Tag: The Immigrant

Marion Cotillard on Playing a Prostitute in ‘The Immigrant’ and Seducing America

Marion Cotillard on Playing a Prostitute in ‘The Immigrant’ and Seducing America

The Oscar winning French actress with the arresting gaze on her turn as an Ellis Island immigrant who falls into prostitution in ‘The Immigrant.’

It is true, there is some angels in this city.

With those ten words, delivered in her alluring wisp of a voice—and in broken English, no less—Marion Cotillard’s grande séduction of America began. Since being awarded the Best Actress Oscar for her spellbinding turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, she’s done what no other French actor in history has done: see their star shine just as bright in America.

In the wake of that fateful 2008 evening, Cotillard has worked for, and alongside, some of the biggest names in Hollywood. As Johnny Depp’s arm candy in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies; Leonardo DiCaprio’s nightmarish ex-wife in Christopher Nolan’s Inception; an artistic muse in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the list goes on.

But she’s never carried a movie before—until now. James Gray’s The Immigrant sees Cotillard play Ewa Cybulski, a Polish émigré who lands at Ellis Island in 1921. Things don’t exactly go as planned. Her sister, Magda, is quarantined after catching tuberculosis aboard their cramped vessel, and her aunt is nowhere to be found. Out of options, Ewa falls into the clutches of Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), a seedy character (think: a latter-day club promoter) who uses his burlesque troupe as a front for prostitution.

Gray based the story on recollections from his Jewish grandparents, who came to New York in 1923. And he wrote the role of Ewa with Cotillard in mind. The pair’s first meeting, however, was a catastrophe. Gray and Cotillard had dinner in Paris and, after arguing over an actor—Gray thought he or she was terrible, Cotillard disagreed—the actress launched a piece of bread at his head.

“I never play with food—ever—but I couldn’t believe it!” exclaims Cotillard. “And when James says something, and has a very strong feeling about it, there’s no word you can use to make him change his mind, so I became kind of violent. That was my way out. I was like, ‘Okay, fuck it! BAM!’”

Cotillard—who wouldn’t disclose the actor’s name for fear of “embarrassing James”—says the pair eventually made amends, acknowledging that Gray has a tendency to “argue for the sake of it.”

In The Immigrant, Ewa soon finds herself inveigled into pleasing Bruno’s more affluent clientele in order to raise enough money to spring her sister from Ellis Island’s hospital ward, despite her protestations. It’s a courageous performance by the 38-year-old Frenchwoman, whose ability to elicit pathos via her arresting gaze is virtually unmatched.

And the role is, interestingly enough, a full-circle moment for the actress. Cotillard’s first leading role in a film was as the title character, a runaway teen forced into prostitution, in 1996’s Chloé, and the last time she played a Polish character was in 2003’s Love Me If You Dare, where she’d meet her eventual husband, French actor-filmmaker Guillaume Canet. She laughs when I bring up the myriad coincidences.

“Oh, wow! I never thought about that,” she shrieks. “It’s funny, actually. The difference with Chloé is she didn’t have the necessity—the need—to do this, she was just trapped, whereas Ewa has nothing left but this. She prostitutes herself even though she knows it’s against her religion, which is very judgmental about it. She does it because she will do anything for her sister.”

She adds, “She experiences such horrors, but she’s full of light and hope; she’s pure. She fights for her sister and she’s a beautiful woman, so it was not hard to live with her even though she goes through a lot.”

It’s hard to capture Cotillard’s aura with the written word. Most male writers end up looking like drooling sycophants. I can tell you that, having spoken with her a handful of times, her beauty is just as ethereal in person as it is onscreen, which she holds with the magnetism of classic screen sirens like Maria Falconetti in La passion de Jeanne d’Arc, or Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Her genes may have a little something to do with it. Cotillard’s father, Jean-Claude, was a former mime turned director, and her mother, Niseema, is a drama instructor.

Cotillard made her acting debut in one of her father’s plays when she was six, and developed what she calls a “good ear” by playing classical piano during her formative years.

A “good ear,” by the way, is a massive understatement. After taking in a screening of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration at Cannes, Cotillard was so impressed she taught herself some light Danish. For The Immigrant, she had just two months to learn a ton of Polish dialogue, as well as master a convincing Polish accent.

