Tag: The Immigrant

Interview: Marion Cotillard

Interview: Marion Cotillard

When I enter Marion Cotillard’s suite at New York’s Trump SoHo hotel, she’s gazing out a window, across the Hudson toward New Jersey. “What’s that?” she asks, gesturing to a small building that’s just offshore and part of an inlet, of sorts. Unfortunately, I can’t help Cotillard with an answer, but I also can’t help but notice that she’s perfectly set the scene for an interview pegged around The Immigrant, director James Gray’s latest—and greatest—drama, in which Cotillard stars as a Polish woman, Ewa, whose arrival at Ellis Island in 1921 is followed by a turbulent succession of hardships and glints of hope. If the American dream is more than a myth, a notion that Gray’s film actively explores with an air of bittersweet mystery, then Cotillard has most certainly achieved it, following her budding career in France with an Oscar for La Vie en Rose and a virtually ceaseless output of prestige projects. As Cotillard recalls her early goals and ambitions, her memories mirror the themes of The Immigrant itself, with talk of being aware of possibility and opportunity, but never quite thinking it was actually in the cards. It’s a humble reflection from a bona fide superstar, who, even now, has vivid thoughts of what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land.

It seems that so many people identify you as having broken through with La Vie en Rose, but you’d already had nearly 15 years of work behind you before the film was released. What was the biggest moment of your career prior to playing Edith Piaf?

Well, there were different steps. I did three French blockbusters, which allowed me to connect with the audience, but not the industry. For the industry, those movies were not considered very serious movies, and I wasn’t considered a very serious actress. But then I did A Very Long Engagement, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s movie, and that changed a lot of things for me in the industry, in France. And I became a serious actress! [Laughs] Someone who could do something else besides just comedies. But even in France, where I had been around before, the big breakthrough was La Vie en Rose. It was a big thing for me.

So you did a lot of comedies?

I did three comedies.

I’d like to see you in some more comedies. Can we make that happen?

[Laughs] I don’t know. I must have been very bad. I will never watch those movies again. And I think I would have much more work doing a comedy than a drama. All actors know that it’s very hard, when you’re not Will Ferrell or Tina Fey, to be good in a comedy. It’s really, really hard.

It’s very unpredictable what will become of an actor’s career once they win an Oscar. For some, they get this one big role that’s rewarded, but then things don’t necessarily work out as they might have hoped. You’ve had anything but that experience, and it seems to partly stem from the directors and projects you’ve chosen. Are you chasing down the directors you work with or do they typically come calling?

I suppose it’s a mix of both. The only director I chased [laughs] was a Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg, and I never worked with him. This was a long time ago, when I was…nothing. I really wanted to work with him, and I started to learn Danish to work with him, but it didn’t work out. And then years later, when I was promoting La Vie en Rose around the world, I went to Denmark, and as a surprise, the distributors arranged a meeting for me and Thomas. And I was so shy. It was kind of crazy.

Why him?

Because Festen was a shock. And I loved their process—the Dogme process. And I thought what they could do with this, this Dogme, was so cinematographic, and so amazing, that I really wanted to work with him. I loved [Festen]—the way it’s shot, how he is with the characters, his camera, the story. For me, everything was perfect. But I wanted to work with him in a Danish movie, not an English one. Back then, all my friends said, “You’re so stupid. You should be improving your English because he’s going to go to Hollywood, and he’s going to make American movies.” But for me, it was like…I just wanted to do a Danish movie with him.

Well you’ve certainly proven that you can tackle a lot of different languages for different roles. Is that something you were always doing when you were aspiring to be an actor—practicing different languages and dialects?

No. No, I’m actually not very good at it.

Well, you’re convincing, for sure. You’ve convinced me many times.

It’s a lot of work. Like, if you asked me to do a Canadian accent, I won’t be able to do it. I will have to work a lot. Some of my friends—not even actors—are able to nail a Canadian, or African, or Swiss, or even American accent. But I’m not very good at that. Well, it’s not that I’m not very good at it, it’s just not natural. I can’t just pick something up and nail it. I really need to work. But it wasn’t something that I practiced in my past. And, first of all, I never thought I’d do American movies. I never thought I would have the amazing experience of exploring different worlds and cultures.

Why not?

The thing is, I didn’t think that I would do that, but I didn’t think that I wouldn’t do it. You know what I mean? I had no boundaries. I didn’t think that I would do movies in America, but I didn’t think it was not possible. I just didn’t think about it. Maybe, if I had put up boundaries like that, it would not have happened. By not putting up boundaries like that, you don’t have to cross them because they’re not there. I didn’t really imagine anything. I just knew I wanted amazing journeys. And my dream, which came true, was that from one movie to another, I’d have the opportunity to be a totally different person. The people I admired the most when I was a kid, and wanted to be an actress, were Sir Laurence Olivier and Peter Sellers. From a movie to another, you cannot recognize them. That was a total fantasy, and today, I can go from playing Edith Piaf at the end of her life to doing the Dardenne brothers movie I just did [Two Days, One Night]. It’s a big jump, and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

So how did learning to speak Polish for The Immigrant compare to, say, learning to speak Italian for Nine, or even learning to speak English, for that matter?

