from Montreal Gazette (Canada) / by T’Cha Dunlevy
Fate works in funny ways, onscreen and off.
In Jacques Audiard’s raw romance Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os), Marion Cotillard plays an orca trainer who suffers a terrible accident and must learn to piece her life back together, under dramatically different circumstances.
It’s a standout performance from an actress who is racking them up. But it almost never happened.
“I was not supposed to do this movie,” she said, during a sit-down interview at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Cotillard has been on fire since winning the Academy Award for best actress for her star turn as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose in 2007 — the first time an Oscar has gone to a French-language role. Since then, she has kept busy in high-profile films including Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris and Christopher Nolan behemoths Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.
Acting for Nolan was like entering Hollywood through the side door, Cotillard explained.
“I had a chance to work on very big movies, but with a very special director who has the spirit of an independent director,” she said. “Chris Nolan movies are blockbusters, but they’re still director’s movies, not studio movies, which I couldn’t do. I was offered, several times, roles in very successful movies. And I will never regret not being in those movies.
“I saw those movies and I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s obvious I couldn’t fit in there, because there is no director. The first person I work for is a director. If I have no director on set, I will be so bad.”
Which may explain what drew Cotillard from California to the Côte d’Azur: the chance to work with Audiard, director and co-writer of such powerful films as The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté, 2005) and A Prophet (2009).
“My schedule was really tight,” she said. “But I thought, ‘I have to do it. I cannot let it go.’ I totally fell in love with the story, and the character. I was so moved. It got right into my blood. What I’m looking for when I read a script is to be surprised — to have the perspective of something I’ve never done before.”
Worlds collide in Rust and Bone when Cotillard’s character Stéphanie meets Ali (the excellent Matthias Schoenaerts), a rugged bouncer — and, unbeknownst to her, single father. His uncouth directness proves to be just what the doctor ordered in getting past Stéphanie’s defences and helping her start over.
“He looks at her like a human being, someone who is alive when she is an empty shell,” Cotillard said. “He doesn’t look at her right away as a woman — she’ll have to teach him that; but she feels alive because he thinks she is. Maybe a (more sensitive guy) would be worried for her. Ali is not worried at all.”
They are an odd match. Early scenes have Ali and his young son hitchhiking through France and engaging in petty crime before settling in with his sister. He eventually finds his calling in a brutal form of streetfighting, broadcast on the Internet, with payment in cash.
But while Ali is a man of action, Stéphanie is — at least initially — a woman of deeply internalized emotion.
“She was the most mysterious character I had ever read,” Cotillard said. “Usually when I read a part and I want to do it, immediately there’s a connection and I know who this person is. With her, at the end of the script, I had no idea who she was. I told that to Jacques; I had to tell him, even though I was scared he would freak out that the actress he was working with didn’t know who (her character) is. But he told me, ‘Neither do I. We’ll have to go on the road and find her.’ ”
Cotillard’s tight schedule, combined with logistical problems in coordinating the sequences at Marineland in Antibes, in the south of France, meant there was little rehearsal time. Cotillard and Audiard unearthed her character on the fly. The moment finally came during one of Schoenaerts’s bracing fight scenes, where Stéphanie is sitting off to the side, within the safety of a vehicle.
“For the first week (of the shoot), we were sometimes not sure if we were going in the right direction,” Cotillard said. “But then there was this scene. She gets out of the car and he’s on the ground, beaten; and (Audiard) told me, ‘Yeah, that’s it. She’s a cowboy.’ And that was it. We had found her.”
Rust and Bone is in theatres Friday.