“With this project, there were 20 pages of Polish dialogue, which is close to Chinese for me,” she says. “There were three words over the course of the 20 pages that looked like French or English, but I just went for it. I’m never afraid of the amount of work it’s going to take, I’m just afraid I won’t have enough time to do it.”

Then came her tour of America. After making her American screen debut in Tim Burton’s 2003 fantasy Big Fish, Cotillard viewed the experience as “super painful not to understand anything,” so she took a total immersion English language course at Berlitz.

“When we decided to do the awards campaign for La Vie en Rose, I felt the need to go back to Berlitz,” says Cotillard. “I rented an apartment in New York a month before, and started the total immersion process again. But my English really improved when I did Public Enemies because Michael Mann wanted to completely erase my French accent, so I worked for six months every day with a dialogue coach—four months before shooting, and then two months on set. Michael wouldn’t even let me speak French with my boyfriend or family.”

It’s a big reason why, in addition to her unique acting talents and screen presence, she’s been able to conquer America in a way none of her fellow countrymen have. While Cotillard considers herself “lucky to cross the road of crazy people” like Mann, Nolan, and the rest, she seems to be blessed with a preternatural ability to navigate the human psyche.

“Exploring human beings by being different human beings in different cultures is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” says Cotillard. “I didn’t think I’d do American movies, but at the same time, I didn’t even think about it, so I never thought it wasn’t possible. By not putting boundaries on myself, I left the door open for anything to happen.”

She pauses. “I wasn’t aware that I wanted to explore the human soul when I started out acting; I just wanted to tell stories and play different people. Now I know it’s my need to explore the human soul that makes me do what I do, and to be able to explore different cultures is an even bigger gift than I could have imagined.”

Marion Cotillard : vis ma vie à L.A.

Marion Cotillard : vis ma vie à L.A.

Ça ressemble à quoi, le quotidien d’une superstar frenchy à Hollywood ? A quelques jours de sa montée des marches à Cannes pour Deux jours, une nuit des frères Dardenne, elle se confie comme jamais à “Grazia”.

“Super, enfin de la presse écrite : pas de retouche maquillage ! Ça vous embête si j’enlève mes chaussures ?” Souriante, pétillante et relax en jean T-shirt, Marion Cotillard s’étend sur le canapé du Park Hyatt avant de lâcher, avec un petit sourire complice et taquin : “Ne vous inquiétez pas, je ne sens pas des pieds.” Elle qui a la réputation d’être distante en interview casse les a priori, les codes du glam et les conventions au premier contact. Il faut dire que Marion a tout du caméléon, capable de s’adapter à tous les styles, à la ville comme à l’écran. Pour preuve : Deux jours, une nuit, son prochain long métrage sélectionné en compétition au Festival de Cannes et signé par les frères Dardenne, porte-drapeaux d’un cinéma social vibrant et sans artifices.

100 % naturelle, tout en nuances (accent belge compris), l’actrice incarne Sandra, une épouse et mère de famille dépressive qui se bat pour sauver son emploi. Un rôle puissant et lumineux dont elle n’osait pas rêver. “Les Dardenne, pour moi, c’était inaccessible.” Sur le papier, un monde semblait en effet séparer l’actrice et égérie Dior des auteurs belges, plus accros aux acteurs anonymes qu’aux stars internationales. Mais, une fois de plus, Marion aura su se fondre dans le décor et abolir les frontières. Comédienne universelle, née en France, chérie par les Américains et adoptée par les Belges, elle se prête au petit jeu des différences entre Europe et États-Unis et partage avec les lectrices de Grazia un petit bout de son quotidien outre-Atlantique. Attention au jet lag !

Après Los Angeles, vous voilà à Seraing (Belgique), chez les Dardenne. Le choc culturel a dû être violent ?
Pas tant que ça : il y a des frites au menu dans les deux cas ! (Rires.) Plus sérieusement, quand on parle d’Hollywood, les gens pensent fric et glam. Et quand on évoque les Dardenne, ils pensent cinéma d’auteur gris, fauché et “chiant”. Mais ils ont tort dans les deux cas : les Dardenne, c’est palpitant et bourré de suspense. Et comme ils ne réalisent qu’un film tous les trois ans, ils se donnent les moyens humains et économiques de le faire bien ! A contrario, j’ai fait des films fauchés à Hollywood : The Immigrant, de James Gray, par exemple qui, contrairement aux apparences, a été tourné avec très peu d’argent.

