Marion Cotillard Interview

from / by Anne Brodie

Marion Cotillard has been heating up the screen with her Gallic charm, but now she’s taken on a very different role – one that hits close to home.

Quick Bio

Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard has an unusual approach to her work. While many actors say they enjoy studying human psychology for their roles, Cotillard says she thinks of herself as an anthropologist, taking into consideration her characters’ origins, physical characteristics, institutions, religious beliefs, and social relationships.

It’s an ambitious starting point for a performance, and is clearly working well for Cotillard, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La môme (retitled La vie en rose in the U.S.) in 2007 and went on to star in prestigious films like Johnny Depp’s Public Enemies, the all-star musical Nine and the landmark sci-fi film Inception. Her acting savvy and classic beauty also landed her a spot on our Top 99 Most Desirable Women 2011.

Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies, originally released in France as Les petits mouchoirs, gave Cotillard the chance to play a riskier character than any she’d portrayed before — a version of herself. Canet even wrote the part specifically for her.

The film, which was one of the biggest box office hits in French cinema, has been set for release in the UK on April 15.

We spoke with Cotillard in Toronto about this unusually intimate role.

You worked with long-time boyfriend (and French movie heartthrob) Guillaume Canet who wrote the part for you. Would or could you have done the picture if you two hadn’t known each other so well?
Marion Cotillard :
That’s hard to answer. I thought the script was amazing, and I’ve always wanted to work with him as a director. I don’t know if I would have done this movie without him. I don’t think it would have been possible.

A group of friends on a weekend getaway is struck by tragedy, but they carry on, unable to process what happened. What was your character’s response?
MC :
I think her relationship with all of them drives her behavior, and she’s trapped and lost between what she wants and what she does. She has a very strong relationship with this boy who has an accident, but it’s also a tricky relationship, because they’ve been together back and forth, and it’s this group of friends, and she really cares for all of them, and she is totally lost in this situation. She doesn’t know how to be there for everyone. I think in friendship, you want to be there for your friend, and sometimes you just don’t know what to do or the relationship you have with them is not clear enough for you to know what to do.

Guillaume wrote it with you in mind. Did that affect your work?
MC :
The first time he wrote the script, he didn’t think of any actors, and then quite quickly he thought of actors. She’s very natural, and I wanted her to be natural, so I thought that the best way would be to not create a special voice or behavior. I used myself. I was kind of weirded out when I saw the film for the first time. There were things that were so me. The way that she moves, even when she takes a glass of wine or something. You don’t really see yourself doing things, of course, but you feel. And then you see yourself doing these things on-screen, and it’s another character, but you feel that these things belong to you. And it’s very disturbing. When you see yourself on video, you and your friends spending time on vacation, and they take a video, and then you see it, it’s really disturbing.

What was the level of difficulty in finding her/yourself?
MC :
I find it easier to play someone who is so far from me because you create someone — you build this person based on the story and the script, with the director. And it’s like you enter a room you’ve created, and there’s no confusion between you and this room, because it’s really not you. Here it was really different, not just because she looks like me, but because there were a lot of common points — not just the fact that we’re the same age, and the fact that I had almost no makeup on. She had a totally different haircut; she is dressed like I could be dressed. I was inspired by a very close friend, my best friend, actually. So, sometimes, it’s not that it’s totally confusing, because I have a sane brain, but to find the boundaries or to not find the boundaries, to try and let go and think, “OK she’s going to have my voice, and have some gestures of mine.” This is something that I don’t really like. I like to have a character and create the whole thing and not let go of something from myself, and when I saw the movie, you have to understand, it is unbearable.

Yes, I think that in some of your best-known films, like Public Enemies, you’re so different from the characters.
MC :
Yeah! And it’s totally different because it’s in the 40s or the 60s. Or even Inception, which, even though it’s contemporary, the genre of the film is so weird that it really makes it easier for me to do because it’s so far from me.

I have never heard that expressed before. That’s really interesting. You’ve had some amazing landmarks happen in your career, particularly at such a young age.
MC :
Oh, yeah. I’m grateful that I am able to live my childhood dream.

And for such rewards: winning an Oscar, acting in Public Enemies and Inception. Just incredible what you have been able to draw to yourself.
: Yes. And I had never thought that I would work in the United States, with directors like Michael Mann, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, Chris Nolan, Rob Marshall, and to do a musical, when it was my dream as a child! And I think the biggest thing, when you’re French and want to be an actor and you want to tell stories and do some theater or some French movies, is that my dreams became reality.

You didn’t dream about Hollywood?
MC :
No, but on the other hand, I never thought it was possible. But because of that, I never thought about the obstacles, so if you don’t think about it, then you don’t send the message to yourself that it won’t happen or it’s impossible. So you let the door open without knowing it. I really relate to American movies because my first memories of a movie when I was a kid were American movies — The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin films, of course E.T. and Fantasia. It helped me to build my imagination. My imagination was full of American cinema and images. I remember we were shooting Inception on the set. One of my favorite movies when I was a kid was Singin’ in the Rain with all those big sets, and I never got used to it. Every morning [on the set of Inception], I was, like, entering the door thinking, “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! Oh, my god! I can’t even believe it!” even after two months of filming. It was like that all the time, arriving on a set that I had seen before in one of my favorite movies.

Well, like you said, you left the door open.
MC :
Yes. I think that when you don’t see the boundaries, you cross them without even knowing they exist in the first place. I don’t see myself as an accomplished actress. I think I have a lot of things to learn, and I think you always are learning things when you are an actress, because you are studying human hearts and souls. And I hope to never achieve everything there is to know about it.


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