James Gray about Marion Cotillard
How did the idea for “Lowlife” germinate?
My brother and I found some old slide photos my father had taken from the mid-to-late 1970s. A few of them were photographs from a trip to Ellis Island. It has become a kind of museum now, but my father took us in 1976 right after it had reopened after closing decades before and the place was untouched to the point that there were half-filled out immigration forms on the floor. It was almost like ghosts had been there. And we took my grandfather who came to Ellis Island in 1923, and the second he walked into the building he burst into tears.
So then I started reading about it and I read a story that was extremely interesting to me about women who came in either solo or their families had been split up, and how they would get into New York and sometimes they had to resort to very sad ends to get there, and I’d never seen it done in a movie. 40% of the United States have relatives that came in through there and yet it’s only been in a handful of films — the opening scene from “The Godfather II,” and the end of Kazan’s “America, America” and that’s it.
In “Lowlife” you work with Marion Cotillard for the first time. Tell us how that came about.
I had no idea who Marion Cotillard was. When I was in Paris for “Two Lovers,” a publicist told me, “A guy named Guillaume Canet wants to have lunch with you.” So we met and had lunch, I found him incredibly funny — I didn’t know anything he had done at that stage, but we sort of bonded because a rat ran across the floor of the restaurant. And then he said, “Come meet my girlfriend” and I met this woman who looked like a silent film actress like Pola Negri or something. And I said, “Who’s your girlfriend?” and he said [French accent] ”You don’t know my girlfriend? She won an Oscar, are you stupide?”
And my wife and I became very friendly with them. One night at dinner we went to a restaurant and I told her I didn’t like some actor that she thought was great and she threw a piece of bread at my head, and I thought, “Well, you’re interesting.” So I wrote the movie [“Lowlife”] for her, having never seen her in a movie. Because she has this face, you know? She doesn’t even have to say anything, and that’s rare.
Also French Allocine got to talk to the writer/director about ‘Lowlife‘ (The Nightingale) at the festival:
We confirmed that his fifth feature film will be in line Two Lovers (2008), but less thriller, more drama. “There is no aspect of thriller to it, more of an opera dimension (…) I approached it like a Puccini opera that has never been staged.”
At the center of what we will therefore call an “opera drama” set in the 1920s, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner will fight to gain favour in the beautiful eyes of a Marion Cotillard provided with very little dialogue – when she does speak, it will be “some English but also in Polish.”