She’s the smart, considered, Oscar-winning actress who also happens to be our new favourite French style icon. Stylist meets the impossibly elegant Marion Cotillard
Listening to Marion Cotillard makes me want to be French. Looking at her has the same effect, but it’s listening to her that has me dreaming about booking a seat on the next Eurostar. The intonations of her voice rise and fall with the subject matter, lulling me into a relaxed state as she philosophises in English about the economy or being a humanist, every so often forgetting herself and reverting to her native tongue. Even when she becomes truly excited about the Dior dinner she will attend later that evening with her good friend, Dior creative director Raf Simons, and her voice climbs a few octaves, it is still soothing.
Stylist catches up with the 38-year-old actress between Dior’s haute couture a/w 2014 show earlier in the day (Cotillard has been the ‘face’ of Lady Dior handbags since 2008) and the ensuing celebratory dinner. She is surrounded by boxes in the apartment she shares with her partner, actor and director Guillaume Canet and their three-year-old son Marcel. It’s not just her significant other who is in the same industry: Cotillard was born in Paris to a family of actors, growing up in Orléans where she studied at the Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique. Before long she was being cast in French TV dramas but it was Luc Besson’s 1998 film Taxi that took her career up a notch. Now, after working on film sets across the globe, from Pittsburgh (The Dark Knight Rises in 2012) to the Isle of Skye (Macbeth with Michael Fassbender, due for release in 2015), she has settled back in her home country.
Cotillard’s latest film, Two Days, One Night, has critics whispering “Oscar” in relation to her performance. Directed by Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (who have won the coveted Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or Award twice), she plays Sandra, a working-class woman struggling with depression who has one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their 1,000 Euro bonuses to save her job. To be honest, I was wary of seeing a film this emotionally taxing just in its synopsis, but came away oddly uplifted. Marion is exceptional; it’s the most convincing depiction of depression I’ve seen: traumatic, yes, but with chinks of light and hope.
Bringing subtlety and nuance to every performance is Marion’s modus operandi. It’s what won her the Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, the 2007 film that had the world at her impeccably shod feet, and the reason she’s booked up until 2016 with another five films to be releasedafter Two Days, One Night. But before we get to her relentless schedule, I’m dying to know what she picked up from Dior earlier…
Did anything take your fancy at the Dior show?
Oh yeah, a lot of things. I’m very impressed by the way Raf reinvents his world all the time. He’s a very special person. The way he mixes his very modern vision of clothes and the Dior house is really, really impressive.
Watching Two Days, One Night was an intense experience…
Everything was intense during shooting. The role is intense because Sandra goes through a lot and the experience itself with the Dardenne brothers, the way they wanted to shoot the movie was… oh merde, comment dit ça…? A sequence shot? A scene is just one take that keeps rolling, and sometimes we did 100 takes. I’ve never worked with such demanding directors. But I loved it. That’s what I want when I work with someone; that they will be super-demanding in a creative way.
It’s one of the most realistic portrayals of depression I’ve seen on screen. Has anyone in your life experienced it?
Not really. But I know what it is to not feel at the right place [in life]. That’s something I experienced myself. My parents taught me how to move on when something is stuck and I have the strength not to fall, but I was very close to depression. So [with Sandra], I knew what it was to be lost and deeply in pain and not know exactly where it comes from, or how to stop or deal with it.
Luc Dardenne said they worked hard to make sure you looked ‘ordinary’ in the film. You certainly look incredibly different to how you look now.
This is something I always do for every role. I’m very interested in what’s inside and drives a person. What is their heart and soul? Whatyou have inside shows on the outside; the way you talk and breathe. Do you look someone in the eye? Do you breathe from the lungs or your throat? The way you move tells a lot about who you are inside. A shy person walks and talks like a shy person. One of my favourite things is finding the physicality of a character. I find the performance inside and how it impacts the outside and what people can see of you.
You’ve been called “shockingly beautiful”. How does that feel?
