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Sep 2012
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In Craig Davidson’s gripping short story collection Rust and Bone, individual lives and destinies are blown out of proportion, intensified by drama and accident. The stories depict a harsh modern world where fighting is the way the physical self finds its place and escapes its fate.

Ali and Stéphanie, our two characters, do not appear in the short stories; we took ideas from Craig Davidson’s stories as a point of departure and wove them into a new story. Davidson’s collection already seems to belong to the prehistory of the project, but the power and brutality of our tale, our desire to use drama, indeed melodrama, to magnify our characters all have their immediate source in those stories.

From the very beginning of our adaptation, we were focused on a kind of cinematography that, for want of a better word, we called ‘expressionist.’ We wanted the power of stark, brutal, clashing images in order to further the melodrama. We had in mind an echo of the Great Depression. We thought of old amateur county-fair films, of the dark reality in those surreal visuals.

It is that kind of aesthetic that constantly guided us as we worked on the screenplay. It’s pitiless, yet it sustains a love story that is the true hero of the film. It shows the world though the eyes of a confused child. It underscores the nobleness of our characters in a world made violent by economic disaster. And it respects Ali and Stéphanie’s stubborn attempts to transcend their condition.

Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain


Just as the principal characters Stéphanie and Ali are transformed in Rust and Bone, so the film’s director and lead actors went through a discovery process together that was not always easy or predictable.

“When I read the script, I loved Stéphanie right away, but I have to say that I didn’t really understand her,” recalls Marion Cotillard, who stars as the orca trainer who loses her legs. “I was a bit freaked out to confess that to Jacques, and he said, ‘Well you know, it’s the same for me. I don’t know who she is and we’re going to have to take the road together and find her and give her life.’ That was very exciting for me. At the end, there’s still some mystery about Stéphanie.”

That sense of diving headlong into the unexpected touches every aspect of Rust and Bone. “What we were trying to do, with the writing, filming, actors’ performances, editing, music,” says director Jacques Audiard, “was to combine an almost naturalistic realism with its opposite—melodrama, surreal imagery, a heightened experience.” So when Cotillard worried about how to act out Stéphanie’s trauma, Audiard saw her uncertainty as a plus: “Jacques said: ‘That’s the story of the movie: there’s this girl and—bam!—she has no legs! It’s entirely new to Stéphanie, and it’s better if it’s entirely fresh to you.’ ”

Re-imagining the love story

Rust and Bone began as a totally re-imagined departure from its source material. Audiard explains: “I’d read Craig Davidson’s short story collection Rust and Bone with tremendous pleasure. Davidson is a writer of the Crisis. He brutally depicts a modern world that is wobbling; his characters are on the margins, outside society. After A Prophet, a film about confinement, a world of men, without much light, (co-writer) Thomas Bidegain and I were drawn to follow up with a film that would be its opposite: a love story, bathed in light, that would show a woman with a man. Yet we also wanted to explore contemporary chaos and barbarism without addressing them head-on. The contrasts fascinated us—but there isn’t a love story in Craig Davidson’s collection, so we invented it.”

Before love in this story, though, comes pain. As Ali and Stéphanie bring each other back to life, they navigate a world of violence and scarred emotions. Audiard worked with his actors to portray the relationship with powerful resonance.

“Audiard is constantly looking for the life in the moment itself,” says Matthias Schoenaerts (pronounced shuh-nar). “He’s not about executing what he wrote, he’s constantly on the lookout for “how can life change what I wrote?” Ali is not always the most sympathetic guy; the audience isn’t going to identify with him straight away. But there’s something about his sincerity, his simplicity, that’s genuinely attractive. We rehearsed and improvised, trying out darker, rougher ways to play Ali. Finally, we struck on an almost childlike streak in Ali which made the character suddenly more real to us, more believable as someone Stéphanie could love. That juvenile energy breathed life into him. Otherwise he’s this social, self-aware character that knows what shit he’s in and starts being depressed about it, and we didn’t want that at all. Ali goes from being an emotional zero to surrendering to love. He also learns to love his child. Audiard has a way of making characters so profound and so multilayered. He’s truly an actor’s director, who works with the actors very collaboratively to bring out those shades.”

