Day: December 1, 2012

Red Hot: Marion Cotillard

Red Hot: Marion Cotillard

from W Magazine (US) / by Lynn Hirschberg

In the film Rust and Bone, which is in theaters this month, Marion Cotillard plays Stephanie, an orca trainer who loses her legs in a freak accident during a performance at Marineland in Antibes, France. While she’s recuperating, Stephanie forms a symbiotic bond with a would-be boxer, played with brutality and grace by Matthias Schoenaerts. The unlikely pair embarks on a kind of sexual friendship—a very modern romance—that proves more enduring than either expects.

Cotillard is stunning in the role. She goes from tough to vulnerable to broken to exhilarated and back again. When Rust and Bone, directed by Jacques Audiard, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the prevailing consensus was that ­Cotillard would win the best-actress prize. She had never won an award at Cannes, and as one of the few French actresses ever to receive a best-actress Oscar (for her role as Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose), Cotillard is the reigning female star of Gallic cinema. Perhaps her fame hurt her with the jury—when the award was split between two worthy Romanian women who portray tragic novitiates in Beyond the Hills, cries of shock echoed up and down Cannes’s Croisette.

“I think I may have been on too many magazine covers,” Cotillard, 37, told me in New York, three months after the festival. “In France, they like the underdog.” She shrugged—other countries would embrace her work in Rust and Bone. “In America, they appreciate success.” ­Cotillard was in town for the premiere of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, in which she plays a mysteriously alluring woman. Perhaps it’s her large haunting blue eyes or her innate elegance, but ­Cotillard always looks like she’s harboring a deep secret. That tantalizing sense of privacy is what makes her characters so intriguing. “It is much easier for me to understand something vast and complex than something light and uncomplicated,” Cotillard explained. “Perhaps that makes me very French.” She laughed. “Tragedy is almost always interesting to me.”

Five years ago, when Cotillard first spent a considerable chunk of time in New York, she could barely speak English. She was in America to promote La Vie en Rose, and she submerged herself in the language, taking Berlitz classes for four weeks. She had tried before: In 2004, she completed an intense 18-day course so she could work in American films. Tim Burton cast her in Big Fish as a pregnant French wife, and Ridley Scott chose ­Cotillard as the object of desire in A Good Year, his ode to the south of France. Neither of those films sparked much interest in Hollywood, but they did change Cotillard’s profile in her native country. “I had costarred in three commercial hits in France,” Cotillard told me in 2007. “To have your place in French cinema, you have to prove that you are a serious actress in a noncommercial film. When Tim Burton picked me, French critics were impressed. In France, they see Tim Burton as a kind of film doctor, and the movie was not successful—so voilà!”

La Vie en Rose, however, was a sensation in both France and America. The director, Olivier Dahan, had written the script with Cotillard in mind—he saw something terribly sad, even tragic, in her that reminded him of Piaf. Although she plays a singer, the power of her performance lies in its silences. Cotillard’s father was a mime, and Cotillard intrinsically understands how to convey deep feelings without words.

By the time she walked onstage to accept the Academy Award in 2008, Cotillard was proficient in English. Today, she is fluent. In fact, in her next movie, which is still untitled, she speaks English with a Polish accent. During the making of that film, she lived in New York with her partner, the director and actor Guillaume Canet, and their son, Marcel, who is 18 months old. Marcel was born just before production began on Batman, and at the premiere, Cotillard was shocked by the size of her breasts in the movie. “I was nursing,” she said, laughing. “There are scenes where I went, ‘Whoa! Look at that! Who is that woman?’ ” She paused, then said, “Maybe that added to her mystery.”

What is the first movie you remember seeing?
Fantasia. The dancing hippopotamus made an impression on me. And, of course, E.T. I went totally mad in the theater. I was almost pulling my hair out when they took E.T. away. That’s a deep memory of anger, despair, and pain. They had to get me out of the theater. I was screaming.

Was there a particular actor or actress who made you want to go into your profession?
Both my parents were actors, and their favorite was Charlie Chaplin. My mother’s favorite actress was Greta Garbo.

There is a lot of Garbo in you! The mystery… Were you a dramatic child?
I always wanted to express myself by being someone other than myself. I needed to experience the human soul—something more than just my soul. I wasn’t enough! When I was 10 or 11, I played an angry housekeeper in a play at camp. I was yelling at everyone. I remember the feeling I had when it was over. I really loved it.

