She's Happy

from Elle (South Africa) / by Anne Diatkine

Marion Cotillard shines in an unusual new cinematic love story – and in a life filled with a calm contentment

A fresh breeze blows through the streets of New York. Hats are bought and blown away, scarves are tied and sweaters layered to perfection as we drive through Broadway in Manhattan to meet Oscar-winning actress [as Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose], Marion Cotillard.

The famous actress is barely visible behind the small crowd fussing around her in the makeshift make-up room, walked off by a rail of Dior dresses, of course. ‘No, no, no,’ sings Amy Winehouse. I wait with a copy of Craig Davidson’s Rust and Bone on my lap. Some of the short stories in this book served as the guiding principle for Jacques Audiard’s new work that was a strong contended for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year and is one of the year’s most moving and absorbing love stories.

In Rust and Bone Marion stars opposite the exceptional Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, and plays a woman who lost her legs but remains sensual and in touch with her emotions, even though she’s wheelchair-bound. The role is also in stark contrast with that of Piaf: the actress’s skin is nude, her face is as bare as possible… in other words, we see her.

The success of her performance as Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, further ties in Marion’s ability not toportray her character as a victim. Playing an ordinary beauty in the beginning, sh increasingly shines as the story develops.

Back in the studio we are interrupted when the most beautifuly baby in the world makes his way towards his mother’s arms. Everyone drops their books, cellphones, pens, laptops and Marion stands up to dance with her boy. He laughs. He’s adorable and this is a role in which Marion does not have to act; she is truly herself, deeply fascinated by her one-ear-old (with director Guillaume Canet), Marcel. ‘He has inparted me with his peacefulness,’ she says. ‘Whith him, I am finally calm and happy.’

Pierre Perret, the French cabaret maestro, takes over from Amy Winhouse with his hit La Cage Aux Oiseaux as the shoot gets underway. ‘If you see some little birds imprisoned in cages, open the door and let them be free,’ he sings, a line that is very apt when it comes to Marion. For the shoot she is dressed in skinny jeans, stilettos and a fuchsia blouse but in real life, Marion, despite being at home on the red carpet and despite having several big awards to her name – in addition to her Oscar she has received a BAFTA, César (the French Oscars) and a Golden Globe – is more at home in something more comfortable, ballerina shoes and no make-up.

ELLE: What does Stephanie, your character in Rust and Bone, represent?
MC: She’s a woman who has allowed herself to become hard, dealing with her situation alone; until an unexpected encounter helps her to discover, and reveal, her emotions. At the beginning of the film, she has surrounded herself with boundaries but then she meets the unsophisticated Ali. At first glance he is not made for her, but they prove to be the perfect match for each other. Ultimately, the film is about the strength of love.

ELLE: Some of your costars in the film, are killer whales. What was it like working with them?
MD: Their power is incredible. However, playing the role of their trainer was difficult, since I do not tolerate the practice of keeping animals in captivity. I never to to a zoo or visit an aquarium. Although I knew that I’d be working with them and that I would have to face up to it, I did have to go against my beliefs in the beginning.

ELLE: was it very difficult for you then?
MC: We had very little time to practice before we began shooting. I had just finished shooting an American movie and was completely jet-lagged and in a fragile state of mind, so I was afraid that I would not meet expectations. I arrived at the shoot at Marineland right on show-time. Seeing these creatures being so disciplined and performing made me burst into tears. As Katia, their trainer, turned to me, I could not refrain from telling her how horrifying I found the animal’s immprisonement.

ELLE: Have you changed your opinion?
MC: My main concern was that Katia might think that I was disrespecting her job. By the time we finished filming we had become good friends although we both recently admitted that, looking back at the first day, neither of us thought it would happen.

ELLE: Stephanie loses her legs in the film. How did you go about playing a disabled woman?
MC: First of all, I couldn’t move. That helped! But the absence of limbs is not only physical. Before the accident, Stephanie was going through a stage where she was not conscious of much. The accident enables her to love, to be admired and to generate desire, something that touches her deeply and profoundly. To have or not to have a pair of legs at that point becomes almost anecdotal.

ELLE: In one of her books the novelist Olivia Rosenthal asked various people which movie changed their lives. What yould you have said?
MC: Beyond Rangoon, directed by John Boorman, that deals with the Burnese democratic movement led by pacifist Aung San Suu Jyi and the country’s fate. I watched it when it was first released back in 1995 and it made me understand that we who live in a democracy don’t have the right not to inform and educate ourselves. To ignore the facts when one has all the means of getting information is like supporting a dictatorship. That was when I began to read newspapers daily.

ELLE: You recently filmed Low Life, in which you play a Polish prostitute, whith director James Gray in New York. You are also about to act in [your partner] Guillaume Canet’s next movie, Blood Ties, which is also set in New York. Would you like to settle in the city with Guillaume and Marcel?
MC: I love the city; it has been of extreme importance in my professional life. It is there that I filmed [the 2010 hit musical] Nine, it is there that I started my race to the Oscars and it is also where I came when I was younger to learn English. But I have no doubts whatsoever: I [would] miss France.

ELLE: Is it ture that by speaking a foreign language you feel more free?
MC: Yes, in a way I feel more free to express myself. I am much more straightforward because my vocabulary is more limited. Oddly, some castings do not stress me out if they are in English. While I am still scared of French television, being interviewed in English by an American channel is almost amusing.

ELLE: Do you read on set?
MC: No, unfortunately I can’t concentrate on any other history but my own. But at night, in my hotel room, I do read. I always read more than one book at a time. Right now, I am busy with No Et Moi (No and Me) by [best-selling French novelist] Delphine de Vigan and a book on meditation. And Christian Dior’s biography. Beyond the pride that comes with working for this fashion house, I have discovered a man who stands out for his incredible kindness.

ELLE: Do you practice meditation?
MC: I would love to, but I haven’t managed to start just yet. Even yoga bores me.

ELLE: So is there a form of exercise that does not bore you?
MC: Ballet. It is the most playful type of movement and for someone like me, who has an aversion to talking, it represents a delightful form of communication.


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