin
Marion Cotillard’s idea of a perfect way to spend an afternoon?
“Going to a museum. I love it. I think the last exhibit I saw was two years ago, here, in Santa Monica. So yeah, it has been quite a long time,” she says. “I don’t remember when I was home and had fun. I’m never in Paris. I haven’t been in Paris in so long.”
She can blame her breakthrough performance as legendary French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, which has transformed the delicate French character actress into an awards circuit darling. And though all the attention is a bit jarring, Cotillard, 32, isn’t complaining.
Sure, Cotillard says in her accented but careful English, she’s “busy. Very busy. But it’s not busy forever. All this great news every day is something very, very special.”
And then, Cotillard does something an American actress would never dream of. She lifts up her hands and actually points out the tiny laugh lines around her mouth.
“I have some wrinkles here because I was smiling so much. The opportunity to share that movie like this — it has been amazing.”
But sharing the movie has meant flying all over the world both to promote it and to collect the prizes it has picked up. And that bugs Cotillard, an avid environmentalist who drives a Prius in Paris, travels to premieres and galas in hybrid vehicles and buys carbon credits when she flies.
“I try to do my best because I feel guilty,” Cotillard says. “The waste in Paris is unbelievable. Because I was living by myself also, I started to wonder about all this paper that’s falling in the trash can — I felt bad. That’s how I started to become that way. I always want to understand and know what I’m eating and what I’m buying.”
She applied that same hunger for information when she prepped to play Piaf, an abandoned urchin who became France’s most storied chanteuse. Along the way, Piaf’s only child died, and so did the great love of her life, boxer Marcel Cerdan. She became a heavy user of morphine. She drank. But on stage, she still sparkled.
Playing the French national treasure, who in her personal life wasn’t quite the petite jewel she was on stage and who died from cancer in 1963 at 47, wasn’t what intimidated Cotillard.
“I was terrified by the fact that I’d have to play a woman from age 19 to 47,” she says. “I was busy having stress with playing an old lady who was 47 looking 80.”
In person, Cotillard is flawless, with refined features and creamy skin. When she was playing the older, haggard, largely hairless Piaf, a woman ravaged by hard living and disease, Cotillard spent five hours in makeup each day. And she spent an hour each night removing all that latex and glue. Even more irritating? How she would slip into Piaf’s husky voice after she wrapped the film.
“It was not annoying for my friends; it was unbearable for me. She is someone who is very, very extreme, who has a very strong character, and when it stops, it took me a little while (to let it go).
“Well, not so little, I have to confess. When I shot the movie, off the set, my voice was more the voice of the character than mine. It took a little while for it to go up again.”
Does Cotillard ever worry that fame might lead her to become as demanding a diva as Piaf?
“She was tyrannical. You have to understand why someone can be mean. It comes from somewhere. She was abandoned as a child. Her biggest fear was to be alone. My childhood wasn’t like that. I don’t have that fear of being alone. I’m not afraid to be alone. I need sometimes to be alone.”
The few times she has been back in Paris, she has noticed how her life has changed.
“People recognize me a lot more than before. I can handle that, really. What I live is so intense and so magical that I can’t complain about anything.”
Spending the past few weeks in the USA has been something of a culture shock for Cotillard. One thing that has been particularly jarring is the media’s endless focus on the travails of Britney Spears.
“I never watch TV, but now that I’m here, I watch it, and it’s all about Britney,” she says. “I love Toxic. She has some great songs. I listen to Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Radiohead, some classical music. A lot of things, actually. The ones who stayed for a long time.”
It’s appropriate, then, that after she finishes Public Enemies with Johnny Depp, she’ll begin Rob Marshall’s musical Nine.
“My dream, since I was a child, is to do a musical. I never thought it was possible,” she says before quickly amending her comment: “I never thought it was not possible, either. That’s maybe what keeps the door open to magic.”
Cotillard has been around, but you might not know it
by Mike Clark
As French singer and onetime national institution Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, Marion Cotillard elevates an unwieldy biographical drama that’s predictably heavy on heartbreak. It’s a performance within hailing distance of the genre’s gold standard: Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard in 2001’s Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.
Cotillard has a career stretching back 15 years — mostly in French theatrical and TV films, of which only a handful are on DVD. And her screen looks are so chameleonic that Rose admirers may not even recognize her from the handful of her movies that got significant U.S. distribution.
Here are two high-profile jewels and one undeservedly low box-office performer that are readily gettable:
• Big Fish (2003, Sony, PG-13, $15; Blu-ray, $29). Coming off his worst movie (Planet of the Apes), director Tim Burton rebounded with one of his best. Albert Finney plays a lovable-to-some blowhard whose tall tales alienate his exasperated son (Billy Crudup). Cotillard plays Crudup’s wife (eventually very pregnant) and strikes an emotional chord with the old man, launching more yarn-spinning. This one’s about his courtship of Crudup’s mom (Alison Lohman and then Jessica Lange, brilliantly cast).
• A Very Long Engagement (2004, Warner, R, $20). Appallingly, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s visually resplendent Amelie didn’t get 2001’s foreign-language Oscar despite five nominations overall. But his equally handsome follow-up, also starring Amelie lead Audrey Tatou, was almost as good. Cotillard appears relatively late in a small role she bit into hard enough to win a Cesar (France’s Oscar). As an imprisoned prostitute, she provides Tatou with a key clue to unveiling the shady mystery that led to her fiancé’s death in World War I.
• A Good Year (2006, Fox, PG-13, $20). Modestly delectable but ignored or put down by both critics and the public, the movie of Peter Mayle’s novel reunited Gladiator’s Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott for two hours of good food, fine wine, shady trees and classy women. Cotillard, quite alluring, is the restaurateur who, after a bad start, captures investment banker Crowe’s imagination after his workaholic finds himself gradually seduced by a Provence vineyard.