on 1 Jan, 1970
from Belfast Newsletter (UK) / by Shereen Low
Growing up, Marion Cotillard thought breaking into Hollywood was a far-fetched dream. Being an actress is magical, though, she tells SHEREEN LOW
Marion Cotillard has had the life most actresses can only dream of.
NOT only has she successfully conquered Hollywood, she’s made history as the first – and so far only – winner of a best actress Academy Award for a performance primarily in French, her native language, for her mesmerising turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose.
The 37-year-old has worked with top filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan (twice), Tim Burton, Michael Mann and Rob Marshall, and kissed Hollywood hunks like Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Not bad for someone who describes herself as “this girl from the French Bronx”.
Looking effortlessly chic in a black lace top, satin trousers and emerald green heels, Cotillard, who is stunningly beautiful in person, is in London to discuss her latest role in Jacques Audiard’s French drama Rust And Bone, which screened at the 56th BFI London Film Festival, following its premiere at Cannes in May.
The daughter of a theatre director father and actress mother, Cotillard “always wanted to be an actress”, but admits she thought Hollywood was out of reach.
The fact she’s been able to work in her home country and in the US is an even bigger bonus.
“I’m very happy and feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work in two countries that really built my desire to be an actress,” she explains.
The last time she was in London was for the star-studded premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, where she walked the red carpet alongside co-stars Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
“A French actress being in a Batman movie, I never expected it,” says Cotillard.
“This is a dream you cannot have. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of American movies and even though I never thought I would have the opportunity to work in the US, the movies are part of my culture so I feel blessed.”
While Rust And Bone is a vastly different production from Nolan’s Batman follow-up, she’s proud to be involved, labelling two-time Cesar Award winner Audiard a “genius”.
“I really wanted to work with Jacques and when I got the call that he wanted to meet with me, I totally went crazy,” she recalls.
“When I read the script, I realised it was something I had never done before. I don’t tell many love stories and this one is very unusual. I totally fell in love with all the characters.”
Cotillard’s character is Stephanie, a whale trainer who loses her legs following a workplace accident. The film charts her journey as she learns to live as a paraplegic, with the help of Ali, a drifter and father-of-one, played by Matthias Schoenaerts.
“I didn’t do any research about what it is to have lost a part of your body, because what was very important for me was that what she gained after the accident was much more than what she’d lost,” she explains.
She did research orcas, though.
“I didn’t know many things about orca whales, so I looked at a lot of footage and images of them,” she says. “I got to have a strong connection with them, even though I’m not very comfortable being in an environment where the animals are kept in captivity.
“There is something very special because they are gigantic, beautiful and still wild. That was my biggest fear actually.
“I didn’t fear the animals, but the environment they are in. These big, magnificent animals in a swimming pool doesn’t make any sense for me.”
Cotillard had no qualms about playing a paraplegic: “I never see a role as a challenge. It was powerful, one of the most powerful roles I’ve had.
“You learn a little more about the human soul with each movie you do, each character you take and each person you try to understand.”
As for the CGI wizards who made her legs disappear on screen, she says: “We were lucky to work with amazing people – the special effects people were very talented, very discreet and very fast. So the fact that I had legs never was an issue.
“We had this first image one day when I was doing fittings, and I sat in the wheelchair with my legs folded and we had this image that was very strong and powerful, and that told us that it would work.”
Having shared screen time with Tinseltown’s finest, how did her Belgian co-star Schoenaerts compare?
“You know sometimes you meet someone and you feel like you’ve known them for a long time? It really happened with him,” she says, her face lighting up.
“He’s an amazing actor. I expected Jacques to choose an amazing actor but when we did our first reading, it was beyond my expectations.
“I really admire Matthias as a man and as an actor. He’s everything I love about an actor and a beautiful person.”
Cotillard’s performance has already garnered some early Oscar buzz, but she would rather “stay away” from awards talk.
“It makes me very happy that people like the movie and what I did in it – that is what’s important,” she says. “Awards are something you have to enjoy when people want to celebrate what you did, but the expectation is not part of my way of living.”
Off-screen, Cotillard prefers to maintain a “simple” lifestyle with director partner Guillaume Canet, whom she starred with in 2003’s romantic comedy film Love Me If You Dare, and their one-year-old son Marcel.
The family, who are often pictured together, have split their time living in the US and France for the past couple of years.
Cotillard admits that being a mother has made her more aware of not taking her work home with her, but she’s still in love with her career.
“Every day is still magical,” she says.
“When it becomes like, ‘Oh yeah, well it’s just another day’, I think I would do something else.
“This job has to stay magical.”