Cotillard concurs. “I’ve worked with amazing directors,” she says, “But the thing with Jacques is you feel the love that he has for his story and the characters—it’s so strong, it’s very, very inspiring. Audiard is a poet.”

Realism and its opposites

Audiard and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, who also shot A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped, evoke a harshly commercialized setting of urban strips, big-box retail, the anonymous disco, the touristy orca show—but they also make the audience feel the liberating sensation of sun and seawater on Stéphanie’s body, the physicality and adrenaline of sex and combat. Gritty social realism slides into dreamlike imagery, as Audiard describes: “We were obsessed with the idea that the strength of the images would render this painting of passions, extreme situations, extreme feelings. We wanted to find a brutal and contrasting aesthetic. We talked about neo-expressionism, Tod Browning’s Freaks, the films of Lon Chaney, the circus and fairground films of the Great Depression, in which the strangeness of the visuals sublimates the blackness of reality. We talked about monstrous tales. And about Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter, which begins with a father being arrested in front of his son because he has stolen in order to feed them. Are those films melodramas? Are they expressionistic? We don’t have a lexicon for that.” Like Fontaine, many key crew members—producers, editor, music composer, art director, casting, production designers—are longtime collaborators on Audiard’s films.

Physical duress

As actors, both Cotillard and Schoenaerts had to inhabit bodies under extreme physical duress. “I researched and I watched videos of amputees,” says Cotillard, “But I got more out of a direction Jacques gave me. He told me, “Sometimes part of her refuses the situation so sometimes she will try to stand up and she will forget that she has no legs and she will fall.” You don’t see that onscreen but it made me feel the part.” Technically, the amputations are achieved by CGI, but to Cotillard, “That’s the least interesting part, though the technical people did amazing work. What matters is the flesh, bones, sexual, violent physicality.”

Schoenaerts trained intensively for his role as a kickboxing combatant, but not to achieve the conventional hero’s ripped physique: “I worked out every day, had to get my weight back up after Bullhead. Jacques had a very specific idea of the physique that Ali should have—he should be strong but not trained. Here’s a guy who has been boxing for years but then dropped out and started gaining weight, he has a belly. We didn’t want him to look too fit or well trained, we wanted him to look a little bit unhealthy. He’s a guy who doesn’t have the means to be eating right and training properly and his appearance should make that clear.”

About his character’s bare-fisted fighting, Schoenaerts says: “When you have nothing what is there left to sell? There’s your body, so he fights. And somehow he needs the pain. The fights are painful but they’re very sensory. He’s unable to feel his emotional level, but the fights bring it to life, that’s where he feels he has a body. When he hits or gets hit he feels it, there’s something happening. And then Stephanie just breaks his heart open.”

In bed

The sexual chemistry between Ali and Stéphanie transcends her disability. Says Audiard, “Personally, I perceived the erotic nature of the situation quite quickly. Let me explain: there are two problems facing fiction films, two areas where they come up short: violence leading to death, because you know that they’re not going to kill the actor; and sex, because you know that the sighs and pleasure are a sham – plus, it’s very awkward to film. For a long time I’ve pondered the problem of the representation of physical love. This story allows me to avoid the problem of representation of the sexual act. When Ali takes Stéphanie on his back, it’s all about sex. So when they’re in bed, I no longer have to linger on the faces, to believe the faces; I believe what the woman is revealing of herself, her infirmity, and it’s like she’s even more naked.”

As Schoenaerts says, “Of course I forgot her legs. Ali forgets, so I forgot.”

