Originally published in Studio Ciné Live (France), February 2009
translated by Ioana
She will soon be seen in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and in Rob Marshall’s musical, “Nine“. In the meantime, we asked the heroine from “La Môme“, for which she was awarded a César and an Oscar, to reveal herself, so we could retrace the last two crazy years, and talk about her future. An improvised conversation, with no imposed subjects or stereotypes. A rare moment.
It was our Christmas present. On the 21st of December, last year, before going to Rome to continue her work in “Nine“, Marion Cotillard gave us an interview… although she had nothing to sell! Begun in our office, one Sunday afternoon, this exclusive conversation went on until we reached Vincennes, where we discovered Daniel Pennac’s play, “Diagnostic“, acted and directed with inspiring passion by Marion’s father, Jean-Claude.
It was an opportunity to go back to the events that influenced her life in 2008: a César and an Oscar for “La Môme“, the controversy over her comments about 9/11, the making of Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies“, in which she plays Billie Frechette, Johnny Depp’s girlfriend, and that of “Nine“, a musical by Rob Marshall. We also wanted to take a leap into the future and break the news about her July debut on the Parisian stage.
What was your state of mind a year ago, at the beginning of 2008?
Sheer enthusiasm! I was leaving for Los Angeles, knowing that a lot of people over there, whom I admire, had loved “La Môme“. It was an exciting perspective.
What moments do you remember from the Oscar campaign?
Every other day, there’s a ceremony, where actors give or receive awards. Each time, I found myself among the potential nominees: George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Daniel Day-Lewis… Every day, it’s like the Cannes festival over there! So you get used to it. But I also felt at ease, because it was a kind of hallucinating experience. I felt like a child, spending an evening with Harry Dean Stanton or Robert Duvall, being nominated alongside Cate Blanchett, whom I admire so much…
Two days before the Oscars, you won the César. How important was that award for you?
I never dreamed of a Cesar. As a little girl, I never imagined myself making a speech! But, that evening, I was really happy to be awarded in my home country.
Was it even more important than your first César, for “A Very Long Engagement“?
My first César was a milestone: Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film changed my career in a big way. It put me in the spotlight, although I only had ten minutes of screentime. I’ll never forget what a journalist friend told me: “You can’t imagine how this film will change your life and your career.” I didn’t believe him, but he was right!
The day after the Césars, you crossed the Atlantic, for the Oscars. What did you feel the second you heard your name?
An internal shock ! I still can’t explain how I managed to stand up so quickly and walk to the stage. Inside, I was experiencing completely different emotions!
Did you rehearse a speech?
I hadn’t done it before that, because I wanted to enjoy the moment, without anticipating anything. But, the morning of the Oscars, I had a phrase in my head: “There are angels in this city”. It may sound naïve, but it brought me back, a year and a half before, on the road to Palm Springs, in L.A. It was the second-to-last day of shooting for “La Môme“, and I really felt that something was waiting for me in Los Angeles. It’s strange for an actor, because it means: Hollywood is waiting for me! (laughs) But the feeling was so powerful, that it stayed with me… And it was the first thing that came to my mind on stage.
Then, very quickly, you got caught up in work, with Michael Mann’s film.
Two days later, I left at 4 o’clock in the morning and found myself among an Indian tribe in Wisconsin. You could say it was a radical change!
How did you feel, being on a film set for the first time in two years?
I was terrified. I feel that way every time I begin a film, but then, it was even worse. I had to completely erase my French accent, which is impossible! I’ve never worked so much for a film. Every day, for four months, with the help of a coach, I had to relearn to pronounce the “r” and the “l”. And then, I had to forget everything for “Nine“, where I play a French woman (laughs)!
During those first weeks of filming, there was the scandal related to your old comments about 9/11. How did you react?
I really don’t want to insist on the subject, but, honestly, it was horrible. And I was especially hurt by the fact that it began in my own country. It made me doubt the professionalism of some newspapers that deem themselves intelligent, but write things without questioning them.
Why didn’t you fight back?
