Stormy role's French twist

from Journal Sentinel (US) / by Duane Dudek

Parisian actress shines as Wisconsin-born Dillinger girlfriend

Chicago — Wherever Marion Cotillard goes, she always takes the weather with her.

As she prepared to film her scenes in “Public Enemies” on Milwaukee’s east side last year, her trailer started “shaking and shaking” when “a huge storm” blew off Lake Michigan.

“And I said to the security guy who was telling us what to do, ‘Can we just go to the basement you were talking about? Because I’m getting scared now.’ ”

Coincidentally, as Cotillard told this story, she was oblivious to the lightning streaking across the downtown Chicago skyline, seen through the hotel window behind her, and the crack of thunder that followed.

She does have reason to fear strong winds, because to call her gamine is an understatement. She was swallowed by the armchair she was sitting in during a recent interview. And her eyes may be her biggest feature.

But on-screen, she is a force of nature herself. Her incandescent performance in “La Vie en Rose,” about the tumultuous life of singer Edith Piaf, won her an Oscar. And in “Public Enemies” – as Billie Frechette, the girlfriend of gangster John Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp – her penetrating eyes and angelic face impart a desperate and almost elemental sense of longing.

Fluent in acting

Cotillard, 33, who was born and raised in Paris, went into the family business. Both her parents are stage actors and directors, and her mother is a writer.

To see them on stage as a child “was amazing. My parents earn their life telling people stories,” she said in fractured English-as-second-language syntax.

“I was fascinated by that.”

She began acting as a child at her parents’ theater, and in the 1990s, she scored small roles in films, including Luc Besson’s “Taxi” and Jean Pierre-Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement.” And she began appearing in English-language films including Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” and Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year.”

Cotillard said she “doesn’t have to think about it” when she acts in French, but for English-speaking roles, “you really have to know your lines. And how you stress words.

“I love the English language. And it gets easier when you love it. But I wouldn’t say it’s harder to do. It’s just a different preparation.”

The character she plays in “Public Enemies” was half French and lived on a Menomonee Indian reservation near Green Bay until she was 13, when she moved to Milwaukee. With Cotillard playing her, the character has a French accent, although Frechette did not have one in real life, the actress admitted.

Cotillard visited the reservation, where the residents shared “their culture and stories” with her.

“It’s always so touching when someone is there for you and shares things for you to make a good job,” she said.

Cotillard, who just completed a role in the film of the stage musical “Nine,” said she makes her home wherever she finds herself working – she lived in Chicago while filming “Public Enemies” – and is returning to France to make a film.

She is a citizen of the world when it comes to movies as well, and does not feel there is much difference between French and American cinema.

“We also have big blockbusters,” she said, and smaller films like “Milk.” “But we have less big, huge, easy-laughing movies.”

Not surprisingly, as a native of a country that worships Jerry Lewis, she loves the broad comedy of Jim Carrey (“he’s amazing”), Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell.

“One of my favorite movies is when they are ice skaters. Oh, what’s the name of this movie? I loved it,” she said of Ferrell’s “Blades of Glory.”

“Or what’s her name. I love her. She makes me laugh so loud. The one who was in ‘Speed,’ ” she said of “The Proposal” star Sandra Bullock.

Cotillard just loves all films.

“What I love about movies is stories,” she said. “Moving stories, love stories, scary stories. I go see a movie and I’m moved by a good story. It might be the simplest story. But it’s not just about the subject. It’s how you tell the story.

“You can tell the same story over and over again, with different people. And it will always be a different story.”


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