En revanche, on a la sensation que les Américains vous glamourisent plus que les Européens au cinéma ?
C’est sans doute un amalgame entre l’image sur les tapis rouge ou sur les couvertures de magazine et mon métier d’actrice. Je ne trouve pas que la prostituée de The Immigrant ou la folle d’Inception soient hyper glam par exemple ! Et il faut se méfier des apparences : j’ai passé plus de temps entre les mains du coiffeur sur le tournage des frères Dardenne que sur beaucoup de films américains. Réaliser une queue-de-cheval mal faite mais raccord, tous les jours, c’est du sport.

A Hollywood, votre loge est-elle au moins plus grande qu’en Europe ?
(Rires.) Quand je fais Inception seulement ! J’avais un truc énorme, à échelle américaine, pour moi toute seule, hyper équipé. Mais, ça, c’est l’exception. Et je n’ai pas d’exigences de diva : du moment que je peux m’isoler pour me concentrer, tout me va. Le cagibi comme le semi-remorque !

Et pour la cantine sur les tournages, plutôt Hollywood ou Europe ?
Aucun des deux, si je peux éviter. Je mange bio, raisonné, local : j’aime savoir d’où vient ma nourriture et comment elle a été faite.

Justement, le bio, c’est plus développé aux États-Unis ?
En Californie, les gens ont une grande conscience écologique et luttent comme ils peuvent contre les décisions d’un pays pollueur. Paradoxalement, les magasins bio vendent aussi du non bio. Ce qui n’est pas le cas en France. Un bon point pour nous !

La nourriture française vous manque-t-elle quand vous êtes aux États-Unis ? Le fromage par exemple ?
Pas trop : j’ai mes dealers de fromages à Los Angeles. (Rires.) Je connais assez bien la ville pour savoir que je peux trouver à peu près n’importe quoi n’importe où. Par contre, le restaurant de mon ami Claude Colliot me manque. Une des premières choses que je fais quand je rentre, c’est manger chez lui. C’est mon petit rituel… et peut-être la meilleure façon de faire passer le jet lag.

Vous avez d’autres trucs pour survivre au décalage ?
Des lunettes de soleil pour cacher la misère. (Rires.) Mais il n’y a pas de secret : plus on voyage, plus on est fatigué !

Et que faites-vous en escale ou en salle d’embarquement ?
Je lis des scénarios, j’écoute de la musique, je m’ennuie et je râle quand il y a du retard.

Vous allez souvent aux États-Unis ?
C’est un peu ma deuxième maison !

Sur place, qu’est-ce qui vous manque le plus ?
Rien, si le tournage se passe bien. Et tout dans le cas contraire. (Elle éclate de rire.) Mes proches, mes potes, mon chez-moi, ma boulangerie, mes pantoufles… Dans ces cas-là, c’est le bad trip ! Mais, en général, je vis dans le moment présent et s’il est agréable, je profite.

Et vous regrettez Los Angeles quand vous rentrez ?
Bizarrement, oui, ça arrive. Surtout le côté grande ville dans une nature sauvage. Là-bas, j’aime résider dans une maison et avoir un raton laveur sur ma terrasse. Quoique… Le raton laveur, c’est mignon, mais quand ça saccage vos poubelles, c’est vraiment chiant ! (Rires.) En fait, ce qui me plaît surtout à Los Angeles, c’est la qualité de vie, l’énergie et les souvenirs que j’y ai.

Lesquels ?
La première fois que j’y suis allée, c’était pour la fin du tournage de La Môme. Ça peut paraître idiot mais j’ai senti que quelque chose m’attendait dans cette ville. Peu de temps après, il s’y est passé des tas de choses qui ont changé ma vie d’actrice, comme le jour où j’ai reçu un oscar. J’ai une attache très particulière à ce pays.

Vous y avez beaucoup d’amis ?
Mon frère vit à San Francisco et l’une de mes meilleures amies à Chicago. Je l’ai rencontrée grâce à Public Enemies. On m’a dit : “Tu vas avoir une assistante”, ce qui ne m’était jamais arrivé. Et j’ai dû faire des entretiens d’embauche : l’horreur ! Mais j’ai eu un énorme coup de cœur pour cette fille qui, depuis, est mon assistante américaine et une des femmes que je préfère au monde.

Vous pourriez vivre aux États-Unis ?
Oui, mais avec mon fils à l’école, ce sera plus difficile.

