from LittleWhiteLies.co.uk / by Zara Miller
(full version of the interview on which the article published in their March/April issue is based)
The French actress talks about returning to her roots for her latest role in Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies.
From skipping girlfriend to scorned wife, Marion Cotillard’s roles have mirrored her maturing process as an actress. Starring alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood she has, nonetheless, managed to retain an umbilical connection to France. For her new role in Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies, Cotillard has rubbed the stars from her eyes, appearing with an all-French ensemble. Marion plays Marie; the name alone being an indication of the transformation expected. LWLies met with Marion in Paris back in January to discuss how she feels about being the latest in a long line of French actresses to cross the sea and charm the world.
LWLies: In your career you’ve played lots of roles that could be considered as quintessentially French. From Edith Piaf to a French cafe owner in A Good Year. Do you treat these roles as honouring a sense of patriotism?
Cotillard: I’ve never thought about those roles that way really. Well, of course, with Piaf, she’s a very, very strong figure. But even though she represents a very big, a very important part of French culture, when you do a movie and when you play a character you’re connected to, if you’re lucky enough, you’re connected to what’s inside this person and not what this person represents. So I never had these questions in my mind or these thoughts.
We’re really interested in your transition to Hollywood. Often when actors and actresses move across seas, in between films, it’s quite a mystery what goes on in the middle there. What was your initial impression of Hollywood?
I had the best experience there. My initial impression of Hollywood is more given to me by my experience during Awards season than doing a movie. Because when you’re doing a movie it’s not Hollywood that you see, it’s people working and people involved in the same direction; to tell the same story.
So when you first started working in Hollywood productions, did any one expect you to change?
Oh no, I don’t think so, I’m not sure I’m able to change. I’m very lucky to work there and all the directors I’ve worked with expected me to be who I am and be able to give what I can give as an actress. I don’t even really know what it means, because of course when you are a character you’re not entirely yourself, or you may be more than yourself.
So you didn’t have to undergo the sort of harsh judgement Piaf experienced: the way it’s depicted in La Vie en Rose? Because Piaf wasn’t glamorous, in the conventional Hollywood way.
Yeah, but on the other hand, they were touched by what she had to give and it took time because you don’t relate right away to a woman who’s from a different culture who sings with a very strong French accent. Because she always had a very very strong French accent, even when she sang in English. But then, behind this you have the emotion she could give and that’s what touched people. And it took a little time for them to get used to this weird looking French energy.
Just to clear up, we weren’t suggesting in any way that you look like Piaf…
No! And I wouldn’t compare myself to her, ever!
From becoming the face of Dior to travelling to dream worlds in Inception, how did it feel to do Little White Lies; a story that is very much more grounded in normality?
It was very different because for a few years I had travelled: from the ’20s to the ’60s with Piaf; and then to the ’40s with Public Enemies; then to the ’60s with Nine; Inception was… out of time. And then, suddenly, I can wear jeans, I can talk my own language. So it’s at the same time relaxing and really scary.
Scary in the sense that you had to put more of yourself out there?
Yeah, but then sometimes I had to take me back in. And I didn’t really want to do that, but it’s what worked. When you have like a structure of having to speak like they did in the ’40s, in the ’60s, it was a different language, and then you have to think about how to speak. So you really create a structure for your character in a world that he will be at ease in. I didn’t have to create a world for Marie because I know this world, I live in this world. So sometimes I was kind of lost because I didn’t know exactly how to create my structure.
So it was almost as though you were too used to being Marie?
No, no, no it was not about that. A few years ago I could have been that character, not entirely because on many levels we are different, but I met this girl before in many people, I met her. And I met her as she looks. I could’ve met some people who look a bit like Billie in Public Enemies but it’s like little flavours, it’s not the entire person; someone I can have a dinner or lunch with, or drink a beer or something. So it was really weird that she was so close from my world after all the experiences I had before where it was a world I don’t know anything about before starting to study how it was in Chicago in the ’40s.
