SHE may have become a fashion icon, but Marion Cotillard’s heart lies in playing roles with soul.
Marion Cotillard is exactly as I expect when I meet her. Clad in an ivory-hued Dior pencil skirt and shirt, with nude Louboutin heels, she’s sophisticated, glamorous and charming. But despite her poise and style, she’s famous for choosing roles that enable her to disappear into a character and mask her good looks.
“I was raised with the idea of beauty in a different way,” the Parisian-born actor says with a shrug. “To me, it’s something that really comes out of you and surrounds you.”
The face of Dior since 2008, Cotillard admits to feeling pressure to uphold her fashion icon status. “The red carpet is tricky,” she says.
“You have to be yourself, otherwise it looks weird, and that’s a very hard thing to do; you’re in front of people who shout your name and take pictures. Photoshoots are different and a lot of fun, but even those took a while to get used to. I always used to think I looked like shit. I wasn’t confident at all. Now I find I can relax a little.”
The 37-year-old finds it amusing that her name has become synonymous with style.
“To be honest, I didn’t consider fashion to be an art until I became involved with Dior. They changed my vision of fashion, whereas I never paid attention to it before. Although I loved to dress up and I liked clothes, now I see it as a special form of art.”
Cotillard earned Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Award nominations for her latest French-language film, Rust and Bone (De Rouille et d’Os). In an emotionally gruelling role, she plays a trainer at a marine park whose world is turned upside down when her legs are crushed in a terrible accident during a killer whale show. As she adjusts to life as an amputee and embarks on a journey of self-acceptance, she begins a relationship with a single father (Matthias Schoenaerts) that’s both touching and disturbing.
Despite Cotillard’s performance being heavily tipped to earn her a Best Actress nod at tonight’s Academy Awards, she was snubbed at the nominations, which caused a stir among film critics and bloggers.
“Her Rust and Bone performance was perhaps the strongest of the year, if not her entire career,” wrote one.
“Despite rave reviews, she does not find herself on the Best Actress list,” lamented another.
However, she insists she made the film not for accolades but because she was fascinated by the topic. “It’s about love and flesh, heart and sex,” she explains. “I can imagine that when you’re in that state it’s really difficult to accept your body and accept that someone else will see and touch this body as it is.”
She acknowledges the sex scenes are confronting. “They’re very intimate and not my favourite thing to do, but without them, the movie would have missed something.”
Seeing her onscreen without limbs is a shock, but it taught her to view her body differently. “First of all, I’m very hard on looking at myself in general, but it was kind of amazing to see myself like that,” she recalls. “I was really impressed by the CGI. Actually, I like the last shot, which is my body naked without legs – I thought it was a beautiful image.”
Cotillard was raised in a household heavily influenced by the arts. Her father, Jean-Claude Cotillard, is an actor, award-winning director and a former mime artist. Her mother, Niseema Theillaud, is an actor and drama teacher. Was there any possibility she could have chosen a different career?
Her heavily accented words are expressed slowly and thoughtfully: “I could never have done a profession that wasn’t creative. But, you know, there’s a fighter inside of me. When you have the capacity to fight, when you have the ability to love life and the ability to be happy, it’s easy to be creative. And that’s a treasure my parents gave me.”
After starting out in French television, her breakthrough came in 2003 when she starred in the film Love Me If You Dare. Then, in 2008, she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, putting her on the fast track to Hollywood. She recalls feeling like a deer caught in headlights at the time.
“It was kind of scary,” she admits. “I didn’t understand how things worked in Hollywood. But I met some people who helped me stay true to who I am and stay myself.”
She’s since landed major roles in high-profile movies, including Public Enemies, Nine, Inception, Midnight in Paris and The Dark Knight Rises. Although many of her French contemporaries – such as Juliette Binoche, Sophie Marceau, Audrey Tautou – are household names, Cotillard has transcended the language barrier in a way none of them have managed – something she attributes to her ability to speak with an American accent.
“I feel lucky that I can work in Hollywood,” she admits. “When I was a kid, I watched a lot of American movies and I never thought this was something that would happen to me. But once I started acting, I didn’t see any boundaries. I wanted to be an actress; I didn’t want to be a French actress.”
The star now divides her time between France and the US. “I’m a traveller. I spend half the year in America, so I like to be at home in Paris when I can.”
She’s been in a relationship with actor and director Guillaume Canet since 2007, and their son, Marcel, will turn two in May. Cotillard shrugs off suggestions that her life has changed dramatically since becoming a mum.
“Yes, you need to organise yourself differently, but I’m lucky that I can bring him with me to the set,” she says. “The most important thing to give him is love.
“Next up is a collaboration with Canet, who’s directing her in crime thriller Blood Ties opposite Clive Owen and Mila Kunis. He previously directed her in Little White Lies, in 2010. “He’s an amazing director; he knows everything about acting because he’s an actor himself,” she says.
Can working with your partner and having your son onset cause tension at home? She laughs: “It’s complicated. You have to find the right balance, definitely. Otherwise, it’s hell.”
Rust and Bone is in cinemas March 28.