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3
Dec 2012
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from Popmatters / by Jose Solís Mayén

Why do you think people think of Marion Cotillard as such an awards magnet?

There is a moment in Rust and Bone that’s so unique and unexpected it even makes you wish Katy Perry had written “Firework” for the movie, just so it had a chance at winning the Best Original Song Oscar.

This movie is a success on so many surprising levels and the scene in question is a meditative one that focuses on former whale trainer, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) as she finds what looks like hope after a terrible accident leaves her without her legs. The moment, as unfathomably simple as it sounds, doesn’t have dialogue, isn’t exceptionally long and lacks an orthodox sense of coherence. It merely has Stephanie practice her old training commands as she sits on her wheelchair looking at the horizon. Set to Perry’s ubiquitous hit, the moment should feel less soulful, perhaps even vulgar; yet it doesn’t, instead it haunts you for weeks after you’ve seen the movie. The reason for this is of course Cotillard’s exquisitely detailed performance. In this scene, more than in any other moment in the movie, she allows her luminous face to serve as a blank screen where we can project our emotions. We feel empathy and a deep sense of connection with this woman, even if at some level we’re still fighting our mixed feelings about her. Should we like her? Are we allowed to judge her? Yes, she lost her legs in a terrible accident, but she didn’t seem like such a nice person before that. Yes, she’s looking for love after losing what once made her extremely desirable, but then again she’s still breaking bottles on guys in clubs.

On an Oscar level of Best Actress-ing, Stephanie is more akin to Marlee Matlin’s complex character in Children of a Lesser God than the saintly Maggie Fitzgerald from Boys Don’t Cry. Cotillard allows Stephanie to be who she is, to have kinky sexual needs, to drink and party without a hint of remorse. What does it say about her lack of vanity as an actress, that she lets this woman have an extremely sharp, unlikable edge rather than playing her as a martyr? That would be far too expected and Cotillard is not a performer who traffics in those terms.

Based purely on the merits of her performance, Cotillard should be a shoe-in for any awards. Back in 2007 she became only the second performer to win the Best Actress award for a non-English speaking role in La vie en rose (she ended up winning Best Actress from a historic four international film academies including France, England and the Czech Republic), yet in movie after movie she’s made since, her awards magnetism seems to have vanished. A shame really, considering that she’s spent these five years proving she’s one of the most remarkable working actresses becoming a bona fide scene stealer in films as varied as Public Enemies and Inception as well as the much maligned Nine (where she gave a performance much worthier than the one that eventually won the Oscar that year).

Going back through her awards track record we realize that other than La vie en rose and a few scattered mentions for Nine, Cotillard hasn’t really scored much love from award groups. Yet many people have decided that it is precisely based on her “impeccable” track record that she will be a slam dunk for this. Cotillard has more than a few things in her favor, first and foremost the notion that this is yet another so-called “weak” Best Actress year where her status as a previous winner automatically puts her name into the discourse. She’s also already won a Best Actress award from the Hollywood Film Festival for Rust and Bone, which might sound curious but actually has an impressive record when it comes to predicting future Oscar nominees (in their 17-year history, they’ve only missed on Best Actress nominees five times).

There’s also several factors that seem to go against her chances, beginning with the ridiculous idea that only three actresses in the past have been nominated more than once for starring in foreign language movies (Sophia Loren, Isabelle Adjani and Liv Ullman, all nominated twice). Simply put, there is a widespread misconception that subtitles kill your chances, especially when you take into consideration that Sony Pictures Classics might also be looking to get a nomination for Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva. Never before have two foreign language actresses been nominated for the same award in the same language, will voters choose one or the other or break the precedent finally?

Marion’s performance might be hard to categorize which might also present a challenge for some voters. After being touted to win Best Actress in Cannes (where the Oscar buzz started) and then losing to two unknowns, she was also snubbed at the European Film Awards, where both she and the movie were eligible, yet both came out with zero nods. Stranger things have happened before and Cotillard’s performance in Audiard’s stylish, fresh film just might be the one to finally overcome all the bad omens and statistics from years past. Regardless of what awards say, her Stephanie is the most dazzling star turn of 2012 and with Cate Blanchett (who recently wrote about her work for Variety) among fans of your work as the campaign mounts, who knows what will happen…

With that said, why do you think people think of Cotillard as such an awards magnet?