The princess and the fighter

“I can’t imagine who else could have played Stéphanie, just as I can’t imagine who else could have played Piaf in La Vie en rose,” says Audiard. “There’s a virile authority to her acting, and at the same time she exudes sexuality. She’s very seductive. There’s another reason: I’m not forgetting that she’s extremely famous. And that fame adds to the fiction. When her legs are amputated, it’s a cinematic convention: we know it’s a famous actress playing a role. She’s a princess, a princess who falls from on high.”

Audiard continues: “When I saw Bullhead, I immediately wanted to meet Matthias. We had very little time to prep. Marion focused her work on her handicap and the killer whales, and Mathias on the fights. For her, the arc was difficult but clear: she is someone on the path to recovery. With Mathias, we had to work more on his character: in the script, Ali was coarser. He couldn’t be too dim, he had to attract Stéphanie’s gaze, there had to be a basis for seduction and then love.”

The seemingly positive wrap-up—Ali’s boxing triumph, Sam and Stéphanie at his side—is mitigated by the voice-over which tells of the enduring pain in Ali’s shattered hands. As Schoenaerts sees it, “We just watched a film for one and a half hours where we saw what these two human beings are and what they went through. They’re still going to have to deal with that—it’s not over. They still have pain, they still have to bring up the kid, she still has to deal with her handicap. But they can share it and be a support to one another, so it’s a good ending but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a classical happy ending.”

Audiard wonders, “What would she have become if she hadn’t had that accident? She probably would have remained the somewhat arrogant princess that she was, unable to truly love someone. ‘Thanks’ to her infirmity, and because Ali never looks at her with pity or compassion, she allows herself to let go and experiences something she would otherwise never have known.”

For Cotillard, her character’s loss is a revelation. “When there’s nothing left, it’s just you, your soul, and what’s deep inside of you. Will you be able to face it or will you be too afraid to face it? We see the encounter of two naked souls who surrender to this nudity. That’s the beauty of this story and these people.”

Seeing it on the screen: Author Craig Davidson on Rust and Bone

An excerpt from author Craig Davidson’s article Seeing it on the screen about Jacques Audiard’s transformative take on his short-story collection:

It all started when I knocked a glass of water on to a film director’s hat.

A lovely chapeau. Brushed felt. The director was French; his name was Jacques Audiard. The hat was kind of his trademark. I’d been sitting in La Rotonde, a swanky Parisian café; in attendance were Audiard, my French editor Francis Geffard, and me, the clumsy foreign clown — or as the French might say, le bozo.

Audiard had read my story collection, Rust and Bone. He wanted to option it and I wanted to let him. He was especially taken with two stories: “27 Bones,” concerning a once-promising amateur boxer whose life devolves into a series of underground bare-knuckle fights; and “Rocket Ride,” a story about a killer whale trainer who gets his leg torn off by an aggrieved orca.

Jacques’ notion was to braid these stories together, align the main characters by connecting their physical weaknesses — the boxer has brittle hands that keep breaking; the trainer has no leg — to the way their lives unfold afterwards. It was a connection that, to be honest, I’d not seen while writing it. I found it thrilling that he’d found an inroad I’d never glimpsed.

But our discussion of such complex emotional terrain was made difficult by the fact my French stinks and Audiard’s English was marginally better. Mostly, Francis and Jacques spoke. I drank beer too fast and tried to look suave and then I knocked Jacques’ eau de gaz on to his exquisite hat and the meeting ended, as meetings tend to when one party makes a roaring buffoon of himself.

He did option the book, however. The option money spent well, as money tends to. I never expected much else. Oh, I’d heard the stats: less than 5% of literary properties make it to the screen, et cetera et cetera. But the production company renewed the option. Next: rumours a script had been written. Stars had been attached. Marion Cotillard — really?

Still, I never quite believed. I figured it’d fall apart somehow. But one thing flowed into the next and then one day I was watching the trailer and thinking: Huh, I guess they really made it.
Some people will want to know: How does it feel to have a film made out of something you wrote?