Ladies certainly wouldn’t have drunk beer in the ’40s.
Yeah. But I think it’s easier for me to create a whole thing and to have a structure where I know where to go from, and then suddenly I had to use my voice because it was better, my own voice, than creating something.
In terms of accent?
No, in terms of ways to behave. And when I saw the movie for the fist time it was horrible! Because I could see things of myself that I can’t usually see, because I’m not watching myself when I live. But something that I could feel was mine; a little expression, a way to move my head, and it was horrible. It was horrible! And suddenly it’s as if someone is showing you like a holiday movie with a little camera and you see yourself and most of the time you hate it!
It must be a surreal experience; that feeling that someone’s watching you, but then you’re watching you too…
But not all the time, because I created a character for Marie. But there are some tiny expressions. It’s tiny, tiny but I can see it and even though it works for the character I can’t stand it.
Now, the elephant in the room: the film’s called Little White Lies…
Yeah, when I saw this on the schedule I was like, I don’t get it, there’s actually a magazine called Little White Lies?
But something changes in the translation from French to English doesn’t it? The French is ‘Les Petits Mouchoirs’, so the English adds the ‘white’. The whiteness seems so important to the meaning in English. It’s what makes telling the lie seemingly harmless, innocent on the surface, a clean lie almost. Is this sense of innocence retained in the French?
It’s more something that you will hide, pretending it’s not a big deal to hide this thing, because you can live with little lies here and there without being totally torn apart yourself. But then it’s there. Les petits mouchoirs, the translation would be… it comes from an expression, like, you have a problem and you keep thinking about it and the expression would be like ‘just put it aside’. So you put it aside so there’s no resolution of this problem, but it’s still there. Or it is something that you will put aside because you don’t want to face it, you don’t want to see what’s real, you don’t want to see the truth, and you will deal in a way with it, but without facing it.
So it’s from an expression not an expression in itself?
Yeah it’s from an expression. We say ‘les petits mouchoirs’; ‘the little handkerchief’. So you put a tissue on this, like you’re going to put the dust underneath the carpet. So it’s clear, but it’s dirty underneath. And it’s still there if you don’t clean it, and if you don’t face that’s it’s disgusting underneath it’ll be there forever. And you can transform it into a naïve thing but a lie…
Is a lie?
And for your character, Marie, what little white lies does she tell?
She needs protection. She thinks she’s strong enough to live by herself and she lies about what she needs really. So she runs away, she tries to understand human beings behaviour on the other side of the world, when she cannot understand how she works.
And what important truth do you think the film tells?
Well the truth is, if you fear something, I don’t think it will do good to escape or try to hide what you are afraid of. But if you face it, eventually, it won’t hurt you. For example, in friendship, you have a relationship with someone and you won’t tell this person something that you need to hear from a friend, because a friend is also there to tell you things that sometime you don’t want to see. But you will not tell your friend what he should hear because you don’t want to be the one who lifts the carpet because it can destroy your relationship, you think it can destroy your relationship. You think you can be abandoned by this friend because he will not accept what you said and so you stay in this state of dealing with things that could be solved and that could take you further with yourself in a relationship, but you wont move anything because you are afraid that the movement could make your relationship collapse.
The film also deals with grief and coming to terms with loss. Do you think it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
Well, loss is a part of life. And a life without love? I don’t see how it’s possible.
There’s a scene in the film where you’re water skiing and you’re character gets really upset that the boats going too fast. Do you always feel in control in your career?
I’m not trying to control things because I don’t feel I have to. Things are happening, beautiful things are happening, and I just live what’s happening and try to live it entirely.
In 2009 you starred alongside Sophia Loren in Nine. Loren was the first actress to win an Oscar for a film in a language other than English. You were the second. What do you hope to achieve by the time you are Sophia Loren’s age?
Simplicity. And being able to cook pasta like she does. No, simplicity, because she…she has this way to be simple with people. She’s an authentic beautiful woman.
So do you think that simplicity is something that comes with age?
Experience, I would say, with experience.