on 1 Jan, 1970
from The Sunday Times – Style (UK) / by Jessica Brinton
With an Oscar for La Vie en Rose and a blockbuster turn in Inception, Marion Cotillard has conquered Hollywood. Now she’s coming home to Paris
“What I love about America in general is that… There’s a very strong, um… how can I say… hmm… there are so many different places.” Marion Cotillard is picking her way, painstakingly, towards her point. “But you can feel that… there’s kind of a… I can’t even find the word in French! My brain is not functioning. That word, I think it’s…” She stops. Thinks further. Blinks at me. “Solidarity?”
Here we are, Marion and I. She, perched on a sofa in a hotel off the Place Vendôme in Paris, a total knockout in a wool jumper dress that must be Sonia Rykiel and flat, suede Stella McCartney over-the-knee boots, eyes so wide and glassy she might be about to cry, skin radiant, unenhanced and looking not at all 35. And me tap-tap-tapping my foot because I’ve never, ever had a slower or more frustrating conversation than this.
“To have had the opportunity of working in a country like America,” she continues, nosing her way around her words like a snail examining a lettuce, “to work with Chris Nolan and Michael Mann is, for an actress who loves going from one experience to a totally different one, the most beautiful, exciting playground ever.”
Take that, France. You can keep your scruffy, street-urchin actresses. Cotillard — with her lovely hair, her teenager’s skin, her blockbuster-sized heart — is equally adored by America. She is a fully networked international female movie star, perhaps the first French one since Deneuve. Ask one of her gushing A-list friends. Leo DiCaprio, her co-star in Inception, has called her “one of the greats”. Nicole Kidman, with whom she appeared in Nine, described her as having “a fairy quality”.
Restlessly moving around the seat, she’s still expounding, slowly and carefully, about what America means to her, and I’m beginning to feel sorry I asked. Then, suddenly, she’s back in the room. All it takes is a question about her latest piece of work. “Work,” she says, as if announcing a chapter heading, “don’t ever think you don’t need to work. As an actor, this is the biggest mistake you can make, and it is disrespectful towards this wonderful job. My parents told me that the more work you do, the more work you have to do.”
She spent her twenties appearing in French movies, but not making a breakthrough. A committed environmentalist, at one point she almost gave it up to work for Greenpeace. It was her debut appearance in an American film, Tim Burton’s Big Fish, that finally did it. Her Oscar-winning performance as Piaf in La Vie en Rose only cemented her status on the A list.
Cotillard’s work ethic dazzles directors, who adore her. Her Oscar acceptance speech (“Thank you life, thank you love. It is true that there are some angels in this city”) was pitch perfect. Even her awkward faux pas about 9/11 being an American conspiracy to free up real estate, and the moon landings never happening, has not dented her career. She can just disappear into her work, and she does. One critic described her Piaf performance as “the most astonishing immersion of one performer into the body and soul of another that I have ever encountered in film”.
Her latest film, Little White Lies, is a French ensemble piece about the tangled relationships of a group of thirtysomethings during a rosé-soaked summer holiday on Cap Ferret.
Cotillard plays a beautiful, sexually confused, emotionally damaged commitment-phobe, prone to utterances such as: “I mess up with all the other guys, too.”
Everyone — male and female — is in love with this character, but she’s too scared to love them back. The movie is about wanting what you can’t have, having what you don’t want, and nothing or nobody ever being enough. The people are pathetic and irritating because they’re precisely like us. It’s all highly watchable
“I think we’ve been washed up,” she sighs. “We have so many opportunities that even when you feel deep inside that you are in the right place with the right person, you still think, am I still in the right place with the right person? And it’s terrible. Terrible.” Oh dear, maybe she’s right.
“Because there are so many things you can do, so many places you can go, that it’s totally disturbing. And I would say it’s created a category of person, and in this category there are many types. It’s almost a species.”
The film was written and directed by her real-life boyfriend, the actor and director Guillaume Canet, whom she met 14 years ago and first worked with when they acted together in Love Me if You Dare, a film about mad passion, in 2003.
Canet was married to Diane Kruger at the time. Cotillard had a boyfriend. They only coupled up, quietly, in 2007, following Canet’s divorce. “Sometimes love takes a long time,” he has said. “Maybe it’s something you didn’t see at first.” In interviews since the divorce, Kruger — who now steps out with Joshua Jackson of Dawson’s Creek fame — has admitted the split left her so poleaxed, she no longer believes in marriage.
“The not knowing what you want, it’s a horrible feeling,” Cotillard says. “Because it doesn’t do good. So many times, I asked myself, or boyfriends have asked me, what do you want? And I was not able to answer. And,” her accent grows stronger for a moment, “it ’urts. But you cannot force yourself to answer and give a wrong answer. You just don’t know.”
Most people just fake it until they make it, I say. “Yes, but then you live with a lie. Knowing that eventually you will hurt someone who is you, or someone else who is your boyfriend or your girlfriend.” Really? Anyway, I don’t think she needs to worry. These days, Cotillard and Canet hold hands all the way through awards ceremonies and live together discreetly in the Places des Vosges. The dashingly handsome, multitalented Canet sounds ideal for her. “For me, I need to be with someone who is searching, who is wide awake,” she says.
Last January, Cotillard pulled a swerve from Hollywood and headed home, after four years. In the summer she shot Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris. But for an undisguised Yankophile, that can’t be the reason she’s still there? Then I read somewhere that it’s Canet who isn’t so keen on LA. “I need my family and friends right now,” she says, her voice wandering off a bit. “It’s something I had forgotten because of working all the time. Last night I was at an event and then two friends called to say, hey, we’re round the corner having a drink, and I said, ‘I’m on my way.’ It was so great.” She looks down at her lap. “I get shy about calling them when I’ve been away a long time, but it’s coming back now. You meet new people who you love, but old friends are different. I miss them.”
It sounds as if her journey has taken her full circle. I suppose that’s what success is, I say. “Sometimes in my life I’ve let something happen because I didn’t know any better. And it’s scary! Because you’re only involved because you stopped choosing. Sometimes the best thing can come from that, but sometimes you also have to be the master of your life.”
In one of the final scenes of Little White Lies, there’s news of a pregnancy and I ask her if she plans to have a family. “I’m not sure that you get pregnant when you’re not ready,” she says. “I think you get pregnant when you are ready. You just need some help from existence to say that you’re ready. It happens because it has to happen.” Which, in Cotillard world, vaguely sounds like a yes.
Two days later, she and Canet announce that she is three months gone with their first child. And then, of course, it all makes sense.
Little White Lies is out on April 15