The answer is: pretty darn good! I’ve been fantastically fortunate. I’m not worried it’ll be as good as my book — I know for a fact it’ll be better. I wrote it when I was in my 20s. I was a ballsy writer. That’s what drew Jacques to it: the action, the frenetic-ness of it, the fact that I write in fully-formed scenes that unravel like a movie — a tribute to how much films have shaped my writing style. But the book also reflects a youthful viewpoint that misses much of the variance and beauty of life that are so clear to me now.

People have asked how it feels to have my book reworked and fitted to the screen — did it bother me that someone was monkeying around with my stories? They wondered if I considered flying to France, stalking around the set shaking my fist screaming: “This isn’t my VISION! You’re perverting it all!”

The thought never crossed my mind. My investment in the film has been minimal: I simply provided the seed. Yes, there have been plot and character changes: the male protagonist of “Rocket Ride” becomes Marion Cotillard, for example (and I’m weirdly OK with that!).

But as I said, the film will outshine the book. Having read the script, I can tell you Audiard has elevated it to something I simply wasn’t capable of expressing back when I wrote it. The man is at the height of his powers. Me? Hopefully I’m just warming up. Jacques found such wonderful connections, sharpened the characters and gave the film something I struggle with: a deep romantic context. It’s a love story, albeit a tortured one. He’s taken what the book gave him and shaped it into a deeper resonance.

I’ll get a DVD screener and sit down with my folks, my girlfriend and my brother and a few close friends. We’ll order a pizza, crack a case of beer and watch that sucker. And it’ll matter deeply to me that I watch it with just those people, as they’re the ones who were with me before it was even a possibility — supporting my foolish endeavour to be a writer without any inkling that something this cool might ever come of it.
National Post, May 15, 2012

Sep 2012
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from National Post (Canada) / by Shinan Govani

Some stars are more in tune with Katy Perry‘s oeuvre than others.

As Toronto exploded into a thousand star-spotting smithereens over the weekend — there’s Keira Knightley at Nota Bene on Queen! Matt & Ben at the Terroni near Church! Everybody-everybody at the new Soho House! — we found ourselves talking to Édith Piaf, in a corner, about one of the tarts of Top 40.

“I wasn’t familiar with her work,” Marion Cotillard was telling me, hearts quickening around us, and glasses tinkling as if in soft-focus. The Oscar winner and I had collided at a Moët & Chandon-hosted dinner at Michael’s, on Simcoe, and I had wasted no time in hewing myself to her and getting the knock-out in Dior to talk Russell Brand-ex to moi.

Speaking in the sort of Queen’s English that is a hallmark of the learned French, Cotillard admitted she doesn’t mind of a bit of Katy Perry these days. Now that she knows who she is, thanks to the prep involved in making her new powder keg of a film, the Jacques Audiard-lensed Rust and Bone.

“I will never be able to listen to Katy Perry in the same way,” I admitted to her, referring to a scene in her movie that uses the happy-camper anthem Firework as a backdrop for a subversively not-what-you-expect scene involving her, a whale and an accident that eventually changes everything, and then, well, leads to both beauty and brutality in equal doses. The song reappears again in another astonishing scene when a wheelchair-bound Cotillard is shown trying to play conductor of her own life.

Both presently lost in the inner recesses of Cotillard’s blue eyes, and also acutely aware of the capriciousness of my own existence — which other parties were on now of the eight parties I had to get to tonight? What other celebs lay within what radius of this woman? — I paused dramatically, realizing I had nothing else left to say, and that I was suffering from TIFF-sponsored attention-deficit disorder.

So, I set her free, having (briefly) loved her.

Sep 2012
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from Canoe – Toronto Sun (Canada) / by Liz Braun

Marion Cotillard seems to have her feet firmly on the ground.

This is no small thing, considering both her head-turning level of celebrity and the seven inch high heels she sported at in interview session in Toronto on Friday.

The Oscar-winning actress, 37, is in town to promote Rust & Bone, a gala presentation at TIFF. The film is a stunning drama from director Jacques Audiard; Cotillard plays a killer whale trainer seriously injured at work and Matthias Schoenaerts portrays a thuggish blue-collar worker she relies upon after the accident.

