Publication: Production Notes

A Conversation with Marion Cotillard

A Conversation with Marion Cotillard

How did you meet the Dardenne brothers?
We met briefly in Belgium, on the set of Jacques Audiardʼs Rust and Bone; a very short meeting, between two elevators. I was slightly in awe, as I have always admired them so much… A few months after Rust and Bone was released my agent called me and said that Luc and Jean-Pierre wanted to offer me a part. I couldnʼt believe it. I thought working with them was beyond of my reach.

Why?
I know that working in the US would open doors to certain filmmakers for me. But the Dardennes? I couldnʼt even imagine it… they donʼt usually work with actors like me. Cécile de France worked with them on The Kid With a Bike, but sheʼs Belgian and her appearing in their universe was less astonishing than me doing the same. So it was a real surprise they contacted me, and an absolute joy.

How would you define their cinema?
Each of their films closely observes the realities of society while taking new cinematic risks. They make real auteur films – you canʼt get much more auteur than Luc and Jean-Pierre – but manage to defy any categorization! Their cinema is absolutely universal.

What was your first reaction when they offered you the role of Sandra?
During our first meeting I was bubbling with ideas, just like a kid! I tried really hard to hold it all in but it had to come out. I said: “Iʼm so happy to be working with you, I could turn somersaults!” I had to tell them how I felt before moving on to more serious business!

How did they present Two Days, One Night to you?
They spoke a little about the filmʼs subject, but I really discovered Sandraʼs story when I read the screenplay. I realized what a beautiful real-life hero she was and what a challenge it would be for me to play this part: a woman who meets each of her colleagues and tries to convince them to reconsider their vote. The aspect of repetition meant I would have to work hard on nuances and variations.

How would you define Sandra?
She is an ordinary woman, a worker who knows what things cost, because she has to. She understands why some (of her colleagues) have chosen to pocket the thousand Euro bonus rather than voting for her to keep her job. No one knows what she would have done in their place and the film doesnʼt judge anyone. Thatʼs what makes it so powerful. She suffers from depression…

In one scene she even says: “I am nothing”. This feeling of uselessness lives deep inside her, as it does for a lot of people who donʼt know how to deal with their work or the lack of it. Several months before we shot the film, I had been deeply shocked to read articles and reports about work-related suicides, people whoʼd rather end it all than endure this feeling of being useless. The film echoes with some of these events that had struck me so.

How do the Dardenne brothers work?
We rehearsed for over a month – a crucial phase. It was all about working on the locations, the energy of the characters, and the rhythm of the scenes. This work is as complex as it is essential work, all the more so since the brothers shoot in long takes. I had to lose my French accent, which I was dreading the most, without falling into a faked Belgian accent, which would have been a real mistake. These rehearsals allowed me to be more comfortable with the whole Belgian aspect…

The film carefully avoids any self-indulgent dwelling on the sordid side of life.
With the Dardennes, the intent must always stay in the shadows, and this suits me. Even when my parts lend themselves to a ʻperformanceʼ I always try to conceal my acting, so the audience can be with the character and her emotions. When you like working this way, you canʼt ask for anything more than working with the Dardenne brothers.

How do they direct actors on set?
Thanks to all the work achieved during rehearsals, Luc and Jean-Pierre can concentrate above all on the actorsʼ work during the shoot. They are demanding like no one else… Each and every detail matters so much that they will do things again and again. Thatʼs the price for the intensity and truth in their films. Had they asked me to shoot 250 takes for one scene, I would have done it. I never grew sick of it… Iʼve never been directed like this before.

You and Fabrizio Rongione make a very believable couple.
Rehearsals had a lot to do with it. On a film like this you have to meet before the Shooting starts. Rehearsals allowed us to get used to each other. Fabrizio is a Dardenne brothers old hand: he has appeared in most of their films. He fits very well in their world because he shares the same authenticity. I was very lucky to work with him under their direction.

The part of Sandra is very different to the roles you have played in the US recently.
I have always dreamed of this kind of diversity, going from one to the other. I feel extremely lucky to be able to switch worlds like this. I have realized the dream I had as a young actress: to explore different genres and territories, with real filmmakers.