What was the first movie you acted in?
The Story of a Boy Who Wanted to Be Kissed. I wasn’t very good in it. The more you work, the more you have to work. If you’re lucky, you get better.

Your first major American movie was Big Fish.
I was a big fan of Beetlejuice, and I really wanted to work with Tim Burton. I remember I kept the pages of the scenes under my pillow for a month. I don’t know if that’s why I got the part, but I know I wished for it every night.

Now that you’re fluent in English, do you dream in English or French?
I recently spent six months filming in New York, and all my thoughts were in English. I played a Polish woman, and I would have loved to dream in Polish. Mostly, I am confused—some people talk to me in French, and I answer in English. And some people talk to me in English, and I answer in French. I think I’m too tired to dream in any language.

Rust and Bone is in French, but it has a universal appeal, partially because a lot of people think of SeaWorld and orcas as an American phenomenon. In the movie, there are beautiful, almost balletic scenes of you interacting with these giant animals. Was the training difficult?
I’m not very comfortable with the idea of animals in captivity, so when I heard about Rust and Bone, I thought I couldn’t be a part of it because the character was an orca trainer. I was really uneasy the first day of training. For me, the orcas were not like animals. In a horrible way, they seemed like men’s toys—trucks in a bathtub. But they’re not scary. And if you feed them, they do whatever you want.

Did you like Stephanie, the character you were playing?
I could never give life to a character I don’t love. I’ve read scripts in which I hated the character and didn’t do the movie. With an evil character, you have to understand the origin of the evil. It’s exciting when there is something unknown—if I want to meet that person, that’s a good sign.

Rust and Bone has many explicit sex scenes. What is harder for you to do—a death scene like you did in La Vie en Rose or a sex scene?
Definitely a sex scene. I hate sex scenes. The body is so important in this movie, but I hate being naked onscreen. It’s very weird to imagine how a person would have sex. It cannot be your way. Otherwise, it would be super uncomfortable and overly intimate. Everyone has a way to have sex, so a character does too. I mean, kissing is very powerful. You feel something, you know? It’s really intense to kiss as another person.

But French women are supposed to be okay with all matters sexual!
Well, yes, but…[Laughs.]

Changing subjects…do they know who Batman is in France?
Oh, yeah, he’s very popular. Not all superheroes are, but Batman is. He is human, so you can relate to him. The French like that. I loved the TV series. I was totally crazy about Catwoman. She was so witty and fun.

If you had a superpower, which would you pick?
I would love to fly. I don’t think I would like being invisible. If I could enter any room where they are making political decisions, I think I would kill myself. It would be too painful to see how people rule the world.

You saw people who rule the film industry at the Oscars. How was that night for you?
It was amazing. In France, we have a lot of actors, but you never get a chance to share your experiences. In America, you show the movie, and you talk about it with actors who know what it’s like to open your heart, soul, and mind to another person and let them in. I especially feel very close to other actresses.

But so many women in your profession are overcompetitive, or feel threatened, or both…
Well, yes. I have seen that, but I still love actresses. I love them! When there’s a movie without an actress in it, I miss something. Without a woman, it’s not the same.

Women of the Year – International Actor of the Year: Marion Cotillard

Women of the Year – International Actor of the Year: Marion Cotillard

from Harper’s Bazaar (UK) / by Lorien Hayes

With her first acting role since becoming a mother, the star has produced a surely award-winning performance of visceral emotion in Rust and Bone. So why is she putting her career on hold? Lorien Hayes meets an actor less ordinary.

It is obscenely early on the terrace at Chateau Marmont. Songbirds, perched in a lofty palm over the restaurant umbrellas, are still chattering after daybreak, while a gardener gently prunes the last of the summer bougainvillea. Marmonzettes (the legendary LA hotel’s resident waiters) zip around laying breakfast tables. In the midst of this morning activity, normally unseen by Chateau guests, sits a lone figure in a brown Borselino fedora, face obscured in shadow. The tilt of the hat’s brim itself is suggestive, its angle recalling a war-time FBI agent or cabaret chanteuse.