Cotillard was a virtual unknown to North American viewers in 2008 when she took home a Bafta, a Golden Globe, a Cesar and an Academy Award (among many other prizes) for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose.

After that, she quickly made a lasting impression on the movie-goers’ collective consciousness with starring roles in such films as Public Enemies, opposite Johnny Depp, the musical Nine, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the blockbuster Contagion and Christopher Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight Rises — two of the biggest movies of the last few years.

It didn’t happen by chance. The actress says she has been very careful about who she works for.

“I was offered roles in movies that were, for me, studio movies and not director movies,” she says. “And I could never do that. One day I was offered a dream role, a huge, big American movie, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, it’s going to be a lot of fun.’ And then I met the director, and I thought, ‘I have nothing to do here. Nothing!’ He knew nothing about actors. He was just there to direct — I don’t know what, but not me.”

Still, Cotillard’s friends told her she was crazy to turn down the role.

“The movie came out, it was a huge success and I went to see it to see what I missed. And my God, I didn’t miss anything! I thought it was so bad. And I had the explanation — there was no director for the actors on set. There was a director for, ah, I don’t know what.”

Despite all the work, Cotillard and director Guillaume Canet found time to have their first child together in May, 2011, even while Cotillard’s schedule took her all over the planet. Now she’s a working mother. She’s not complaining.

“It’s hectic,” is all she says about juggling motherhood and career. “But I finally managed to take some time off. My life is in movement, constant movement, and I love it, but sometimes you just need to relax and not work too much.”

She adds, “And I want to see my son every day of my life and do nothing and just stare at him.”

Describing herself as a ‘gypsy’, Cotillard says she lives in France, then corrects that and says she’s just spent six months living in New York. She shot two new movies there, including Blood Ties, a film directed by her partner Canet; it co-stars Mila Kunis and Clive Owen and reunites her with her Rust & Bone co-star, Matthias Schoenaerts. ( Of Schoenaerts, she says, “Finally, cinema has found him! Working with him was amazing. Sometimes you meet someone and there’s this feeling you’ve known them forever, like a brother.”)

Cotillard says she is indeed hounded by paparazzi, but again, she’s not complaining. “We turn it into a lot of fun, like when I have to go to the airport and suddenly my publicist says, ‘Oh, my God, paparazzi,’ and I look like s–t, so I put some makeup on. And that’s ridiculous! To put on makeup just to take a plane? So we make fun of it.

“It’s not difficult. Difficult is no money to feed your kids. Difficult is something totally different. Sometimes it’s annoying, sometimes when you want to have time for yourself and your family it can be more than annoying, but you have to take a little step back and see that difficulty is what I just said, and not my life.

“My life is amazing and I shouldn’t complain.”

Sep 2012
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from Vogue.com (US) / by John Powers

After spending all that time undercover, I needed a drink, so I moseyed over to Moët & Chandon’s dinner for Rust and Bone, a satisfying new French melodrama by one of my favorite directors, Jacques Audiard, whose work is an almost perfect blend of French realism and Hollywood mythology. This movie is all about the relationship between a marine-world trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs in an accident with an orca, and her lover, a thuggish, but sensitive single father, played by the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, with a blend of toughness and virility that should make him an international star.

I’d barely finished my first glass of bubbly when I found myself eating prosciutto and figs next to Cotillard, who, dressed in black and white Christian Dior, proved even lovelier in person than she is on screen. She had just finished a long trip to Telluride for that Rocky Mountain film festival, a journey that involved four flights, including a scary one in a small plane from Los Angeles to Denver along with others including Laura Dern. “It was very bumpy,” she told me. “We were all so happy to see the ground.”