Will Two Days, One Night remain a special film in your career?
Yes, for sure. I have had some fabulous experiences but this one was the deepest and the most idyllic of all. I have never felt so taken care of by a director – sorry, two directors! Luc, Jean-Pierre and I were “accomplices” from the first to the last day of shooting. When the time came for the last shot I felt so very sad to know it was over.

Would you like to work with the brothers again?
Whenever they want! They donʼt even need to show me a script, Iʼll accept right away. Iʼd love be their new Jérémie Renier or Olivier Gourmet.

Once again you find yourself in competition at Cannes, a year after James Grayʼs The Immigrant. And two years after Jacques Audiardʼs Rust and Bone.
To climb the red carpet with Luc and Jean-Pierre, who have made their cinema live at Cannes, itʼs magic, nothing less. They took me on such a cinematic and human adventure that nothing could make me happier than to be beside hem at the Festival.

Entretien avec Marion Cotillard

Entretien avec Marion Cotillard

Dans quelles circonstances avez-vous rencontré les frères Dardenne ?
Nous nous étions croisés en Belgique, sur le tournage de « De rouille et d’os », de Jacques Audiard. Une brève rencontre, entre deux ascenseurs. J’étais très impressionnée car je les ai toujours beaucoup admirés…

Quelques mois après la sortie de « De rouille et d’os », mon agent m’a appelée pour me dire que Luc et Jean-Pierre voulaient me proposer un film. Je n’en revenais pas. Pour moi, tourner avec eux revenait à accéder à l’inaccessible.

Pourquoi ?
Les diverses expériences que j’ai eues en tant qu’actrice m’ont ouvert des perspectives que je n’aurais pu imaginer. Mais les Dardenne restaient dans le domaine de l’inimaginable… Ce n’est pas dans leurs habitudes d’engager des acteurs qui ont déjà pas mal voyagé dans différentes sphères cinématographiques. Cécile de
France a travaillé avec eux dans « Le gamin au vélo », mais peut-être le fait qu’elle soit belge rendait sa collaboration plus logique que la mienne. Cela a donc été une surprise qu’ils me contactent. Et un bonheur absolu.

Comment définiriez-vous leur cinéma ?
Dans chaque film, ils observent la réalité de la société, et, simultanément, inventent une nouvelle aventure  de cinéma. Ils font des films d’auteur – plus auteurs que Luc et Jean-Pierre, c’est impossible ! – mais ils parviennent à échapper à toutes les catégories. Leur cinéma est absolument universel.

Quelle a été votre première réaction quand ils vous ont proposé le rôle de Sandra ?
Lors de notre premier rendez-vous, je bouillonnais ! J’ai tout fait pour bien me tenir, mais il a néanmoins fallu que je verbalise. J’étais intérieurement bouleversée qu’ils me proposent une collaboration et j’avais besoin de le leur dire.

Comment vous ont-ils présenté « Deux jours, une nuit » ?
Ils m’ont dit quelques mots sur les enjeux du film, mais j’ai vraiment découvert l’histoire de Sandra quand j’ai lu le scénario. J’ai vu quelle magnifique héroïne de la vie réelle elle était. Et quel formidable défi ce serait pour moi d’incarner cette femme qui rencontre chacun de ses collègues et tente de les faire revenir sur leur vote. Ce jeu sur les répétitions signifiait qu’il me faudrait travailler sur les nuances et les fluctuations.

Comment définiriez-vous Sandra ?
C’est une femme ordinaire, une ouvrière, qui connaît le prix des choses car elle n’a pas le choix. Elle comprend ceux qui ont préféré empocher la prime de mille euros plutôt que de voter pour son maintien dans l’entreprise. Nul ne sait ce qu’elle aurait fait à leur place et le film ne juge aucun personnage. C’est toute sa force.

Elle est aussi atteinte de dépression…
Elle va jusqu’à dire dans une scène : « Je ne suis rien ». Ce sentiment d’inutilité l’habite en profondeur comme il habite beaucoup de gens qui ne savent comment composer avec leur travail, ou son absence. J’avais été très marquée, quelques mois avant le tournage, par des articles et reportages sur le suicide au travail, ceux qui préfèrent en finir plutôt que d’éprouver ce sentiment d’inutilité. Le film, pour moi, faisait écho à ces événements qui m’avaient interpellée.