3
Dec 2012
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from IndieWire / by Nigel M Smith

If the Academy Awards pundits (Indiewire’s own Peter Knegt included) are to be trusted, Marion Cotillard will in all likelihood be up for her second golden statue next year thanks to her searing performance in “Rust and Bone,” Jacques Audiard’s moving follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2009 crime drama “A Prophet.” (Cotillard made history in 2008 as the first to take home the Best Actress award for a French-language performance, for her work as Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose”)

In the new drama, Cotillard plays an orca trainer at Marineland, who, after losing her legs in a freak accident at the aquarium, finds herself cared for by a stranger (“Bullhead” breakout Matthias Schoenaerts) she had met at a nightclub before the horrific incident.

Honor Roll is a daily series running throughout December that features new or previously published interviews, profiles and first-person stories of some of the year’s most notable cinematic voices. Today, we’re running a new interview with Marion Cotillard, the star of “Rust and Bone.” A few hours before she received a special career tribute at the Gotham Awards, Cotillard sat down with Indiewire in SoHo to discuss her challenging work in “Rust and Bone” and what she’s learned since winning her Oscar.

Audiard is one of the most prominent filmmakers in France and one of the most revered internationally following the success of “A Prophet” — how long had you wanted to work with him?

Since his first movie. I don’t know what is the title in English, like “Watch Them Fall,” or something.

You can say it in French.

“Regarde les hommes tomber.” I saw this movie, and I was blown away by his vision of the story. And the editing, everything was — I mean, after watching this movie, I knew that I wanted to work with him. So it was a long time ago. But I didn’t know that I would. Of course, you never know. And I didn’t know that he would want to work with me… I don’t know why I had this idea in mind. And then when he asked to meet with me, I was thrilled. And then I read the script, and I fell in love with the story, with the characters, with everything about the project.

Did you see it as an unusual love story?

Well the thing is, I didn’t know anything about the story. Well, no — I knew that the character I would play was an orca trainer and that she would lose her legs. That’s what I knew about the movie.

So you just knew your character?

Yeah. And I was very excited because I expected from Jacques Audiard a very special story, because all his movies are very special. But I didn’t expect I was about to be in a love story.

Especially as a follow-up to “A Prophet.” The tales couldn’t be more different.

Yeah! And he’s never done that before. Like, a melodrama. And I thought it was even more exciting to be part of a project with a director who’s never filmed a love story before.

Despite the subject matter being so dissimilar from that found in his other films, it shares a striving for realism that he brings to all of his work. How did he work to achieve that, with you and with Matthias?

Jacques is someone who seeks for authenticity and even though his movies are very realistic, there is poetry in everything he does. He always wants to find authenticity, but at the same time, something special. If, with Matthias, we would do something that was kind of expected, he didn’t like it. That’s why he puts poetry everywhere. It’s because it’s his vision of a story, or of a character, it’s not just doing what is written. It’s doing more than what is written. And it’s very inspiring to work with someone who has such an energy, such a love for his characters, and such a desire to tell a story in a very special and poetic way.

Do you have an example of a scene that you shot where he pushed you to explore more?

Well, it happened most of the time. Jacques needs a very long time to prepare the movie with actors before we shoot. And I didn’t have that time because I was filming Batman [“The Dark Knight Rises”]. So, I really arrived on set. Like, we had a few readings, but that was not major — he never works on the actual scenes. He writes special scenes to work with actors before the shooting. But we didn’t have that time, so, I don’t know if it was different on his other movies, but when we arrived on set, a lot of things had to be created there. And sometimes we would take a scene and we would do a version of this scene, and then the next take, it would be a totally different version, like sometimes opposite version. And that’s how you make the right version, because then you have the experience of all the research around what you will choose to be the right version, the authentic way to tell something. So that was really, really interesting.

Given the varied number of takes that you did for each scene, what was it like to actually see the finished product at Cannes?

I’ve always had a hard time talking about what I feel when I watch a movie I’ve worked on. I don’t know how to talk about it. But I was very surprised by — not very surprised, but when you do many versions, you don’t know what he’s going to take, and of course everything makes sense in the final object, but I don’t know what to say about it.

