on 1 Jan, 1970
from MoviesOnline (Canada) / by Michael
To understand Billie Frechette, Mann spent a good deal of time uncovering the history of the woman who became the singular love of Dillinger’s life. “I tried to figure out the life of Billie: what she was about, what she was doing and how she got by in the Depression,” he states. “She worked as a hatcheck girl at The Steuben Club; she was an ambitious young woman from a small town making her way in Chicago. What also is very significant is her upbringing. As a Menominee Indian, she was very much a second-class citizen, an outsider.”
Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar® for her brilliant portrayal of chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, was cast by Mann for the part. “After I saw La Vie en Rose, we met. That was it,” says the director.
As part of her preparation, Mann asked her to meet with a variety of gangster wives, girlfriends, strippers and bar girls to listen to the women’s stories of unfailingly standing by their often-violent men. “He wanted me to understand the feeling of being a convict’s wife and not knowing exactly what the next day would bring,” explains Cotillard.
As Frechette was French and Native American, the actress spent extensive time with a dialect coach and visited the Menominee reservation to learn about the world from which the gangster’s girlfriend came. There, Cotillard met with members of Frechette’s extended family and discussed the life and primary love of their ancestor. She was quite moved by what she learned about the woman…as well as about the man for whom Frechette went to jail and never betrayed. “It was very emotional,” she relates. “When you live a passion, a love like that, you will not turn your back at all the fear that comes from any situation to be with a man who’s a gangster.”
“The skills of Marion are extraordinary. The commitment, the absolute total commitment to the moment. How deep and thoroughly she would live the truth of a small gesture, a glance,” says her director.
Her on-screen Dillinger was one of many on set moved by her performance. “I was profoundly impressed by Marion’s commitment to Billie,” commends Depp. “She took so much care in playing her properly and giving Billie her fair shake. Marion worked unbelievably hard on the accent and was profoundly committed to the part. I like her very much, both personally and as someone to get in the ring with.”