originally published in French Psychologies, July/August 2008
translated by Mariana, Anthony and Ioana
Since winning an Oscar for “La Vie En Rose”, she has been propelled to the Top Ten of world stars. But hasn’t given any interviews. For Psychologies, she agreed to speak about her new life, her commitments and the traps that come with fame. A meeting in Chicago with a young woman who isn’t singing her own praises.
Old Town, one of the most beautiful places in Chicago. Her American press manager takes me to the appartment Marion has lived in ever since arriveing on the set of Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. They’re ending a lively conversation about a scene. There’s a small moment of surprise upon hearing the one who played Piaf with such a distinguished Parisian accent talking fluently English with an impeccable accent. She switches to French to show me her grey cat, brought along from Paris. It has been months that she’s been living with him in Chicago, immersing herself in the language in order to credibly play an American woman. The last image of her in our minds is: the body wrapped in a mermaid gown, the Oscar next to the heart, and that radiant smile on those red lips. Since then, no news, no interviews, only the media’s fever pitch over some sentences about 9/11 taken from an old television interview. With no make-up, a simple hair-slide holding back a lock of hair, in blue jeans and barefoot, Marion is less impressive, and much prettier. We were expecting to hear all about a life turned upside down by newfound glory and we already imagined sentences heard a thousand times before elsewhere. We even prepared some honest and direct questions to help her speak with more honesty. But Marion moves us, really, without affectation. There’s no garishness, she’s almost fragile, enthusiastic and clumsy at times. There’s an eagerness for learning, for making up for lost time when she was “lazy”. In constant research of truth. She’s disarming …
P: Since the Oscar ceremony, we haven’t heard from you. What happened?
MC: The day they announced the Oscar nominations, I found out that I had been chosen for Michael Mann’s next film. For this role, I have to speak English with an impeccable American accent. So I came here, to the United States, to immerse myself in an American environment. In fact, it’s been almost a year that I haven’t lived in France anymore.
P: So you didn’t savour your triumph?
MC: No, not really. The day after the ceremony, I went to a Native American tribe, because the character I play in “Public Enemies” has a Native American mother. I took the plane at 4am for Green Bay, Wisconsin, in order to meet up with a Menominee tribe, and to discover their culture and learn the rudiments of their language. That was absolutely eerie.
P: Do you feel ready to come back to France after this shooting, with your new notoriety?
MC: I went back to Paris for a few days, and I noticed how nice people were with me. Many told me that I boosted their morale. If I can share this energy, that fulfills me. Energy is life. It’s pleasant to experience notoriety. All one needs is to manage to leave it at its right place.
P: Has the fact that you received all these awards made you more self-confident?
MC: I got immersed so quickly in my work that I don’t think I’ve been able to realize all that happened yet. And despite the awards, I arrived on the Michael Mann film with a big apprehension. As always. And that will never change. I’m carried by that tension. Besides, it’s an interesting feeling, a source of creativity and awakening. I’m proud to have received all these awards, but this recognition doesn’t make me someone else. I haven’t alienated myself from who I am, I didn’t freak out. My education taught me to find beauty even in the most simple things. It’s extraordinary to be alive, to love, to be loved. An Oscar is a great delight, but I’m aware that the role of Edith Piaf was extraordinary, and that another actress could have known the same success.
P: Why do you demean yourself? You could be proud of yourself, that would be natural…
MC: I’m not demeaning myself, I know my place. I’m not a hero. Heros are the women who fight for freedom, for human rights. They’re the Aung San Suu Kyi, the Chirin Ebadi, the Wangari Maathai, who work for a better world. Besides, they’re very humble people. In my case, it’s just because of my work as an actress that I was awarded. Why showing off? It’s nice to be recognized by your peers, but I haven’t alienated myself from reality though. I remain someone very ordinary who wants to stay close to ordinary people.
P: In your shoes, many would have had a period of exaltation.
MC: I think that I’m hiding a bit behind Piaf to protect myself, to avoid being subjected to the pressure. I’m telling myself that it’s the character of Piaf that’s magical, and that I’ve just done my work. I haven’t yet come to terms with my need of being loved, so I’m transfering it to my work. I’m living a real contradiction between this need of being loved and a deep desire for simplicity. I met a Native American with a big experience of inner travel who assured me that my desire for simplicity would only be achieved when I’d have satisfied my need to be seen and loved. That I wanted to achieve wisdom too quickly. He told me: “As long as you’ll want to achieve it without experiencing what is ‘here and now’, without going all the way to the end of the path that you have to accomplish, you won’t make it. At the moment, your real need is to have a big success in your career. Accept and satisfy this need first. Your real path is there”. I admit that my need for recognition is partly satisfied by the success of “La Vie En Rose“.
Have you found your own true path ?
I’m walking on it. I think I’m more and more honest with myself.