It’s not uncommon for you to take on challenging roles, but still, Stephanie must have been an intimidating part to take on, especially given that you didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the role.

I was nervous, because I want to give everything I can, and sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to be right. Well, especially with her. She’s very mysterious, and we don’t have much information about her in the script. So we really had to create almost everything about her. Who she is. Who she’s not. Who she tries to be. Her struggles. And that was one of the best experiences as an actress, to work with a director — with such an inspiring and smart and brilliant director — and to create someone with him. To search and to research and to experience in order to find the authenticity of this person. And also, we realized that we didn’t have to solve the whole mystery she was, because the mystery is part of her, too.

Was there a lot of technical preparation on your part, in terms of learning how to train the whales?

Yeah, well, training the whales was not the hardest thing to do, because basically you give them fish and they do what you want them to do, even though they told me that I have a special connection and I think it’s true. I love animals and have always had a very strong connection with animals. But it was hard for me to consider those magnificent wild animals as animals because they were in that environment, which I don’t really get. In terms of, how do you take them out of their environment and put them in swimming pools? But, anyway… so I think I had a connection, but without the fish, this connection wouldn’t have been that strong. So that was not the hardest part.

The hardest part — technical part for me — was to learn how to swim better. I was not a very good swimmer, and I had to learn how to swim like a very good swimmer, because obviously they’re very good swimmers. So that was my physical preparation. And then I had to get my muscles back because with the green socks [for the green-screen necessary to remove her legs digitally], you have to have, like, [be in] very specific positions. Like, straight legs, even when you are carried. But it was not very hard. I mean, I didn’t have to drive a car very fast — that would be challenging for me.

Still, there is a stunt sequence of sorts in the film — the scene where you beckon the orca to you from behind this massive wall of glass. How did you pull that off?

That was actually when I felt that I had a very special connection with the orcas. The first thing that I learned is all the movements, all the gestures, and then we created the choreography when I knew everything. But then this special scene was on my second day of preparation. It was like five days before we started shooting, and it was the second day, and so my trainer took me to the glass and she told me, well, “Just call for her; she’s going to come. And then, you know all the gestures, so just improvise and see what works.” Jacques wanted some specific things. Like, he wanted the orca to be like–

Swim up?

Yeah, up, so that we could see how big it was. So that was the only thing that I had to place somewhere. But otherwise, it was really improvisation. So, that day we rehearsed, that was one of the craziest moments for me on that project, because I actually felt the connection. It was not the show — it was just me and her communicating. And so when we shot the scene it was a little bit different because the first time it was just me, her, and two people. That shooting day was a lot of people, cameras, something unusual for her, so she got mad at me. We had to replace the orca because she really got mad at me, because maybe I did something not very clear and that was different for her. So, we switched the orca I was usually working with.

For my character in the movie, it’s like a big, big step taken, you know? And that was very emotional that day. Because it’s kind of like a forgiveness scene for both of us. Because those whales, they’re not meant to kill. They’re not killer whales at all. They’re orcas. They’re like, wild animals put in a situation, which is from my point of view unbearable.

Was it hard to let go of Stephanie after wrapping the film?

I really, really loved her. And I had a very special relationship with this character because some things that happened in her life made me so happy for her. Like the sex scenes, which is not something that I usually love — it’s kind of the opposite — that was very different on this movie because it’s a very important part of the story. But it’s also something that happens in her life that made me so happy for her. But then, I mean, with my experience as an actress, I know now that I can go deep inside a character, but I know how to get out of it. It was really, really hard for me when I shot “La Vie en Rose” because I went the deepest I could, but I didn’t know the way out. So it took me a while. But now, I mean, yeah, I think it’s experience that [teaches] you how to get out, and how to go back to your life.

3
Dec 2012
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from Newsweek Magazine (US) / by Marlow Stern

Marion Cotillard on motherhood, the 1 percent, and her Rust and Bone role that will make you do a double take.

I liked being watched. I liked turning guys on. Getting them worked up. But then I’d get bored.

Such is the modus vivendi of Stéphanie, a callous temptress played by Marion Cotillard in the new French drama Rust and Bone. An orca trainer by day, she is forced to confront her self-destructive nature after losing both legs from the knees down in a tragic on-the-job accident. Eventually she finds comfort in Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a street-fighting single father who thrusts her out of the darkness and into the light. The film is directed by French auteur Jacques Audiard, and loosely adapted from a collection of short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson.