It is Cotillard’s destiny to be the reigning French star of her era, one equally at home in a Hollywood juggernaut like the The Dark Knight Rises or an edgy European art film. She’s one of those actresses who’s good in an ordinary role, but great when tackling a part that’s hard, like the one she plays in Rust and Bone, for which she’ll almost surely be given an Oscar nomination. When I mention this to her she just laughs. “The hardest roles are my favorites,” she says. That’s why she still works in Europe as well as Hollywood. Although she’s taking time off at the moment, she’s already agreed to be in the next film by Belgium’s Dardenne brothers, two-time Cannes winners who are the state of the art in realistic filmmaking. “I’m so excited that I have agreed to do it even without a script,” she says. “They’re geniuses. All their movies are good.”

We’re just talking about making Rust and Bone when we’re interrupted by the film’s publicists. It’s time for Cotillard, Schoenaerts, and Audiard to head off to that night’s screening. After the actress gives me a farewell pat on the arm, Audiard rounds the table and shakes my hand.

“Don’t drink too much champagne,” he says, having fun with the event’s sponsors. “It’s poison.”

Maybe he’s right—he is French, after all—but when the waiter comes by with another bottle of Moët, I find myself saying, “Why not?”

Sep 2012
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from The Playlist / by Rodrigo Perez

While it may have seemed premature on paper, the Telluride Film Festival’s celebration of 37-year-old French actress Marion Cotillard’s body of work last weekend is arriving right on the crest of her career apogee, a period we may look back on in several decades and compare to the way Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve dominated the ’60s with their ubiquity.

Valid Oscar talk is already swirling for Cotillard’s most recent emotionally bruising performance as a whale-trainer who suffers a brutal accident in Jacques Audiard’s “Rust & Bone,” which made its North American premiere last weekend in Telluride; the peg of her celebration.

And while still just making a name for herself in North America, Cotillard is already an Academy-Award winning actress (for “La Vie On Rose” — she’s only the second ever actress after Sophia Loren to win the award for a role not in English) and has worked with greats like Michael Mann, Christopher Nolan (twice), Ridley Scott (“A Good Year“), Tim Burton (“Big Fish“), Steven Soderbergh (“Contagion“), Woody Allen (“Midnight In Paris”) and Abel Ferrara, not to mention all the superb French filmmakers she has worked with (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Arnaud Desplechin) and the upcoming auteurs who have collaborations with her in the works (“A Separation” helmer Asghar Farhadi and James Gray). Truly she is the real deal, and at the same time is likely just reaching her peak; one assumes she has a long and storied career ahead of her.

During “A Tribute To Marion Cotillard,” Telluride audiences were treated to clips from many of her films and an in-depth and intimate conversation with the actress about her oeuvre. Sincere, but casually playful, the actress gratefully accepted her career-early tribute and related stories about her life. Her father was a mime and therefore an early acting coach from whom Cotillard was able to soak up the physicality of performance. Oh, and despite the Telluride guide where Cotillard is quoted as saying, “I’m just a girl from the Bronx,” she’s not. This is her form of a joke about living in the suburbs of France. “I aeeem znot from zee Bwonx at t’all.” She quipped in a purposefully exaggerated French accent.

She’s a multi-hyphenate as well, and occasionally sings under the pseudonym Simone in Maxim Nucci’s band Yodelice (see her sing Bowie’s “Velvet Goldmine” here). Simone being the name of one of her beloved grandmothers. And she works hard on her roles. After a deep immersion, it took her several months to shed the skin of Edith Piaf (the role she won the Oscar for). She spent every day for four months with a dialect coach preparing for her role in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” because the notoriously meticulous director wanted her without a trace of a French accent (“I cried every day,” she said of her preparations). For her role in “Nine” alongside Daniel Day-Lewis, where she played Luisa, the wife who is overlooked and neglected in favor of Day Lewis’ character’s many muses, she studied and looked to Eleanor Coppola for inspiration as a woman who is loyal but trying to find her own identity while working with a creative madman.