Mais il existe des écoles françaises…
Oui mais… non. (Rires gênés.) C’est génial pour apprendre la langue mais je voyage déjà tellement que je préfère qu’il ait des repères quand je ne suis pas là. Bref, question suivante ! (Elle pense déjà en avoir trop dit sur sa vie privée.)

En France, il y a le cliché du french lover. Et l’american lover, vous l’avez rencontré ?
Euh… non. (Elle éclate de rire.) Je ne suis pas dans une situation qui me donne envie de le tester. Moi, le lover américain, je ne l’ai croisé qu’au cinéma mais je demanderai à mes copines.

Quelle image les Américains ont-ils de vous : celle de la Française chic et romantique ?
Romantique, je ne sais pas. Exotique sûrement, à cause de l’accent. Et chic, c’est sûr, sans doute grâce à ma collaboration avec Dior. Pourtant, dans la vie, je suis plutôt madame Tout-le-Monde.

Et aux États-Unis, elle s’habille comment madame Tout-le-Monde ?
(Elle cache son visage dans ses mains.) Aïe, aïe, aïe, je n’y connais rien en mode américaine. Next question, please ! (Rires.)

Au quotidien, vous sentez-vous plus libre de vous balader en jogging à l’étranger ?
Euh, je me balade en jogging en France le week-end, le mardi, le jeudi… quand ça me chante en fait. Ça casse un peu le mythe, non ? (Rires.)

Disons que ce n’est pas très fashion police !
Peut-être mais c’est vachement confortable. On n’a pas trouvé mieux avec le pyjama !

Mais les paparazzis doivent moins vous griller là-bas ?
A Paris, je me fonds aussi très facilement dans la masse. C’était peut-être un peu plus simple il y a quelques années mais, dans l’ensemble, j’ai un certain talent pour jouer la femme invisible.

Les gens ne vous reconnaissent pas dans la rue ?
Si, un peu. Au supermarché, certains me dévisagent mais je ne suis pas certaine qu’ils m’identifient vraiment. Pour eux, je ne suis ni Nicole Kidman, ni Angelina Jolie.

Scarlett Johansson a dit des Parisiens qu’ils étaient impolis et grossiers…
Mais elle vit quand même dans la capitale : ça ne doit pas être si insupportable que ça.

Et vous, rien ne vous énerve chez les habitants de Los Angeles ?
Non, mais quelque chose me sidère : c’est la capacité des Américains à travailler tout le temps. Ce sont des machines de guerre. Quand je prononce le mot “vacances” devant mon attaché de presse ou mon agent américain, ils sont sous le choc. J’ai presque l’impression d’avoir dit un gros mot !

Et vous en prenez souvent, des vacances ?
Hélas, non. S’il y a une chose qui m’a contaminée aux États-Unis et dont j’aimerais me débarrasser, c’est ça : je ne sais plus m’arrêter.

Histoire de rendre la pareille à Scarlett, vous ne trouvez donc vraiment rien d’agaçant chez les Américains ?
(Rires.) Si vous insistez… Peut-être leur besoin permanent de compétition et leur peur d’être éjectable. C’est encore plus vrai dans notre business. Agents, publicistes, producteurs, ils flippent tous de perdre leur place. Ça peut générer des comportements hyper limites, du type petits coups bas ou mensonges vraiment pas cool. Ça peut me mettre hors de moi quand je m’en rends compte… Et vous ne me demandez pas ce qui m’énerve chez les Français ?

Si, mais on me fait signe que l’interview est finie.
Question d’équité, je réponds : je trouve que les Français devraient apprendre à se remettre en question. A force de nous reposer sur notre histoire, nos acquis, notre patrimoine, on en devient arrogant.

Et vous, vous vous remettez en question ?
Sans cesse et sur tout. Je ne me laisse jamais vraiment tranquille. Je m’épuise moi-même. (Rires.)

On imagine pourtant que votre entourage passe son temps à vous dire que vous êtes belle et géniale.
(Rires.) Ce n’est pas le genre de la maison ! Je suis entourée de gens qui ne me ménagent pas. Et croyez-le ou non, malgré l’image que peuvent avoir les actrices, ce n’est pas moi qui prends forcément le plus de place dans mon groupe d’amis.