Well, learning English was different because I really wanted to speak English. So I worked to learn English. Learning Polish wasn’t really learning Polish; it was learning the 20 pages of Polish that I had in the movie. I don’t know how to speak Polish today. I don’t even remember my lines. That’s another thing: I erase all the information, which is kind of a shame. Almost everything goes away as soon as I’m finished with a movie. As for Italian, it was the same thing. When I choose to do a movie, I don’t think what I will have to work on. I read the movie, it gets into my blood, or not. But when it gets into my blood, I don’t think about what will be required. And when I said “yes” to James Gray, I didn’t realize how Polish was in the movie, first of all because all of the Polish dialogue was written in English in the original script. It was only mentioned that there would be Polish. It was only when I started to realize that it was massive, and that I only had two months to prepare—which isn’t much, especially because Polish sounds nothing like English or French—that I started to think, “My god, you’re crazy.” But then, after that, I have no choice, because I’m working, working. And again, I don’t think anymore. I just do. So I can be free, and learn, and go as far as I can. I just try not to suck. Because being Polish with a French accent sucks. And being Italian with a French accent sucks.

My ears pricked up when you said the word “blood” because my next question involves blood. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Ewa, while imprisoned at Ellis Island, pricks her finger and uses the blood as lipstick, after she’s told that she should make herself look healthy and attractive. There’s something very powerful in the notion that she has to literally use her own blood to make herself appealing in this new place. I’d love to hear anything you’d like to share about doing that scene.

All those people who came to Ellis Island—and their pictures are all documented—tried to look their best. They needed to look their best so they could enter this country. Doing that scene, I remembered that when I was a kid, and we didn’t have any makeup, we would bite our lips as hard as we could, to have the blood come into the lips and make them redder. I thought that might have been something that Ewa did with her sister back at home—when she wanted to have red lipstick on, but didn’t have any, she would use blood.

So that was your idea?

No, no—that was James’s idea, but the thought that she’d done this before, and that she did it in her childhood, was something that I liked. I imagined that she’d done this before with her sister—trying to look good.

Since you’re someone who isn’t originally from this country, to what degree did that relation help you to connect to this character, or perhaps influence your decision to take part in the project?

When you’re in another country, with another culture, with a language that you don’t speak that well, part of your personality changes, in a way. It’s like you go back to kind of a childhood state. You don’t feel as strong as you could feel in your own language, in the way you express yourself, because you don’t know all the words. I remember when I did my first movie in America—it was Big Fish. I think I was 22 or 23, but I felt like a teenager, because sometimes I didn’t understand what people were saying. And I really felt like I could express myself on a subject in French, and I could be super comfortable talking about serious things, whatever. But there I was lost. I couldn’t express myself as a grown-up. I was like a child. And it’s a weird feeling because you can see that the way people see you is not exactly the way you are. If they would have had the ability to understand French suddenly, and see me in a French context, they’d have had a totally different image, or perception, of who I am.

Marion Cotillard on Learning a Whole New Language to Play a Polish Prostitute in ‘The Immigrant’

Marion Cotillard on Learning a Whole New Language to Play a Polish Prostitute in ‘The Immigrant’

Marion Cotillard is never one to back down from a challenge.

For her breakout, Oscar-winning role in “La Vie en Rose,” the actress mastered Édith Piaf’s vocal delivery to believably portray the icon. A few years later, for Jacques Audiard’s drama “Rust and Bone,” Cotillard, a novice swimmer, learned to become a strong one in a matter of weeks in order to play a whale trainer. The challenge she set out for herself in James Gray’s period drama “The Immigrant” trumps anything the actress has attempted before. For the film, which opens this Friday in select theaters, Cotillard had to learn a whole new language.

As Ewa, the titular illegal Polish immigrant forced into prostitution by Joaquin Phoenix’s character after arriving in New York in 1921, Cotillard gives a powerfully subdued performance full of hurt and anger that many are citing as her biggest achievement since portraying Piaf. Much of that, no doubt, lies in the fact that she had to learn Polish to take on the role, and learn how to speak English with a credible Polish accent (and just to remind you: she’s French).

Indiewire sat down with the actress in New York recently to discuss the project.

In the press notes, James Gray says he cast you because of your ability to portray a “non-verbal state of soul.” What was the key to unlocking this character?

