originally published in French Psychologies, July/August 2008
translated by Mariana and Anthony
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“.
P: You are starting to take your real road?
MC: I am on that road. I think I’m more and more honest with myself.
P: Shortly after the Oscars, the media dug out an interview which was shown on Paris Première and wherein you were doubting the official ‘terrorist’ explanation for the events on 9/11. Today, what is your stand on it?
MC: It was very clumsy of me to bring up a subject as important as 9/11 in a TV Show. It was neither the topic nor the place for it. And I’m far from being a suitable person to talk about it. But I never claimed – as it was written and said – that the insurance companies destroyed the towers. I only explained that I don’t believe everything governments and the media are telling us. My words were taken out of their original context and misappropriated.
P: So, what is your explanation for 9/11?
MC: Who am I to have an explanation? Nevertheless, I think there remain many mysteries in the official explanation. Numerous American citizens are asking for the re-opening of the investigation. An investigation deserving of that name. This event changed many things in the world, so asking oneself questions when there’s such a lack of clarity appears to me legitimate.
P: I thought you were going to tell me: “I was talking nonsense, I entirely regret it, and I apologize to the Americans I hurt.” But you are maintaining a stand that’s not easy to take.
MC: I respect the American people, and I sincerely regret that my words – once again, words which were completely taken out of context – offended and hurt people. It is, in fact, easier to say: “I was talking nonsense, the official story is true!” My entourage would have preferred me to adopt that position. But I can’t. I can’t be someone that I’m not, I can’t lie. I was treated like an idiot, but I prefer looking like an idiot than a liar. I’m just someone who tries to be open-minded, to find out about things and to understand.
P: How did you bear the violence of some articles towards you?
MC: Badly. It was three days after the Oscars and some media outlets – especially in France, less in the USA- were raging. It was almost a lynching. It hurt me a lot. I hope that people realize what disproportioned importance some words of a clumsy little actress were given when many important events happening in the rest of the world aren’t being related. I’m shocked about the attitude certain media outlets displayed in this affair. But I also learned a lot from this experience. I learned that I don’t have the right to talk about something that I don’t really know, especially when the subject is important. This obliges me to make efforts – and I have made them, those efforts. I want to know, to learn, all the more so as I have quite some gaps of knowledge.
P: Gaps which make you feel uncomfortable or which compel you to move forward?
MC: Which make me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t study, I was lazy for a very long time, but I’ve changed. My problem is that I express myself better in the inside than on the outside [laughs]. I have convictions, but I don’t always express them well, and I can get out of control, sometimes I’m completely off track. I would love to have the talent of Harold Pinter. His speech after receiving the Nobel Prize in 2005 is marvellous. Read it! Maybe I’m setting the bar too high but that’s also a quality, we should never keep the bar at the same place.
P: Do you feel committed ?
MC: I’m conscious of the fact that we’re all part of a chain and that we should never break a link. For a long time now I’ve felt committed to the preservation of our planet. Some years ago, people who were fighting for the protection of the planet were called “illuminated” (meaning “crazy”). By the way, how that word is being misused saddens me. Actually, being illuminated is something beautiful! Being illuminated is finding the light. Isn’t it marvellous? When I said that natural catastrophes were actually human catastrophes because they’re caused by humans people thought I was a nutcase. When you divert a river from its bed it will always end up going back but not without causing terrible damage. I’m happy to see how this awareness is spreading nowadays. I can’t fall asleep because of everything that is happening in the world. I try to stay connected to share my experience with others. Everybody is enriched by the knowledge of the other. Internet is a media which can be wonderful, a source which allows for a different form of information, which can help avoid manipulation. I have had the luck of having been born in Europe, in France, to have been educated, to be free, to say things at my low level even if I say them badly. I obliged to use that freedom. Aung San Suu Kyi said: “Use your freedom to help us win ours.” It’s a duty.
P: Did you work on yourself? A therapy?
MC: I worked on my voice, on feelings which permitted me to let go of my anger, to clean what I didn’t want to have deep inside me anymore. We all carry a luggage of . Therapy helps to clean, to find out what’s stopping you when you want to move ahead. It’s fascinating work. We’re fascinating animals who could be even more fascinating if we bothered to be less lazy. It’s easy to tell yourself each time that the others are responsible. I’m like everyone, I don’t always want to go into everything in depth because it’s exhausting. Sometimes, I see an interesting article online and then I realise it goes on for seven pages. My first reaction is to say: “Oh lala! It’s so long!” Then, I say to myself: “Don’t care about it, you have the abilities and the desire to read it, so go ahead!” It’s easier to let yourself down, but so much more enriching to learn. When we bother to make that effort, passion always comes and everything lightens up, everything is getting easier. We even can become addicted. Being addicted to knowledge is good.
P: You see, you talk well!
MC: Sometimes … [laughs] It’s complicated, but I’m learning and I’m counting on me.