In her most theatrical release, “Little White Lies,” she worked for the first time as an actress under director/actor Guillaume Canet, her partner and father of her first child, Marcel. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said when asked to discuss her true relationship with Canet, having described him thus far just as a director she had worked with. “Oh, I guess that rumor must be true,” she laughed before describing the experience of working with her partner as “heaven and hell.”

Canet was a good segue to the evening’s surprise: an early look at James Gray’s “The Nightingale,” (formerly known as “Low Life”), a New York-set period piece that stars Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner; that trio easily making the film one of 2013’s most anticipated features.

“James and I met through a very dear friend of mine,” Cotillard said once again coyly about Canet. Mutual fans of each other’s work (Gray’s underappreciated dark dramas are met with huge critical acclaim in France), Canet and the “We Own The Night” filmmaker wrote “Blood Ties” together: a drama about two brothers on either side of the law who face off over organized crime in Brooklyn during the 1970s. Canet directed the picture earlier this year, and Cotillard is featured in it among an ensemble cast that includes Clive Owen, James Caan, Billy Crudup, Zoe Saldana, Mila Kunis and her “Rust & Bone” co-star Matthias Schoenaerts.

During their “Blood Ties” meetings, Cotillard and Gray met. They went to dinner at a french fish restaurant where Gray and Cotillard proceeded to get into an argument about an actor. “She threw bread at my head.” Gray said. “And of course as consequence I immediately loved her.” Gray said he had never seen her in anything before, but was instantly drawn to her. “I watched every film of hers I could get my hands on. And then I knew I had to write something for her. So that’s the genesis of this thing coming out [next year],” he said of “The Nightingale.”

Set in the 1920s, the drama stars Cotillard as Sonya, an immigrant who travels to New York with her sister who becomes deathly ill once they arrive. In order to help her, Sonya heads down a dark path where she sells herself for money and medicine, eventually falling for a charming magician (Renner), the cousin of the sleaze who keeps her turning tricks (Phoenix).

“What happened was right at the same time I was trying to think of something for Marion I was talking to my brother who found these journals from my grandfather who ran a saloon in the Lower East Side in New York in the 1920s after he came from Kiev,” Gray explained of the film’s beginnings. “And there were all these low lifes frequenting the place.”

One of them was this what Gray describes as a “enigmatic, screwed-up, manipulative pimp who used to go to Ellis Island and cruise for women who came to the country by themselves.” According to Gray in the 1920s, women trying to get into the U.S. by themselves were not let in specifically because they were targets for prostitution, but through bribery, canny pimps would get around these rules. And so a movie idea was born.

“I’d never seen a movie of that subject,” he said. “Lower East Side, Ellis Island, pimps; it seemed very vivid to me. So I said, ‘that sounds perfect.'” However, getting Cotillard on board wasn’t as easy as he’d hoped. The director of the tremendous (and criminally underrated “Little Odessa” and “The Yards”) described sending the screenplay to Cotillard, but then having to wait seven days for an answer after she had promised to read the script over a weekend. “Well, Sunday came and went and it was like getting a colonoscopy over a week,” he said of the agonizing wait for an answer.

Marion laughed and demured, saying she wanted to be “the eggplant” in a James Gray sauce “I really wanted to work with him so I would have done anything,” she protested. “Thank you for saying that, but it’s not true!” he laughed. “I’m telling you…” he trailed off after Cotillard shot him a look. “Don’t say anything,” she scowled playfully.

Gray has worked loyally with Joaquin Phoenix for four films in a row (2008’s “Two Lovers” was their last collaboration, “The Nightingale” is next) so his next and final comment was one he couldn’t speak lightly. “It’s important to emphasize this. Unfortunately for critics and audiences alike I have made several films, and some films with really terrific actors, “he said. “And I say this at my own peril, but Marion is the best actor I’ve ever worked with.”

We’re stoked. “The Nightingale” will arrive in theaters sometime in 2013 via The Weinstein Company. Evidently the picture is mostly complete, which likely means they are saving it for Oscar season.