The fact that [Ewa] was a nurse before she came to the United States made me think that she was devoted to people. That was an important part of her personality, and an important first stone of the building I was trying to raise. It explains for me, also, how she sees people and the ability she has to see the good side of people even in the darkness. And how devoted she is to her sister… so yeah, the fact that she was a nurse, and that she was devoted, that was important.

Do you always have to latch onto something so specific to form a character?

Well, while I’m discovering the character, yeah, there are a few things that appear very important, and that was one of the very important things. Also, the fact that she’s smart, and she’s seen a lot, and her link to horror makes her bear a lot. She can take a lot, because she comes from a place where she lived the most horrible things. So everything that is horrible in her life will be bearable because she’s been through a lot already.

The only thing she cannot bear is to see her sister in pain. And she wants to protect and preserve the beauty and the pureness that she sees in her. And her life is, it’s not nothing but, the way she’s devoted — she’s going to dedicate her life to her sister. And what is important is that she survives, so that her sister can survive. If she was alone, I don’t think–I mean she would have strength, but I don’t think she would have that level of hope just for herself. I don’t think she would fight like she fights for her own survival. The fact that she survives for her sister makes her stronger.

Would you fight that hard for any loved one in your family?

Oh yeah, absolutely.

Ewa holds so much in throughout the course of the film, but her tragic past is still made palpable through your eyes. How did you work to say so much, without actually saying much at all?

Well, she’s in a situation where she gets to observe things, because she’s not part of this world yet, and she has to understand very quickly how it works. And by being silent and observing what’s going on, I mean in the script, the fact that she’s not talking a lot was already there, obviously, because she doesn’t. I mean she speaks English, but she wouldn’t know how to express herself like she would know how to express herself in Polish. When she arrives there, she doesn’t really know what to say. So she’s taking all the information she can take from people’s behavior, she knows that it’s a different culture, and that she will have to make her way in this country. And when she comes to this country with her sister, she has a true hope. And when her sister is left at Ellis Island, she has a different kind of hope like she has to, in a way, feed her hope that is kind of fading sometimes. She has to feed this hope with everything she can. And even though she’s smart enough to know that Orlando (Jeremy Renner) may not be the key, what brings this relationship to her is the energy of hope, even though she knows that he’s a rotten branch. But the energy of hope helps her to carry on.

And when she does speak, she speaks in Polish, or in English with a Polish accent. Did you speak any Polish before taking this on?

No, not at all.

So what gave you the confidence that you could master the language?

Confidence? [Laughs] Well the thing is, when I choose a role, I never think about the amount of work it’s going to take. And then when I start thinking about it, I think I’m crazy. I talk to myself thinking, “There you are again, with a dialect coach for hours, for days, for months.” But then I just have to do it, I have no other choice. Even James, writing the 20 pages in Polish, didn’t think what it would take for me to get there. And I remember, when we were on set, I was there with my notebook all day long, learning or trying to get comfortable with the language, and one day he said, “Oh! I was wondering, what was this notebook?” He thought it was some notes about the character or something related. So he said “It’s the Polish lines, right?” And I said “Yeah, you wrote 20 pages in Polish so I need to work.” And he didn’t even realize himself that it would take a lot of work for me to get there because Polish is a very hard language. Over the 20 pages, there were three words that sounded like maybe French or English, but the rest of it was totally unknown to me. It was like, if my dialect coach had told me it was Chinese, to me, it was the same thing. One day I told her, I said “It’s not Polish that you’re teaching me — it’s Chinese, be honest.” And actually she had told me that someone had told her that before. Yeah, there’s nothing that looks like English or French there, and I needed to understand every little word, everything, because, well, I needed to know what I was saying.

Did you only learn the words you had to speak, or did you do a brief overview of the whole language?

No, only the words. Well, I watched movies, I listened to recorded books to get the musicality of the accent. But it was a very low-budget movie, and I didn’t have enough time to work.

You only shot for 35 days right?

Yeah. But I mean before, before we started shooting. I started two months before, but two months, it’s nothing. It’s really nothing. So I stuck to the lines I had to learn.

Did you take a break after filming this project to recoup and unwind?

No, I went straight away into another project, and I had to learn a few words of Italian, but I really don’t speak Italian.

On your partner’s film?

Yeah, “Blood Ties.” And that was right after, I went from Polish to Italian. And then I took a year off!

How badly did you need that year off? You shot “The Immigrant” following “Rust and Bone,” another extremely challenging project.

Well the thing is, that was kind of crazy, that I did four movies in one year, and I was a new mom, and before my son turned one, I had done four movies with him, being a mom. It was really crazy. But with the two projects I’d done before, I got pregnant, and sometimes it’s hard to finance them, and suddenly we have the money and we have to shoot now. But then yeah, I really needed to have some time off. Because the thing is, when you’re not shooting a movie, and you’re an actor, and you’ve done movies before, you have to promote those movies, and for a year I didn’t really stop working. But at least I was alone with myself, and not with a character I had to create or think about.