Shortly after the Oscars, the press dug out a TV interview on Paris Premiere, where you were doubting the official explanation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. What do you think about that today ?
I think it was very clumsy of me to tackle a subject as serious as 9/11 during a TV show. It wasn’t the appropriate place for that. And I’m hardly the most entitled person to talk about it. But I never stated, as it was said and written, that the insurance companies had destroyed the towers. I just explained that I don’t believe everything the governments and media tell us. My words were taken out of context and misinterpreted.
In that case, how do you explain 9/11 ?
Who am I to have an explanation ? However, I believe there are still many grey areas in the official version. Many American citizens requested the reopening of the investigation. A real investigation. This event changed the world in many ways, I think questions are legitimate, when there are things left unclear.
I thought your answer was going to be: “I said something stupid, I’m really sorry and I apologize to the American people if I hurt them.” You maintain a position that’s not easy to defend.
I respect the American people and I sincerely regret that my words – again, misinterpreted and taken out of context – may have shocked and hurt them. Indeed, it would be easier to say: “It was stupid of me, the official story is the right one.” My entourage would like me to adopt that position. But I can’t. I can’t be someone that I’m not, I can’t lie. I’ve been called an idiot, but I’d rather be considered an idiot, than a liar. I’m only trying to get a wider view of things, to be well-informed, to understand.
How did you deal with the violence of some articles towards you ?
It was bad. Three days after the Oscars, a part of the media – especially in France, more than in the US – broke loose. It felt like a lynching. I was very hurt. I hope people realize how disproportionate was the importance they attached to the words of a clumsy little actress, compared to significant world events that don’t get coverage. I was shocked by the attitude of certain press people in this affair. But I also learned a lot from this experience. I learned that I don’t have the right to express my opinion on a topic I don’t know very well, especially a serious one. This forces me to make efforts, and I’m making them. I’m eager to know, to learn, even more when I’m aware of my learning-gaps.
These learning-gaps make you self-conscious or do they push you forward ?
They make me self-conscious. I haven’t studied, I’ve been lazy for a very long time, but I’m changing. My problem is that I express myself better on the inside, that on the outside. I have convictions, but I’m not always able to put them into words, so I find myself blabbering, talking nonsense sometimes. I dream of having Harold Pinter’s talent. His speech, after he received the Nobel Prize in 2005, is marvelous. Read it. Maybe my standards are too high, but this is also a good thing. You have to raise the bar all the time.
Do you consider yourself a committed person ?
I’m aware that each of us is part of a chain and no link must be broken. I’ve been committed to the preservation of our planet, since many years ago. A few years back, people who fought to save this planet were considered “illuminated”. It’s sad how the meaning of this word was deformed. It’s so beautiful to be illuminated! It means to find the light. It’s wonderful. When I was telling them that natural disasters were human disasters, because they were provoked by humans, people took me for a fool. When you change the course of a river, it will always find a way back to its bed, but causing terrible damage. I’m happy to see this awareness extended today. I can’t close my eyes to everything that happens in the world. I try to stay connected, to share my experience with others. Each of us gains from the others’ knowledge. The internet can be a wonderful medium, a different source of information, one that can avoid manipulation. We mustn’t let prefabricated information, “standard thinking” prevail all the time. I have the chance to have been born in Europe, in France, to have received an education, to be able to speak my mind on my own small level, even if I do it badly. I have to use this freedom. Aung San Suu Kyi expressed the essence of it: “Use your freedom to help us win ours.” It’s a duty.
Have you worked with yourself ? Have you done any therapy?
I worked with my voice, with my emotions, which helped me get rid of my anger, throw away things I didn’t want to have inside me anymore. We all have a dose of negative feelings. Therapy is a cleaning process, of understanding what prevents us from going forward. It’s thrilling work. We are intriguing animals, who could be even more so, if they made an effort to be less lazy. It’s easy to tell yourself every time that another is responsible. I’m like everybody, I don’t always want to go deeper, because it’s difficult. But I force myself. Sometimes, I see on the internet an interesting article, but I realize it’s six pages long. My first reaction is to say: “Ouch, too long!”. Then I convince myself: “Don’t give up, you have the means and the desire to make it all the way, so do it!”. It’s easier to give up, but so much more enriching to learn. When you take the time to make this effort, the passion is there and everything becomes clear, simple. You can even become addicted. It’s good to be addicted to knowledge.
You see, you speak very well !
Sometimes… (Laughs.) It’s complicated, but I’m learning and I rely on myself.
- Marion Cotillard Q&A, posted on November 3, 2009
- Cultural Conversion, posted on May 25, 2009
- Marion Cotillard, posted on April 1, 2011
- Living La Vie en Rose, posted on June 7, 2007
- For Marion Cotillard, the Anxious Wait Stretched Waaay Back Past This Morning, posted on January 22, 2008