on 1 Jan, 1970
from Sunday Express:S (UK) / by Simon Button
Since scooping an Oscar for her stellar performance as Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard has become a megastar – just one of the things she’s tickled pink about. Simon Button met Hollywood’s happiest actress
Marion Cotillard lets out an infectious gigle. “That’s so funny,” she says, looking down at the tape recorder that has been placed in front of her. “I can see it whirling round.”
You’d think from the look of amusement on her face, that Marion had never seen one before, which is odd considering the world’s press has courted the French beauty since her Best Actress Oscar for La Vie en Rose last year.
“But I still haven’t gotten used to all this,” she says demurely. Yes, she has an Oscar back home in Paris – as well as a Bafta, César and Golden Globe – yet however crowded her mantel may be, the 34 year old is as down-to-earth as international stars get.
Her stunning turn as tragic chanteuse Edith Piaf is strikingly accurate, but in the flesh Marion is fresh-faced, a genuine ingénue. And there’s certainly no air of tragedy around her.
“Every day is magical,” she smiles. “When I start thinking, ‘Oh well, it’s just another day’ I would have to do something else, but it’s still magical.”
Magical is ne of Marion’s favourite words, and her enthusiasm doesn’t wane as she talks about her most recent movie, Public Enemies. Set in 1930s Chicago, the filmm stars Johnny Depp and Christian Bale and follows the story of gangster John Dillinger. Marion plays his beguiling moll, Billie Frechette, a part she was hand-picked for by notoriously hard-to-please director Michael Mann. “When he asked me to be in the film I couldn’t believe it. I read this beautiful script and I fell in love with the movie – and Michael.”
Not literally. Her heart belongs to actor and director Guillaume Canet, her co-star in the 2003 French production Love Me If You Dare. She prefers not to talk about the relationship (“I get nervous that things I say might be misunderstood or misinterpreted”) but her smile indicates she’s in a happy place.
As befits the face of the new Lady Dior campaign, Marion is looking lovely in a blue dress, her dark hair bobbed. “If it were left to me I’d be wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” she says. “But I see fashion with different eyes now I’ve met John Galliano.”
Marion says all this in a heave French accent, stumbling over the occasional word as her joie de vivre gets the better of her. “Speaking ‘American’ in Public Enemies was very hard,” she admits. “When I started I thougth it wasn’t possible at all, but fortunately the character is half French. It’s very technical and you really have to work and work to crack it. It’s about using your whole face, jaw and tongue in a totally different way.”
Were there any words she struggled with? “‘Particularly’ is particularly difficult,” she says, mangling the consonants, “I would spend hours in front of the mirror with my dialect coach to observe my tongue.”
Growing up the daughter of actor parents, Marion is used to thespians practising their craft. “There were so many people in the house,” she recalls. “Everyone was enjoying themselves, rehearsing, having fun. It was like a playground.” When work took her parents away from home it wasn’t a wrench but a source of great excitement. “It was amazing to get letters from them when they were in Hong Kong or Peru or wherever. And they would bring me back ponchos and all sorts of gifts. It was magical. My parents definitely sparked something in me. I saw how happy and fullfilled they were, and I knew I wanted the same job.”
She took drama lessons and stage and TV parts before breaking into French cinema in the mid-90s. She won a César for a small role in A Very Long Engagement in 2005, but only received global recognition for La Vie en Rose – a project she didn’t think was right for her when director Olvier Dahan first called.
“The idea of me as Piaf was completely crazy, but it seemed obvious to Olivier. Then I read the script and thought, ‘I want to be as crazy as him’. After that, it was all about the research. I only knew three or four of her songs. She was just an amazing voice in a little black dress and I knew nothing of her private life.
“The main thing about how I work is that I need to understand the character,” she continues. “I need to read every little thing I can read about her. I love to work this way. If you feed yourself with all the information, you get to understand who the character is. Then you can really be her.”
Dragging herself to the dark depths of human tragedy is a part of the job she relishes. “I love extreme scenes,” says Marion, whose character in Public Enemies endures a brutal beating from a wayward cop. “After a scene like that I feel kind of empty but also filled in.” She giggles at the gaffe and corrects herself. “I mean fulfilled. It’s like in sport you have a competition like the 100 metres, and after that you feel tired and empty but fulfilled because you did something that was intense. It’s the same feeling with acting and I really love it.”
Next up is her role alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in the American musical Nine, which also stars Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz and Sophia Loren. That must be daunting even for someone as down-to-earth as Marion.
“I don’t have much confidence in myself anyway,” is her surprising admission, “but one thing which helps me is the fact I’m not afraid of hard work. And to be in an American musical was a dream come true.”
This star-studded movie will up her profile and could come at a price for someone who values her privacy. “OK, acting is a hard job because you have to play with your emotions, but if I’m thirsty somebody will bring me a glass of water. It would be crazy to complain.
“I didn’t expect all this. I don’t know a word strong enough to describe what I’m living right now, but it’s an amazing feeling.”
Public Enemies is out on DVD on November 2. Nine is in cinemas from November 25.