I’m never really aware because I’m not very interested in it. I don’tneed it. Sometimes people I work with read blogs, so I see the occasional thing about myself. It makes me laugh because either way you can’t change anything. It’s not the end of the world if you look like sh*t! You know what I mean?
You’ve said it was hard to find the right emotions to portray Sandra. What makes you feel emotional yourself?
Wow. My god. Almost everything. Kids make me emotional. I’m a very emotional person. That’s a problem for me but I deal with it by being an actress.
Another factor in the film is the economic crisis in France…
The crisis everywhere, you mean!
What’s it like to live in France right now? Does it feel like things are improving?
I only just returned to Paris. It’s funny when you take a step back. I feel there’s a kind of depression now which affects a lot of things like creativity. But I think we’re going to find the way out. You know, French people and this word ‘existentialism’… we question ourselves too much sometimes, circling on our own problems. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay attention to them, but it wouldn’t hurt to pay attention to what happens in the rest of the world occasionally.
What is it about Paris that has drawn you back?
I’ve been in Paris two weeks and have finally opened my boxes that were sleeping in my apartment for three years. The last time I lived here, I was pregnant [in 2011]. So I’m in this process of reconnecting with France. There is this energy of all these amazingpeople who created this country and this city. But like I said, I feel we need to open up to the world. We have to stop thinking we’re the best at everything; it’s not true first of all. I mean, it’s good to have confidence but at a certain point, you also need to learn from others. But Paris is so beautiful.
You’ve appeared in a mix of blockbuster films and low-key projects – which do you prefer?
Both. Otherwise I wouldn’t do both. I always choose a project because I feel it’s my place to be there and I love the project, even with the blockbusters. My dream when I was a kid was to be Peter Sellers; to jump from comedy to something totally different. I haven’t jumped yet into comedy but that’s one of my dreams. I find joy in opposites.
What is your favourite Peter Sellers film?
The Party. Or Docteur Folamour… I mean Dr Strangelove. The guy was a genius.
Who makes you laugh now?
Will Ferrell! My friends. I have very, very funny friends. They make me cry because I laugh so hard. Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence. Yeah, that’s a good list!
You filmed Macbeth on the Isle of Skye in February. Was it cold?
Yes! That was crazy cold. There were hailstones, which made it harder. But hard is good.
If hard is good when you’re working, do you take it easy when you’re not?
Time off is super, super tiny in my world. But now I am off, I read and watch documentaries. I try to play music and become a good musician, which is far away but I’m getting closer. I’m going to have to be just a musician before being a good one [laughs]. Being in Paris after all those years, I’m seeing friends. It’s a marvellous thing to be able to reconnect and share everything they know and talk about the world. That’s something I missed a lot; it’s one of the things I enjoy most.
What do you talk about? The environment? Your work with Greenpeace is well-documented.
Not only Greenpeace. I support all people who want to… I wouldn’t say change the world, but to push it to a more human evolution.
Who inspires you in this way?
There are so many – it’s really reassuring to have a very long list. A lot of French people, like Pierre Rabhi or Edgar Morin. [Canadian astrophysicist] Hubert Reeves. Wangari Maathai and Aung San Suu Kyi. All people who fight for people.
Are you happy?
Yes, I am. I have an amazing experience of life. It makes me understand more and more about the weird animal we are and it makes me happy to be connected to people and to learn.
One of Edith Piaf’s most famous songs was about not having regrets – do you have any?
Non. I know that things I didn’t do were simply things I was not meant to do. Or I wasn’t the right person or it wasn’t the right moment. Maybe I had some but then I realised regret is not a good thing to feel. I am sure you do what you need to.
What’s next? More unpacking?
I’m very fast! I opened my boxes in 10 days. I still have a few more but they can wait. Tonight, I have a Dior dinner, which I’m looking forward to because they’re amazing, funny people. And Jennifer Lawrence will be there so I’m going to have a lot of fun!
Will the food be good?
But of course! We’re in Paris. The food will be magnifique!