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from Eurostar Metropolitan / by Craig McLean
Marion Cotillard has the world at her feet. A successful actress, singer and model, and partner of one of France’s leading young directors with a baby due this month, her world is indeed rosy. She talks to Craig McLean about singing, protesting and working with Woody Allen
A luminous woman in a red silk dress sings in front of a mirror. Now dressed in man’s suit, she fronts a sharply dressed, flick-haired group of musicians, who bob and weave behind her. “Whatever happened to beautiful?” she pouts, “Where’s our love story? So now we’re selling our dreams…” The song is called Eyes Of Mars, and the clip is directed by Swedish filmmaker Jonas Åkerlund.
But this is no ordinary pop video, and the stars aren’t the usual hip young things trying to make it big. They are Scottish art-rock outfit Franz Ferdinand and they’ve written a left field homage to Dior, which Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard is singing.
It gets weirder. Franz Ferdinand may have written the song but that isn’t Franz Ferdinand in the video. The band are lookalikes. The singer is definitely Cotillard. But audiences outside France may not recognise the star of 2007’s La Vie en Rose. Cotillard won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Edith Piaf, “the little sparrow”, who was four foot eight and all gawky angles. Cotillard as Cotillard is five foot five and decidedly not gawky.
Even today, when we meet over coffee at a Paris hotel, she is suffering from a heavy cold and could be expected to be a little jaded because she is pregnant, but she radiates poise and beauty. In her smooth English, with just a hint of an American accent, she describes making the pop video. “It was an incredible adventure,” she says. “I’ve been working with Dior for two years, and it’s been very creative. That was the plan when they asked me to work with them. They wanted me to choose some directors and to shoot some shorts rather than commercials, not for TV but for the internet.”
Time constraints meant the short film had to be dropped, but a pop video was suggested. Cotillard liked the idea. When she’s not working in America on films such as Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, or in France on Little White Lies or Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris, Cotillard occasionally plays bass and keyboards in a Paris-based band called Yodelice, under the stage name Simone (her late grandmother’s name).
She sings too. This 35-year-old Paris-born actress is not a woman to do anything by halves. To play Piaf, she sang every day for seven months, even though in the end her vocals were not used in the film.
Music is obviously dear to her heart. Is she a frustrated pop star? “Oh no!” she exclaims. “I’m a very happy actress. But I’ve always loved to sing because in my childhood my mother would sing all the time. I cannot remember one journey in the car without singing. So music is part of my life.”
Last year, back in Paris after spending much of 2009 working in the US, she jumped at the offer from Yodelice’s Maxim Nucci to join the band. “More than just singing or recording something, I wanted to be on stage,” she says. An album may be in the offing, but she won’t be drawn.
For Inception, in which she played Leonardo DiCaprio’s character’s dead wife, she had to appear as a dreamlike figure. “Chris Nolan is so smart and yet mysterious, too. If you need to know something, you just have to ask. You will maybe not understand everything,” she says with a smile, “but you will just get what you need to go further into his world. And Inception was a fantastic journey, creating a character that is a projection of someone else’s mind.
“We worked very closely with Leo, because I was a part of him in a way. He really helped me to create my character. I have a lot of admiration and respect for him too.”
Cotillard had to have similar faith in Woody Allen. Famously, the veteran American director doesn’t like to give his actors too much information before filming. “Well, I was told I was lucky to have the script! So yeah, I think that’s true.”
What does she think of his vision of Paris? “He’s so creative,” she replies. “Quite brilliant. He has this very realistic and yet cinematographic vision of life. It was a privilege to see him work.”
Her role is “kind of a muse”. A human muse? “Well, kind of.” Is it Inception part deuxième? “Non.” Inception en Seine? “Non.” She bursts out laughing.
Marion Cotillard was born to be an actress. Her parents were both actors, and her father ran a theatre company. Aged 14, at her own request and a year earlier than normal, she enrolled at the Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique in Orléans. “I lived in this world where my parents were very creative and they really opened the door of our imagination, for my brothers and myself,” she says. “As a kid I was fascinated by all the people my parents worked with too, all these actors who would sit around telling stories. And their company put on plays for kids too. So it was magical. It was really magical. And they were adults and that was their job! I wanted to be like them when I grew up too.
“I already had this burning desire to be an actress. It was something very deep. Because I was very shy when I was a kid. I was very inside myself, scared of people. Then I just simply found a way to express myself.”
This year, she happily declares that she is “totally unemployed”, although aft er our interview it is confirmed that she has accepted a part in the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, due to start shooting this summer. Towards the end of the year she will have to promote her next American movie, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, in which she stars alongside Matt Damon and Kate Winslet. But, around the time of her baby’s birth, she hopes to “take time for Yodelice and the music”.
So how did she find working with Guillaume Canet, the actor and director of Tell No One and Little White Lies – also her partner and the father of her child? Would she work with him again?
“Ah,” she sighs shyly. “I would love to. He’s a wonderful director for actors. Because he’s been an actor, he knows how it works from inside. So, yes, I defi nitely would work with him again – of course.”
Cotillard talks just as enthusiastically about her environmental activism. She has previously campaigned on behalf of Greenpeace, and admits that she would like to do more. “I want to have more time to give to the people I work with, like Maud Fontenoy, a sailor and activist who does incredible things,” she says. “She tries to wake people up about what is happening to the seas and the oceans.”
There is also a documentary “about the forest” that she would like to help get made. “It’s very complex, because the forest is not just about trees; it’s animals, it’s insects, it’s a whole ecosystem,” she says. “And it’s people. I’ve always been fascinated by the forest. So I want to experience something other than just being someone else most of the time. Because when you’re an actor and you work almost every day – and it’s been a few years for me now. That is a lot of time spent being someone else.
“Of course, that is fulfilling. But I need to be fed by other things too.”
New baby, maybe an album, a role in the new Batman film, helping to save the planet… Even when she’s “totally unemployed”, as she puts it, Marion Cotillard is busier than ever.
Little White Lies and Midnight in Paris are on release now