3 More Magazine Covers & New Interviews

3 More Magazine Covers & New Interviews

The Immigrant‘ being released in the US tomorrow and ‘Deux jours, une nuit‘ premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in competition next Tuesday makes for a very interesting situation. We’re getting French and English media coverage for two of Marion’s movies starring her in the lead role. Not that I’m complaining.

The May issue of Studio Ciné Live comes with two covers, one featuring Marion Cotillard, the other Angelina Jolie. The Cannes issues of this week’s L’Express Styles and Télérama both feature Marion on the cover as well. All three magazines include brand-new photo shoots. Sofia added scans of all three yesterday.

Also, Marion Cotillard will be on the cover of Version Fémina’s Cannes issue (which comes out with Journal du Dimanche next Sunday).

Then there’s an article inside this month’s Premiere, thank you very much Elise for providing scans. This week, Marion was also on the cover of Variety in the US. If you’re able to provide scans (digital or real) we’d appreciate that very much. In the meantime I’ve added the outtakes and the cover. There was also an article in LA Times.

In addition to many online English interviews the French interviews and pictures from last week’s magazines have started to appear online so I added them. If you don’t speak French you can now copy the text into an online translator.

Marion Cotillard, sa vraie vie, Elle, May 9
Marion Cotillard pushes boundaries as actress, crosses them as a star, Los Angeles Times, May 11
Interview: Marion Cotillard, May 13
Marion Cotillard on Learning a Whole New Language to Play a Polish Prostitute in ‘The Immigrant’, Indiewire, May 13
Marion Cotillard on Her ‘Two Days, One Night’ Role: ‘I Had Written Her Whole Life Before We Meet Her’, Variety, May 13
Marion Cotillard’s Pursuit of Happiness, Rolling Stone, May 14
Marion Cotillard on The Immigrant, Acting in Polish, and Why She Threw Bread at Her Director, Vulture, May 15
Marion Cotillard : « Mon engagement est dans ma vie au quotidien », Marie Claire, June

009 Scans from 2014 > Studio Ciné Live (France) – May
004 Scans from 2014 > Premiere (France) – May, scanned by Elise
009 Scans from 2014 > L’Express Styles (France) – May 14
005 Scans from 2014 > Télérama (France) – May 17
001 Scans from 2014 > Variety (US) – May 13
001 Scans from 2014 > Los Angeles Times (US) – May 11
004 Sessions from 2014 > Variety
001 Sessions from 2014 > Los Angeles Times
005 Sessions from 2014 > Madame Figaro / Elle

002 Interviews > Online

Marion Cotillard on The Immigrant, Acting in Polish, and Why She Threw Bread at Her Director

Marion Cotillard on The Immigrant, Acting in Polish, and Why She Threw Bread at Her Director

One of the most-discussed entries of last year’s Cannes Film Festival was James Gray’s New York–set period piece The Immigrant. The film was divisive — winning rapturous acclaim as well as a few sneers — but most viewers agreed that it featured a fantastic performance by Marion Cotillard, giving her her first leading role in an American film, after years of headlining French films and taking on supporting parts in American ones. In The Immigrant, the Cotillard plays Ewa, a recent Polish émigré who finds herself taken in by a shady nightlife impresario (Joaquin Phoenix). The film was picked up by the Weinstein Company — prompting many to expect to an awards-season push — but then seemed to vanish for a while. Now it’s finally in theaters, just in time for a new Cannes Festival (which features another Cotillard performance, in the Dardenne Brothers’ much-speculated-about Two Days, One Night). The actress sat down with Vulture recently to discuss having to act in Polish, what she looks for in a director, and the unlikely event that brought her and Gray together.

I was stunned at how much of your performance in this film was in Polish. What was it like to do so much of the part in another language?
It was kind of stressful, because she is Polish, so I had to nail the accent. It’s not like when I learn another language but can keep my French accent. I always want to find the authenticity of a character. And there were 20 pages of Polish in the script. I didn’t even think about that when I first read it, because the script itself was in English; it just said “in Polish” when there was dialogue that was supposed to be in Polish. So I didn’t realize the amount of work I’d need to do. And I didn’t really have that much time to prepare. I had two months, which is nothing, and Polish is a very, very complicated language, and it shares almost no words with English or French. Sometimes, I would ask my teacher if she was really teaching me Polish, or if it was actually Chinese or something! But when you know that you won’t have enough time, you just have to jump into the work and not think about the result.