Comment se déroule concrètement le travail avec les Dardenne ?
Nous avons répété pendant un mois. Une phase très importante. Il s’agissait de travailler sur les mises en place, sur l’énergie des personnages, sur le rythme des scènes. Un travail d’autant plus complexe et essentiel que les frères tournent en plans-séquences. Il m’a fallu aussi – ce que j’appréhendais le plus – perdre mon accent français sans pour autant adopter un accent belge forcé, ce qui aurait été trop dérangeant. Ces répétitions m’ont permis de me sentir à l’aise dans le bain belge…

Le film évite à chaque instant le misérabilisme et la démonstration.
Les frères sont les maîtres de l’épure, il ne s’agit pas d’avoir des intentions de jeu, il s’agit d’être. C’est ce vers quoi je tends: même quand mes rôles se prêtent à la performance, j’essaye toujours de faire en sorte que l’on ne voie pas le jeu, mais que l’on soit avec le personnage et ses émotions. Quand on aime travailler ainsi, on ne peut rêver mieux que de bosser avec les Dardenne.

Comment dirigent-ils les acteurs sur le plateau ?
Grâce au travail accompli durant les répétitions, Luc et Jean-Pierre, sur le tournage, se concentrent avant tout sur le jeu des comédiens. Et là, leur exigence est totale, inégalable et inégalée… Ils travaillent tellement sur les détails qu’ils peuvent refaire et refaire encore. La vérité et l’intensité de leurs films est à ce prix. Ils m’auraient demandé de tourner 250 prises pour une scène, je l’aurais fait. Jamais je n’en ai eu marre, car jamais je n’avais été dirigée de la sorte.

Vous formez un couple très crédible avec Fabrizio Rongione.
Les répétitions nous ont beaucoup servi. Sur un tel film, il est nécessaire de ne pas se rencontrer le premier jour de tournage. Les répétitions nous ont permis de nous apprivoiser mutuellement. Fabrizio est un habitué du cinéma des Dardenne, il a joué dans la plupart de leurs films précédents. Il s’insère naturellement dans leur univers car il partage la même authenticité. Travailler avec lui sous le regard des frères était une grande chance pour moi.

Le rôle de Sandra est très différent de ceux que vous avez interprétés récemment aux Etats-Unis.
J’ai toujours rêvé de cette alternance, de cette variété. Je me sens extrêmement chanceuse de pouvoir ainsi changer d’univers. J’ai assouvi mon fantasme originel de jeune actrice : arpenter des territoires et des genres différents, avec de grands cinéastes.

« Deux jours, une nuit » restera-t-il un film à part dans votre carrière ?
Oui, c’est certain. J’ai déjà connu des expériences magnifiques, mais celle-ci a été la plus profonde et la plus idyllique de toutes. Jamais, je ne m’étais sentie ainsi accompagnée par un réalisateur, par deux réalisateurs. Avec Luc et Jean-Pierre, nous avons été complices du premier au dernier jour. Et à l’heure de l’ultime plan, j’ai été profondément triste de savoir que l’histoire, en tout cas cette partie, s’achevait.

Vous aimeriez donc retourner avec les frères ?
Quand ils veulent ! Ils n’ont même pas besoin de me soumettre le scénario, ce sera oui tout de suite. Dans l’avenir, je veux bien être leur nouveau Jérémie Renier ou leur nouveau Olivier Gourmet.

Vous retrouvez le festival de Cannes et la compétition, un an après « The immigrant », de James Gray.
Et deux ans après « De rouille et d’os », de Jacques Audiard. Monter les marches avec Luc et Jean-Pierre, qui ont fait vivre leur cinéma à Cannes, c’est magique pas moins… Ils m’ont embarquée dans une telle aventure cinématographique et humaine que rien ne peut me rendre plus heureuse que de me retrouver à leurs côtés au Festival.