Which is, of course, the kind of elusive first impression that one would expect from Marion Cotillard. On the short drive from my LA home to the hotel, I have been mulling over random facts about the 37-year-old French actor who, since she morphed into decrepit, drug-addicted Edith Piaf and swiped the Best Actress Oscar in 2008, has come to be considered one of the most talented film stars of our time. Cotillard likes karaoke (signature tune: ‘Proud Mary’) and white-truffle oil (she loves to cook – especially for her son Marcel – though not with truffles); she reads Krishnamurti, admires Modigliani, Giacometti and early Dubuffet and sings with an artist called Yodélice as her alter ego, Simone.

Despite subsequent more ‘straightforward’ Hollywood roles – in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, Christopher Nolan’s Inception and, most recently, in the latter director’s third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises – Cotillard has thitherto retained an air of mystery. She is intellectual, quirky, uncompromising, dedicatedly thespian and fiercely private, with an innate sense of style (her fedora today is twinned with a pair of red Chloé anle-boots) that is much admired by fashion houses. Galliano fell in love with her at the 2008 Oscars, and, despite his departure, she is still an ambassador for Dior. But when one considers Cotillard in all her aspects, two and two doesn’t necessarily make four.

It is likely this offbeat sensibility that has led Cotillard to her next Oscar-tipped project. Rust and Bone – the work of lauded French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) – is a return to award-winning form for Cotillard: a starkly honest, visceral and fearless portrayal of a woman who loses her legs in an accident, and her subsequent battle to embrace love, life and sex – even at its most gritty. Indeed, Cotillard herself is fearless, if a little fearsome, on first meeting. After observing her for some time on the terrace, I approach as she returns her lipstick-smeared glass to a rather mortified waiter. ‘There have been many lips on this glass,’ she declares (her own mouth lipstick-free). This is the first thing I learn about Cotillard: she is critically observant, direct and glaringly honest – in person as in her performances.

That isn’t to say that Cotillard is not charming, it’s just that she is not necessarily willing to humour others for the sake of it. As we settle down, she chats amiably about the Bazaar shoot. ‘Couture is art,’ she says while consuming a plate of pancakes with bacon, maple syrup and extra butter with considerable enthusiasm. She continues on the subject of what she calls ‘le style Anglais‘, including a rapture on Britishness. ‘I think of England as music with fashion. You mix rock ‘n’ roll with everything, from royalty to punk to bourgeoisie. Music-wise, you’re the best. David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Radiohead, the Beatles…’

Fedora now removed, Cotillard is more relaxed and playful. Under her coat is an unpretentious cream sloppy sweater (she doesn’t know or care who by). But when I introduce the subject of Rust and Bone, her demeanor shifts. A gravitas descends on our breakfast. It’s not that she is haughty; just passionate and deeply serious about her work. Being an actor, she tells me, is ‘like you’re this tightrope walker. Even if you know how to do it, you never know if you’re going to make it to the other side’.

After La Vie en Rose, for which she underwent almost masochistic preparation, including shaving off her eyebrows and hairline, Cotillard famously felt haunted by Piaf. Her role in Rust and Bone is fictional, but her performance was still emotionally arduous. She plays whale trainer Stéphanie, who develops a relationship with bare-knuckle boxer Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts). The film is unflinching in its portrayal of disabled sex and violence, but strangely life-affirming.

Technically, she lost her legs not to a killer whale but to ‘green screen, or rather long green socks’, says Cotillard. I wince, preparing to hear the extreme emotional and physical preparation she endured for the role. After her intense immersion in the character of Piaf, she spent time in Menominee Indian Reservation to perfect a Cajun Bayou twang for Public Enemies. Rob Marshall, who directed her in Nine, says she has ‘an extraordinary work ethic. Even Daniel Day-Lewis was astounded’.

‘Well, I mean, I love my job, but I’m not cutting my legs off,’ she says wryly. In fact, for this role, it was more important to appear fundamentally unprepared. ‘Stéphanie loses her legs. It’s a shock,’ she says. ‘If she’d been without them for years, I would have worked differently. But I had to learn with her how it felt – that loss. How it changes her.’

Cotillard’s performance is doubtless Oscar-worthy. She has what Marshall describes as ‘see-through skin. You can feel what she’s feeling. I’m hard pressed to think of an actress with her range, her vulnerability’. Public Enemies director Michael Mann, who has seen a preview of Rust and Bone, raves: ‘She is fantastic. What she is doing in that film is beyond acting.’