“I didn’t have time to shoot this movie, but it was irresistible,” says Cotillard on a recent fall morning in New York. “We went for it and jumped into the unknown, and I’m glad we did.”

Cotillard’s packed dance card shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since winning an Oscar in 2008 for her portrayal of the singer Édith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (and becoming the first Best Actress winner for a French-language turn), the Gallic performer has transformed into a bona fide Hollywood star, with roles as an alluring flapper in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and as a femme fatale in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, both directed by Christopher Nolan. She’s also been the face of Lady Dior since 2009.

After wrapping the final Batman film, which Nolan delayed shooting in order for Cotillard to have her baby, she had just one week to prepare to play Stéphanie. With her 5-month-old boy, Marcel, in tow, she hopped on a plane to the Côte d’Azur to tackle her most physically demanding role to date—one that required her to fold her legs back during wheelchair scenes and to don green tights in other scenes so her legs could be removed with CGI. The result is one of the truly great special-effects triumphs of the year. The legless sex scenes—and there are quite a few—were especially difficult to film.

“Usually I don’t like to do love scenes but sexuality is a very important part of the movie,” says Cotillard. “When we did the scenes, I was a hundred percent in character, but a part of me was also very happy about what was happening to her.”

She adds: “But we also had a lot of fun. Jacques was like, ‘Cut! Your leg is making a shadow on Matthias’s back, so we won’t be able to use it. Put your leg higher!’ That was really funny.”

And the gamble seems to have paid off. Audiard’s gritty, expressionistic tale, an affirmation of the Pat Benatar maxim “love is a battlefield,” is earning Cotillard major buzz this Oscar season. An ethereal beauty—and living proof that the eyes are the windows to the soul—Cotillard says she related to Stéphanie’s melancholia.

“I was a very special kid,” she says. “I had questions like, ‘What am I here for?’ and because I didn’t have any answers, I struggled with my soul. I had a very hard time sharing things with people because I was very shy and didn’t really understand how relationships worked. When I started to understand that what we share creates an energy to the world, I started to relax and spend time with people instead of avoiding them.”

Raised in Beaucé, a town near Rennes in northern France, Cotillard says she was surrounded by “storytellers and passionate people.” Her father served as a theater director and mime, and her mother was an actress. She made her onstage debut alongside her mother in a play directed by Daniel Mesguich. And when Cotillard wasn’t acting, she was watching movies.

“All my big, big shocks as a kid watching movies came from American movies,” she says. “I grew up with musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and Victor Victoria, and of course, Jaws. We watched Jaws like 50 times.” She laughs. “I had no idea that I would have the opportunity to work here. It makes me very happy.”

The 37-year-old actress has come a long way since making her Hollywood debut playing a Newsweek photographer in Tim Burton’s fantasy epic Big Fish. Like The Dark Knight Rises, Rust and Bone addresses the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, an issue Cotillard is very passionate about.

“I will always be upset about the fact that we care less about humanity than about how to make industry work,” she says. “And, even though we fail in a lot of places, we still continue to think that we need to keep the money world healthy, and that’s how we’re going to make it work. But I don’t think it’s working. Why would we continue to feed the machine when people are starving?”

In her limited free time, Cotillard listens to a variety of music, ranging from Otis Redding and Nina Simone to Radiohead and Adele. Two years ago, she toured with the French band Yodelice, and hopes to return to music again soon. For now, however, she’s occupied with her baby boy, whose father is her boyfriend, actor and filmmaker Guillaume Canet.

“It’s like you have a different mission,” she says of motherhood. “I’ve always tried to stay away from the bullshit, but now the no-bullshit approach works. Suddenly this piece of authenticity arrives in your life, and it’s a revelation about how you deal with yourself because you’re not the most important person anymore.”

But this new phase in her life has had positive repercussions on her career as well. “I was so tired from being on no sleep making Rust and Bone,” she says, “but at the same time I had this huge energy that I’d never experienced before brought by what happened in my life.”

1
Dec 2012
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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.

1
Dec 2012
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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.