You got back in touch with yourself —

Yeah, you know, you just fill yourself with your life, and then you can go back to work, and you WANT to go back to work. Just doing movies after movies after movies, you’re never alone.

‘The Immigrant’ – E! Online

‘The Immigrant’ – E! Online

‘The Immigrant’ – CCTV News

‘The Immigrant’ – CCTV News

Marion Cotillard pushes boundaries as actress, crosses them as a star

Marion Cotillard pushes boundaries as actress, crosses them as a star

French-born Marion Cotillard has staked out an enviable international career, with a leading lady’s glamour and the versatility of a character actress. Following her breakthrough, Oscar-winning performance in “La Vie en Rose,” she has appeared in art house favorites such as “Rust and Bone” and “Midnight in Paris” along with popular successes such as “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”.

In James Gray’s “The Immigrant,” opening Friday, she turns in a performance of deep emotional force as Ewa Cybulski, who arrives from Poland to New York in 1921. Desperate to get her quarantined sister off Ellis Island, Ewa finds herself trapped in a world of prostitution and promises, torn between Joaquin Phoenix’s unpredictable hustler Bruno and Jeremy Renner’s charming magician Orlando. She will also soon be seen in “Two Days, One Night,” premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, and opposite Michael Fassbender in an adaptation of “Macbeth.”

James Gray tells a story of the two of you meeting for the first time at a dinner, disagreeing about another actor and you throwing something at him. Do you remember it like that?

Oh, yeah. First of all, I have to say I never play with food. But there was nothing I could say that would be strong enough to make him change his mind. So I just lost it. So I threw bread at his face.

He has a really infectious energy, and a pretty straightforward conversation with him can get really spirited — I’m trying to say it wasn’t your fault.

It was not my fault. His opinion is unacceptable about this actor we were talking about. I cannot even give his name because it would be too awkward for James that people would know what he thinks about this amazing actor. But James has this very contagious energy. He’s passionate about what he does, what he talks about, what he thinks, everything. He has this energy that you can really feel. And I think that is part of why he’s an amazing director.

“The Immigrant” is deeply moving, at times almost unbearably sad.

Well, it’s sad, but at the same time there is a light inside each of the characters, even the darkest character has a light inside of him. If Bruno doesn’t see the light inside of himself, Ewa has the ability to see the good inside of people. And so I didn’t see it as a sad movie. It’s an intense story, and what Ewa goes through is sometimes sad but also very powerful. And I love the fact that her sister’s life is more important than anything, and it gives her the energy and the strength to do what she does.

Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner seem like two very different types of actor. Was it a challenge to work with them?

We had two weeks of rehearsal, which was amazing to get to know Joaquin, first of all, and enter this very special relationship he has with James. I was very welcome in this old couple system. And that was very interesting, working with Joaquin and James. And Jeremy arrived when we had already started shooting, and he really arrived in the process of the movie as his character arrives in the story. It kind of made sense, and the different energy of him as an actor arriving in the project as Orlando arrives in the story was kind of inspired.

Ever since the film first premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, people have tried to connect “The Immigrant” somehow to the contemporary debates over immigration policy, which is a big issue both in America and in France. Do you see some connection?

Now it’s really different, and it’s really hard to compare, even if it’s the same process of people trying to escape their situation to have a better life for them and their families. But you know, America was the land of hope, and I think it still is.

Working on bigger commercial films and also smaller productions, do you see yourself as having a career in France and a separate international career, or is it all one thing?

To me it’s one thing. And I feel really lucky to live my dream. My dream when I was a kid who wanted to be an actress was to explore, jump from one world to another and be totally different each time. I was a big fan of Peter Sellers and Sir Laurence Olivier and to me that was acting, being different in each movie, and sometimes people wouldn’t even recognize you.

You’re going to be returning to Cannes this year in “Two Days, One Night,” directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, who have won many prizes there.

That was one of my best experiences. They offered me everything I had always wanted in a relationship between an actress and a director — well, two directors in that case. They work a lot, and I love to work a lot. Their level of demand is the highest I’ve ever encountered in my career, and that’s what I’m looking for. They pushed me as far as I could go and maybe beyond. I would have done anything they asked me.

And then, of course, there was your cameo role in “Anchorman 2.” You’re a very serious actress; how did that happen?

I’m a big fan of America comedies, especially Will Ferrell and all his team. And they have known that I was a fan, so they asked me if I would be a part of it, and of course I said yes right away. But I never question how people could see me. And I don’t see myself as a very serious person. In terms of my work, I love to work hard, but I’m not an intellectual person. I can be, but I’m not only that.

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