Her experience of shooting with director Audiard was as visceral as some of the scenes themselves. ‘When I saw Matthias do his first fight, my whole body, was – well, it was kind of orgasmic,’ says Cotillard. ‘I was enjoying the violence of the flesh. It’s why the sex [in the film] works so well. It’s all about physicality, feeling that you’re alive.’ Some may find the brutality that saturates each frame overwhelming, but Cotillard is clear that she is not condoning violence, explaining carefully that in the context of this story she feels it is the crucial counterpoint to a woman feeling physically disabled, redundant and deadened.

The shoot for Rust and Bone was the first since Cotillard became a mother, to 18-month-old Marcel, her son with French director and actor Guillaume Canet. Like nothing else, Marcel has changed Cotillard’s life. She worked right up until her birth, with Nolan organising the $250 million Dark Knight shooting schedule around her delivery dates. ‘Since having Marcel, every day of my life has been alight with him,’ says Cotillard. ‘Of course, I expected the biggest change, but I didn’t expect to fall in love.’

When I ask what she likes to do with him, she says she wants to take him to the park and teach him the name of every tree (‘I am a tree geek. Everywhere I go, I Google trees. My dream would be an app like Shazam – a tree app to give you the whole history’). She wants to sing him lullabies at night: ‘I turn stories into song.’ And right now, as tears well up in her eyes, she says she doesn’t want to go to the Toronto Film Festival later today, she wants ‘to swim back to France to be with him… I miss my son. We have not been separated like this before. I have been so lucky to take him everywhere with me,’ she almost wails. ‘I was in Whole Foods yesterday and there was this mother in line, kissing her boy, and it was unbearable for me to watch.’ Her eyes cloud over again. ‘Do you want to see some pictures of him?’ She gets out her phone and shows me Marcel – blond and divine, with his father’s eyes, and on the back of a pony.

‘I was a very, very sad child,’ she says. ‘Not as a little child, because when I see pictures of me at my son’s age, I can see I was happy. But I did lose that.’ The source of this angst, however, she does not identify. ‘My childhood was perfect. My parents were amazing parents, they gave us all the love we needed.’ They also gave Cotillard her artistic sensibility: her mother Monique Theillaud was an actor, and her father Jean-Claude a mime artist. They lived a bohemian existence in a tower block in suburban Paris, where she and her younger twin brothers, Quentin and Guillaume, scaled 18 flights of stairs dodging hypodermic needles. The children ‘were allowed to paint and draw on every wall in the house’, she says. One twin is now a writer, the other a sculptor.

Cotillard studied acting at the Orléans Conservatorie d’Art Dramatique, and made 26 films before she hit the big time with La Vie en Rose at the age of 31. Since then, she has had Hollywood directors vying to work with her. ‘She is a character actress in a leading actress’ body’, says Nine director Rob Marshall, ‘as she proved with Piaf. That truth, humour and clarity are extraordinarily hard to achieve, and actresses who can do it: the list is very small.’

As a result, it’s impossible to doubt that many more Oscar-worthy roles lie ahead for Cotilard, but at the moment she is guided by another consideration: keeping her family together. Her latest project, the aptly named Blood Ties, which is set in 1970s Brooklyn and co-stars Mila Kunis and Clive Owen, is directed by her… ‘husband?’ (I say this because she has a huge diamond ring on her engagement finger). ‘No, yes, well,’ she mutters, before gathering herself and venturing: ‘I’m very private about my personal life, but Guillaume is my inspiration. He is a brilliant director. I love working with him, and when you find that perfect balance – it’s heaven.’

After a whirlwind of projects post-Oscar, Cotillard wants to put the brakes on for a while, and has just pulled out of a film for exactly this reason. ‘I don’t know what’s next,’ she says, ‘because I don’t want to know. I need to have a break. I don’t want to have anyone else to think about, apart from myself and my family.’ So, after Toronto, Cotillard is going back to France, to Canet and Marcel and their home in Paris. ‘I need to lie in bed and listen to the rain. I want to do whatever I want to do when I wake up in the morning.

‘One of the things I have learned recently is that I have the ability to be happy.’ She smiles, donning her fedora, tilting it just-so, at the right angle, so that her face is hidden once again. ‘I have found that in my family. And that is a new thing. And that hasn’t always been the case for me – so I know how lucky I am.’

‘Rust and Bone’ is out now nationwide.