Did you actually learn Polish for the part?
I didn’t learn Polish. I really just learned phonetics. But I did need to know the meaning of every word. You cannot act if you don’t know exactly what you say. Even if you know what to emphasize and you learn the music, I still really needed to know the meaning. It’s very interesting when you learn a language, you get to learn a lot about the culture because the way they say things tells you a lot about the culture.

You probably already know this from being bilingual, but I’ve found that speaking fluently in another language is like switching between different mentalities. Even subtly, you sort of become another person.
I don’t know if you do it consciously, but, for example, when I speak English, I speak louder. [Laughs] You just go into an American restaurant and a French restaurant and you will know exactly the difference. So, I think, yeah, it brings something different. I don’t know if it’s your personality — like, your deep personality — but yeah, it brings another side, or it kind of emphasizes a different side of yourself.

Do you like to do a lot of research in general when you do a part?
When I need to, yeah. Sometimes it’s a lot. For example, I did know a few things about Poland, but not enough. So I started to study Polish history. I didn’t know that Poland was not Poland back then — that it was separated between the countries around — and I needed to learn about the culture. I wanted to know what they eat, just to, you know, have enough things to feed my character.

I find that in James Gray’s films, and in particular with this one, there’s a kind of emotional nakedness to the characters, no ironic distance. You can see what they’re feeling. But the films are not emotionally indulgent, either. I imagine striking that balance is difficult for an actor.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think we agreed that it was part of her personality not to show her emotions too much. She tries to control herself, because when she arrives, it’s kind of a big jump into the unknown, but she has to keep on going because she has a goal — which is to survive in order to save her sister. I think that, first of all, her strength and the way she tries to control her feelings comes from the fact that she was a nurse when she was in Poland. So, she’s someone who’s devoted to people and can keep her blood cold. Also, she’s someone who went through a lot in her country. She saw horror, and so she’s really learned to control herself. And I think if she didn’t have this goal — which is having her sister survive this — she would be a totally different person. Her life is important because of her sister’s life. If she doesn’t survive this, then her sister is going to be lost.

You’ve just given me a great description of the emotional journey of this character. How much do you like to sit down and figure the character out beforehand?
I need to figure it out before we start shooting, so I can be free and let the character live inside of me — to let it create itself, in a way. I try to find this space inside myself for the character to live by itself. I don’t want to control things, but I want to create a very strong base, so that I can let myself go. And if I know exactly who this person is, then I have a strong base. So that if, for example, there is a new scene, I will know exactly how she will react, without the need to sit down and think about it. I just want to let it go, and then sometimes you’re surprised by what is coming. This kind of surprise is very inspiring, and that can happen only if you don’t control everything.

The breadth of the directors you’ve worked with is astounding. You’ve been in two Christopher Nolan movies, and now you’re in the new Dardenne Brothers film premiering at Cannes. So, you’ve gone from huge Hollywood blockbusters to intimate, low-budget, handheld dramas. What do you look for in a director?
I look for someone who needs to do what he does. This is very important for me, because I’m in the same process, I guess, as an actress. The only good reason to do a movie is because I need to do it. I need to tell the story. I need to be this person. I’ve met some directors on studio movies where you could tell that they were there because they were good at, you know, doing some beautiful images. But they were not driven by the need to tell a story. I cannot work with a director who is not that involved and driven. Even the blockbusters I was in, both were from Christopher Nolan, who was involved 100 percent. I couldn’t work with someone who doesn’t feel that it’s a matter of life and death to tell the story, who doesn’t have involvement at the highest level.

James Gray says that the first time he met you was when you threw a piece of bread at him over dinner.
I never play with food, but I got really upset.

Because he had criticized an actor that you like. Who was the actor?
I cannot say. Because honestly, this actor is beyond. If I gave the name of the actor, James would look like a fool for saying that he’s not as good as everybody thinks he is. [Laughs.] People would look at him, like, “Seriously, Gray, are you out of your fucking mind?” So I can’t say. For James’s sake.

Marion Cotillard’s Pursuit of Happiness

Marion Cotillard’s Pursuit of Happiness

The French star of ‘The Immigrant’ channels old-world America and pushes herself to exciting new places

In the opening moments of The Immigrant, James Gray’s operatic epic set in 1920s New York, two women stand in line at Ellis Island after an arduous transatlantic journey. They converse in Polish, keeping each other’s spirits up by imagining happier times ahead. Their skin is pale and plain, their drab clothes nearly indistinguishable from darkness of the room. It’s really only when one of the women breaks into a smile, her round face alighting just so, that you realize you’re watching Marion Cotillard.