I wanted to attack them immediately, because the title of the article that started everything was a complete lie. But there was the risk of backlash, so I let things cool down. It happened pretty quickly in the US, where the impact had been smaller, then, more slowly, in France.
Fortunately, I was working at the time, so I could focus on something else.
How did you feel on the set of your first big American film?
Michael Mann’s dedication is fascinating. He’s always in control. You repeat every take, until he is happy with it. I never felt relaxed. I was always afraid that my obsession with the accent would get in the way of my acting. My luck was that I could rely on Johnny Depp. He’s a true gentleman and so obviously in love with his wife and children. That gives him a self-confidence which I find unusual in an actor. For me, this profession implies a constant feeling of insecurity!
You didn’t enjoy yourself at all during the filming?
No, and it was the first time ! I was so stressed, that I experienced physical reactions: I was rushed to a Chicago hospital at 4 a.m., because I had doubled in size (laughs)!
But, three weeks later, you moved on, with “Nine“…
And, frankly, in the beginning, I didn’t feel well. I was too exhausted to live my dream: being in a musical. I had to drag myself to rehearsals. I told myself every day: “Are you nuts? How many girls dream of being in your shoes? How can you hesitate?”. But my body wouldn’t follow. And then, during three weeks of rehearsals, I met Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Fergie, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren and Daniel Day-Lewis. I realized we were all going to be in the same studio, for two months. And I understood we all had our fears concerning the technique required. Suddenly, instead of exhaustion, I felt euphoria, and it hasn’t left me since.
How do you work on this new project?
By studying my part. In “Nine“, the shadow of Giulietta Masina still floats over my character, Lisa. Although it’s not a remake of 8 ½, this film is inspired by the Italian cinema and its master, Fellini. I immersed myself in the role.
And how were the singing lessons?
This kind of film is all about the Broadway style of singing! You really have to let go. But if I have a motive, I know I can succeed. I felt like I was making a step forward.
Do you still want to make a music record?
I’ve always loved to sing. This reminds me of my beginnings as an actress. When I began making movies, I needed to feel entitled to tell people: “Look at me, listen to me.” After “Nine“, I almost feel legitimate enough to sing. My work in this film gives me the right to try and fulfill my wishes. I just have to find the right project.
Let’s continue with music… Among the people you met in 2008, there was Madonna!
When I was 12, I was her fan and I had seen her perform at Parc de Sceaux. Now she came to London and I had the chance to talk to her after the concert. I knew she had said very nice things about “La Môme“. I’ll always remember it as a magic moment. Especially since she was the one who came to me after the concert. Imagine the scene! I’m never going to forget it.
Don’t you tell yourself that it’s about time you came back to France?
I don’t reason like that. I just really want to make a French film, in France.
The awards brought you more proposals?
On the contrary. I receive a lot fewer screenplays than I used to!
And what’s going on with “Lancaster’s Last Flight“, by Karim Dridi, with Guillaume Canet? It’s beginning to look like a phantom-project.
Gaumont gave us the green light before Christmas. So, we should begin shooting in March. But I won’t believe it, until I’m in the desert.
As a spectator, what films were you excited about in 2008?
An extraordinary documentary: “Man on Wire” (the story of Philippe Petit, who, in 1974, tied a cable between the two World Trade Center towers and danced in the air, for an hour). It made me dream magnificent dreams. Belatedly, I discovered “Soy Cuba” on DVD, an amazingly powerful masterpiece. And, in a different genre, I loved “Cloverfield“: it got me involved, from the first scene, to the last. I was afraid, I laughed and I cried my eyes out. And “Rocky Balboa” made me leap on my chair!
Apart from films, what other projects do you have for 2009?
In July, I will play Honneger’s “Jeanne d’Arc au bucher“, at the Marigny Theatre, with a choir and orchestra conducted by Jean-Marc Cochereau. I had already played it in 2005, in Orléans, and I dreamed of doing it again.
The last question echoes the first one: how do you feel now, at the beginning of 2009?
Since I’m still in the middle of making a musical and fulfilling my childhood dream, my heart is singing!