There is no shortage of beautiful people on movie screens, but often when you see them in real life, they’re not quite as pretty as you imagine they would be. Not so Marion Cotillard. It doesn’t seem possible, but she’s actually even more stunning in person. She was in Los Angeles recently to promote her new film Rust and Bone and I had the pleasure of sitting down with her for a brief chat at The Four Seasons Hotel. Graced with the casual, almost effortless elegance that seems to be the genetic right of the French, she looked perfectly lovely in a simple floral print dress with her hair up, little makeup on her face and her legs tucked up comfortably beneath her on the sofa. I didn’t know if she’d be prickly or guarded or bored or what, but it turned out she was quiet, thoughtful and engaging. I only wish we’d had time for a longer conversation. In order to fill out the chat a little bit, I dropped in a couple of her responses during the press conference earlier in the day.
In the film directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet), Cotillard plays Stephanie, a party girl who loses her legs in an accident. Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) co-stars as Alain, a single father on a downward spiral who turns to back-lot, bare-knuckle boxing in order to make money to survive. Stephanie and Alain are two emotionally troubled people on the fringes of society who meet and form an unlikely love relationship. Rust and Bone opened November 23rd in New York and it opens December 7th here in Los Angeles.
Craig Kennedy: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I know this is the end of a long day for you and you must be tired.
Marion Cotillard: (smiling) Some people have a long day and there is nobody asking them if they’re OK or if they want to drink something so I can’t complain.
Craig: One of my favorite moments in the Oscars in the last few years was when you won for La Vie en Rose. In your speech you seemed so surprised and thrilled. Is an Oscar something an actress coming up in France even considers?
Marion: No, that’s something you can never think about. And personally I’ve never thought about any awards. I just wanted to be an actress and to tell great stories and to have amazing characters to portray and to work with amazing directors. That was my desire. And then when an award comes your way, it’s something that you really have to enjoy. I mean, I didn’t even know it was possible for a French actress to have an Oscar – even a nomination. When they asked me if I was up to that adventure, I didn’t really understand because my movie was French and I was French. I didn’t even know at that point that Catherine Deneuve or Isabelle Adjani had had nominations for French movies before. Then they told me Penelope Cruz had a nomination the year before I think for a Spanish movie so I said, “Well, yeah it might be an amazing experience” and it was. The fact that I won… I didn’t want to prepare anything because I didn’t want to think ahead. I really wanted to live this experience in the present time and not think what could happen. What was happening at the present time was crazy enough and was something I never thought I would experience, to share this movie and this performance with a different audience. It was really something that I enjoyed.
Craig: How did your career change from that point? Did it?
Marion: The whole experience of La Vie En Rose including the awards changed a lot of things. I never would’ve done American movies and all the movies that I’ve done here without the Oscar for sure. But it’s not the Oscar itself, it’s the whole experience.
Craig: What’s the difference between working on a huge Hollywood movie like Inception and a more intimate French film like Rust and Bone? Is it still the same job?
Marion: Yes, my commitment is the same, but each experience is unique because it’s a different story, a different director, a different character. But also I’ve had the chance to be in big American blockbusters, but they’re written, directed and produced by someone who is an artist. I’ve never done a studio movie with a director who is not a complete artist like Christopher Nolan is. I’ve had the proposition of some big movies and I met the director and I thought he was just there because they needed a director. It wasn’t the most important thing in his life to tell this story. I need to work with directors who have the need to tell a story and Christopher Nolan is definitely a director who needs that.
Craig: Have you had the opposite experience before?
Marion: Yes, I’ve met directors who had no need to tell the story. It was just a movie to direct and it was not something they were passionate about and driven by. I couldn’t do it because the first person I do a movie for is the director. I need to trust this person. I need to share something powerful and sometimes you just feel that it’s not going to happen so I wouldn’t do it the movie.
Craig: How can you tell before you’re on the set and shooting?
Marion: The way they talk about the story and how they talk about actors and how they want to work. I’ve had meetings where I’ve tried to have the conversation about the direction they would take and how they’d work with the actor and they just had no idea. I can’t work by myself. I cannot.
Craig: I imagine that would be a miserable way to spend a couple of months of your life.
Marion: It’s impossible. A few years ago I did a movie and it was a disaster and the director was totally out of the project and it was a nightmare because I couldn’t do anything. And I remember that I had this very emotional scene and I couldn’t do it. I knew that I was capable of doing it, but I just couldn’t. I thought “Do it for yourself, do it for your audience, find someone to do it for because you can’t do it for the director.” And I thought, “Would it have been different if the director on this movie had been Mike Mann or Olivier Dahan?” … And yeah, it would’ve been totally different, but I was stuck because I needed to give what I was doing to someone and I couldn’t find anyone.
Craig: Let’s talk a little bit about your character Stephanie. What made you want to play her?
Marion: When I read the script the first time, she was a mystery. She was so mysterious. I fell in love with the story and I fell in love with her. She really moved me, but I didn’t know who she was and that was a mystery Jacques and I needed to solve. Even at the end of it Stephanie was still a mystery to me. Usually when I work, I need to explore every bit of a character. I need to know who this person is entirely and I realized that mystery was not to be solved entirely because it was part of who she is. The most emotional scene was after Stephanie and Alain make love for the first time, because I felt something that I never felt for a character before. I felt very moved for her because it’s the first time she’s had sex since she lost her legs. I was very moved because I was so happy for her.
Craig: (Cotillard is known for her work campaigning for animal rights and her support of groups like Greenpeace and during the press conference, the scenes she filmed with whales in captivity came up)
Marion: That was the most difficult for me to go to Marineland because I don’t feel comfortable in a place like that. I needed to consider the animal as actual animal and not as something that was turned from an animal into a clown or something, an animal who does a flip-flop when you ask the orca to do it. The first day I thought it was kind of horrifying when I would ask them to do something and they would actually do it. I thought the connection was easy to have because I would give them some fish and they would do whatever I wanted them to do if I did the correct gesture. But then on the second day, I had this rehearsal for the scene behind the glass. That was not choreographed like the show. It was basically improvisation with the gesture that I knew and that day I had a real communication with the whale and that changed everything for me.
Craig: (Later she was asked about working with the whale trainers)
Marion: That’s a tricky thing. On my first day I arrived 5 minutes before the show. I watched it and I thought it was horrifying. My trainer turned to me after the show and she said, “Did you like it?” and I thought “What am I going to answer? Am I going to lie or am I going to tell the truth?” And I couldn’t lie and I said, “Well, no, I hated it, but I don’t want you to think that I’m disrespectful.” Those people, they have a passion. They’re passionate about what they do. They love the animals so they made my job easy because passion is contagious. I will never go back to Marineland. This is an open question because some children won’t ever have the possibility, because of money, to go and see the whales in their environment and sometimes it can raise an awareness and the desire to save those animals. But then again, I have this example and maybe it’s silly, but I remember when Finding Nemo came out. This is a story about not taking those fish out of their environment, but there was an explosion of sales of clown fish after this movie. Now that was something that I really couldn’t understand because the story of this movie is telling the opposite: Don’t take them out to put them in an aquarium. But that’s exactly what happened. So sometimes, I don’t know, I’m really wondering if those Sea World or Marineland or however you call them really make a difference.