It’s strange to call an Oscar-winner underrated, but somehow that description still fits Cotillard. Yes, she’s an international star, a muse for both Christopher Nolan and Woody Allen, and the red carpet representative for Christian Dior. Her portrayal of the iconic chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (2007) practically made her a national treasure in her native country (she’s one of the highest paid actresses in France) and nabbed her that year’s Best Actress Oscar. But when it comes to the work itself, people are still apt to rhapsodize about her beauty over her chops; even her Academy-ignored portrayal of a paraplegic in Rust and Bone (2012) drew more mentions of her nude scenes than actual praise for her performance.

In a perfect world, however, The Immigrant would change the conversation about Cotillard in a profound way. The Gallic star doesn’t just nail an accent; she goes the full-on Streep route, speaking fluent Polish, immersing herself in the role of an early-20th-century heroine and supporting the emotional weight of the whole movie, not to mention that of generations of self-sacrificing émigrés, in her brim-full saucer eyes.

“I like when I say yes to a project and don’t know if I’m going to be able to do a good job,” Cotillard says. One among the poor huddled masses, her Ewa Cybulska might have been a cliché in the hands of other actresses: a “fallen” woman who is taken in by a shady theater manager (Joaquin Phoenix) and forced to resort to extreme means in order to survive. But Cotillard doesn’t play a symbol. She’s fully alive on screen — resourceful and responsive, damaged and defiant, loving and feral. “Acting is an intelligence,” director James Gray says. “I don’t mean intelligence in that they can talk to you about the Manhattan Project or something; I’m talking about an emotional awareness, an understanding of human beings and human behavior. Marion certainly has that.”

And then there’s matter of the dialogue. If Gray’s script included just a few lines in a foreign tongue, perhaps she could have handled it phonetically. But try 20 pages of Polish dialogue, and only two months in which to learn the language. “I could have learned Chinese — it would have been the same thing,” Cotillard says. “There were, like, three words that sounded or looked like English or French. The rest of it was like, pfft…I couldn’t believe it. But I needed to understand everything I said. Even the two letter words — I needed to know what they were. It was super stressful.”

“She was miserable,” Gray confirms. “And she did it brilliantly.” In the film, you never get the sense that she’s merely remembering her lines, or that she’s flaunting her achievement for our amazement. She’s inside the language, and in the moment. “It’s not a stunt,” said Gray. “She’s acting it.”

The language issue may have presented an extreme case, but Cotillard said she’s always drawn toward uncharted territory — both metaphorically and literally.”I’m really happy to have the freedom to explore different cultures. But this freedom has a price,” she said. “The price is that on set I’m not as free as I would be in French. Or even in English.” It’s also resulted in her being a bit of an outsider everywhere she works, and has likely contributed to her work being less celebrated than if she were the belle of one particular ball.

These days she pursues as many projects overseas as she does at home. But though she’s appeared in major American films like The Dark Knight Rises, Midnight in Paris, and Public Enemies, she’s still very selective about her work in Hollywood. That her first starring role in a U.S. film involves speaking 40% of her dialogue in Polish should tell you all you need to know. “I really need to have a big jump between projects,” she said. “”I want that people wouldn’t recognize me in the next movie. I want to be different all the time. I don’t think I would do a good job if I was doing the same thing.”

Cotillard uses words like “job” and “work” so often that they start to sound like what they mean. As if it’s all part of the discipline required for her to be as great as she expects herself to be. “The thing is, I know some actors, no matter what happens, they’re going to be good. If they don’t work, they’re going to save their ass,” she said, pushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m not this kind of person. If I don’t work, I’m just a super bad actress. So I need to work.”

Like fellow countrywoman Juliette Binoche — a hero of hers since childhood — Cotillard says she keeps a list of directors she’d like to work with. But rather than reveal other names on the list, she talks instead about one that isn’t. “There was one director that I got rid of on my list after meeting him,” Cotillard says coyly. “And he’s one of my favorite directors — the top of the list. But I was a little disappointed. There was a disconnection that was kind of painful for me.” But if she’s proven anything over the year, it’s that she has an her ability to make even seemingly impossible things work. “I might put him back on the list. He’s still in the back of my mind.”

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