Interview Marion Cotillard

Interview Marion Cotillard

Before you met him, what did you think of James Gray as a filmmaker?
I had seen Little Odessa because of the wonderful Tim Roth. I immediately responded to the visceral relationship that James has with his characters and the stories he tells. It’s very important to me to feel that telling that particular story is a matter of life or death for a director, and I could immediately tell that that was the case with James. Later, I saw and loved all his movies, particularly We Own the Night. And he films women wonderfully.

How did The Immigrant come to you?
James and Guillaume Canet became great friends as soon as they met. They wrote a first draft of Blood Ties together, Guillaume’s new film, in Paris. We met several times, shared good food and long talks about films. There were even some heated discussions when we disagreed about an actor… Some time after that, James sent me an email. He wanted to know if I would let him write a picture for me. It didn’t make any sense! I have a list of all the filmmakers I’d dream of working with, and I can assure you James Gray is on that list. I should have been asking him. I can’t express how I felt when I read his email.

What did you like about the story?
It’s a very personal movie for James. And what’s beautiful is that it’s a costume drama built on the scale of this little lady. It could be a big epic about a Polish immigrant coming to New York. But it’s an intimate work, a portrait, a character study.

The big challenge for you, who didn’t speak Polish, was obviously the language?
When I want to make a movie, I focus on the beauty of the story and the character, that’s why I didn’t panic immediately! Then I had to start working, and it got tough. There is not a single word that sounds like English or French in Polish. And yet I had no choice. I had to do everything I could to speak Polish without the hint of an accent. I had very little time, just over a month between Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012) and The Immigrant. I worked with different coaches, one of whom was the actress who plays my aunt in the film. Mid-shoot, James came to me, startled, and said: “You sure have a lot of Polish dialogue!” He had just realized that he had written me twenty pages of Polish dialogue. Whenever I had a free minute on the set, I buried myself in my notebook. “I dreamed of it being perfect.”

Ewa sounds very different from you in real life. Did you find her voice thanks to the language?
I always try to disappear into the character as much as possible, and to find a specific way for her to speak, even in French. Polish brings a different vocal pitch, which helps to give a specific identity to the character. Speaking English in a Polish accent was difficult, but it allowed me to use a different voice. I went through a lot of books at the Polish bookstore in Paris, and saw as many Polish films as I could to listen to the language. I knew where my character was from, and I needed to understand her social background and to know more about her life. Ewa is an educated woman who trained as a nurse. She went through horrendous things that gave her great resilience. What she wants is to make a life for herself in this new country, but not without her sister. She shows amazing strength to find her.

What was shooting on Ellis Island like?
Everyone in the crew was emotional, you could sense it, because their families had arrived there at some point. It was so inspiring: the technical crew, the extras, everyone had a moving story to tell. James himself shared a lot of memories of his family. There’s a scene where Ewa doesn’t know how to eat a banana. That’s directly from his grandmother. In another scene, which is not in the final cut, she mistakes pasta for worms.

James Gray and Joaquin Phoenix have made four movies together. How did you find your place?
I certainly got mixed up with an old couple! They’re both very generous and endearing. Sometimes, when I saw that they were going to keep talking for five hours, I’d tell them: “See you tomorrow! It sounds fascinating, but I have a kid and I have to get home.” Their working relationship is wonderful to observe. And Joaquin is an impressive actor. We met every day before the shoot started, to discuss our characters. That’s when I met him for the first time. He has impeccable instincts, like a wild animal. The character of Bruno was difficult for him, he struggled a lot, and it was very moving to see him fighting with himself. Sometimes, at the end of the scene, he would come up to me and ask me to forgive him for what his character was doing to mine. I had never met someone quite as touching.

What about Jeremy Renner?
He joined quite late, but immediately felt part of the family. The four of us were like brothers and sister. I realize now that we all share an extreme sensitivity and that we all have to struggle with it. It made us closer. For Ewa, who is drowning, Orlando looks like a lifeboat that could save her. Each time she sees him, she wants to believe that she will escape, and she’s full of hope.

What memories do you keep today of The Immigrant?
It was a beautiful experience, with blessed times and others that were more difficult, because we didn’t have all the necessary funds. I loved Ewa and her spirit. And I formed a bond with James Gray that goes deeper than any other I have had with a director.