Up Close With the Oscar Noms
from Premiere.com / by Sophie Grassin and Ghislain Loustalot (Paris), Translation by Courtney Carlsson
Actress in a Leading Role
LA VIE EN ROSE
Birthplace: Paris, France
Essential Filmography: Taxi (1998); Les Jolies Choses (2001); Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare) (2003), Big Fish (2003); A Very Long Engagement (2004); A Good Year (2006)
It is all that is being talked about at the moment: her breathtaking performance and her lived rendition. In reincarnating Piaf, not only did Marion Cotillard slip into her little black dress and recapture her cheeky humor, she found the most defining role of her life. Here Cotillard reminisces about this out of the ordinary experience.
What was it like to live with Piaf?
Marion Cotillard: Complicated… but I can describe the experience, or at least, try. Imagine an area that I would have set up to fit me, in which I wouldn’t be able to control anything.
An area, what sort of terrain?
MC: I’m going to give an image. I acted as if I had to throw myself from the top of a slope without controlling the way in which I would roll [down]. Except for the fact that I set everything up with a nice green lawn, that I took away all the trees from my paths and that I used the cliffs or the rocks in order bounce well off them with my little trampoline.
One might say like a video game, right? Super Mario III? [Cotillard laughs] Seriously, how did you determine this scenery?
MC: I free up the necessary space so that someone can come in and slide themselves within me. I do not take anything out. Never, under any circumstances. I co-habit. I make space. My job consists of rummaging about in emotions. Other roles have pushed me to construct characters. Piaf, she, was already there. I just needed to create a space to welcome her. So that she could want to come. But I could not let her submerge me because Olivier Dahan wanted to see me, myself. In the beginning, I wanted to disappear. And then, I became conscious of the fact that I was not hindering, on the contrary: without me, the character could not take life. I refused to become an actress that copied. I never tried to plagiarize her gestures or movements.
What does the work to welcome Piaf consist of?
MC: It’s a progression, a meditation. One session made an impression on me. My coach and I went out into the road, I had sunglasses and I closed my eyes and had to guide him. I instinctively led him to places where the cries of children resonated. Upon reflection, this seemed logical to me. I led him to places where clear and free voices were erupting: it was all Piaf.
Were you afraid before you accepted this role?
MC: Afraid, no. But I had moments of vertigo. I read certain scenes from the script and I wanted to get rid of Piaf. I pulled myself together. I said to myself: “No, look at her well, it will be necessary to.”
In certain singing scenes, it’s your voice that we hear. Was it a challenge?
MC: I sing reasonably, my voice tone is not exceptional. At [Paris] Olympia, where we shot an important scene, I had the feeling that I could sing like Piaf. It was planned that the music would start and that Olivier [Dahan, the director] would cut quickly enough. But I do not take myself too seriously. So, I learnt all of the lyrics to Non, Je ne Regrette Rien. I messed up right in the middle of the take. I persuaded myself that it wasn’t serious, that the scene would be edited. At the same time, someone, let’s call her Edith, took me by the hand and pushed me to go all the way to the end. I regained my concentration and finished well.
Does living without Piaf frighten you?
MC: I am still living with Piaf. I thought that I would collapse after the filming, but no… I told myself that it was cool, that everything would happen gradually. Only, Piaf is still here. I’m having trouble letting go of her. I recognized that I did not want to let her leave, that I feared abandoning her. And then, I reasoned with myself.
What ties you personally with her?
MC: She was my maternal grandmother’s favorite singer. They were the same size. They shared the same character traits. My grandmother always said she would have liked to become a singer, but there was already “la môme” Piaf. This link already existed, before the film, without my being conscious of it. My grandmother, she too, lived an extreme life, marked by great joy and great pain.
How do you see yourself after Piaf?
MC: I spent several unforgettable months with Piaf. She became an old friend. When I hear her on the radio, I feel as if I am being reunited with an old friend. I am not the only actress to experience this. Juliette Binoche, for example, must preserve an intimate rapport with George Sand. All of my life, I will be linked with her. And this gives me great pleasure. It’s not a burden. That being said, I have not filmed anything since. I do not even see myself working. I would really like to throw myself into a different experience. I will therefore definitely do some theatre. I will definitely act one of Racine’s tragedies because I love Phèdre. I finally turned down the first movie that I had committed myself to. I did not want to offer directors a comedian that didn’t have the desire. I believed in their project but I did not believe in myself.