Marion Cotillard on life after Edith Piaf

Her turn as Piaf made her, but get ready for more defining roles from Marion Cotillard, writes Kaleem Aftab

"It was a dream come true,” says Marion Cotillard, describing the job she has just completed with the Dardenne brothers, the two-time Cannes Palme d’Or winners. But the statement could apply equally to everything she does. The actress will soon be in England, fulfilling another childhood ambition by playing Lady Macbeth in the latest big-screen adaptation of the Scottish play.

This is on top of two films that will soon be gracing our picture houses. The 38-year-old plays a down-on-her-luck Pole coming to 1920s New York in James Gray’s The Immigrant, and she has a part in the ensemble thriller Blood Ties, directed by French heartthrob Guillaume Canet, with whom she has a two-year-old son.

It’s not just on cinema screens where Cotillard has been wowing. Wherever she goes, someone has seemingly spent hours laying out a red carpet for her to strut down in the latest creation from Christian Dior. She’s been the promotional face of their handbag line since 2008, a contract that landed soon after she became the first woman since Sophia Loren in 1962 to win the Best Actress Oscar for performing a non-English language role.

In any room she enters, Cotillard is seemingly the only person there. This is true even when she dresses in jeans and a T-shirt, as she does when we meet at the Marrakech Film Festival, where she has been on jury duty, rubbing shoulders with heavyweight movie directors – Martin Scorsese, Paolo Sorrentino and Fatih Akin. Everything she does, even dressing down, oozes confidence.

Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in 'La Vie en Rose' Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in 'La Vie en Rose' How different it was when I first met the actress in 2004. At the time, she was getting rave reviews for her turn in the abstract romantic fantasy Love Me If You Dare. Looking back, the film is one of those curiosities that seemed to be a signifier for her life and career. She played an outsider of Polish extraction, who, over the years, plays destructive games of one-upmanship with her childhood best friend, depicted as an adult by a certain Mr Canet, who at the time was  married to the German actress Diane Kruger. Different interpretations of Édith Piaf’s “La  Vie en Rose” was one of the thematic motifs of the romantic tale – and three years later, it was playing La Môme Piaf that won Cotillard her Oscar.

But what always stuck in my mind was how nervous and awkward the actress seemed. At the time she said of her teenage years, “I was crazy, but I was not wild. I was not very sociable, not very happy either. I could do crazy things but in a way to destroy myself.” She continued, “I decided to be an actress. Perhaps the idea was to escape – but I realised that it was the exact opposite, that it was the only way to meet myself. To meet my true self and not to escape anymore... being someone else helped me to find my true self.”

Well it seems that fame, adoration and an Oscar can bring confidence. Meeting again, it’s hard to imagine a more sure-footed person.

She sees two big moments as altering the course of her career: “The first was Jean-Pierre Jeunet offering me the most beautiful role in A Very Long Engagement, which put a different light on my work.” Cotillard won a French César for her supporting role as an assassin in the First World War drama. In hindsight, it was the moment when the principal star, Audrey Tautou, handed over the baton as France’s most coveted actress.

The other, more predictably, was La vie en Rose, after the success of which, “I started to get proposals of good roles in America – and it was watching American films that first got me interested in acting.” 

Marion Cotillard at a photocall for her new film 'The Immigrant' Marion Cotillard at a photocall for her new film 'The Immigrant' Now she’s one of the most sought-after actresses in the world, as her recent cameo in Anchorman 2 demonstrates. She’s also one-half of France’s most famous movie couple. When I ask her how different performing is when the director is her husband, she pauses, reflects and then says, “Well, I sleep with the director.” She then holds her head in her hands, seemingly  embarrassed and adds, “It’s a joke – but it’s true.” I only realise later that whether or not Canet  and Cotillard have actually married has never been publicly announced. But she chooses not to correct me.

She also starred in Canet’s underrated 2010 family drama Little White Lies, as well as the forthcoming Blood Ties. Living with him has made her appreciate the director’s lot: “I now know what it is to direct a movie. I have to live the whole journey of realising a movie and I know how hard it is. Now when a director cannot get what he wants, most of the time because of money, it breaks my heart.”

She gives an example from The Immigrant. “I could feel that James was not happy on set, and I asked him if he was okay. He said, ‘yeah, I was just thinking about what I wanted to do’ – and he started to explain; it was beautiful, but then he added that it would cost twice the budget that he had. I felt that he was very sad, and it affected me more than it would have before, because I know what it’s like to put years of your life into a project and be frustrated.”

Gray is full of praise for Cotillard, saying, “She’s an actress who can perform without needing words.” When this is recounted to the Parisian, she retorts, “Yeah, he says that, and then he writes 20 pages of dialogue in Polish and asks me to do it.”

She spent three months learning Polish to play Ewa Cybulski, an immigrant who gets separated from her sister at Ellis Island and is then torn between two men, one volatile (Joaquin Phoenix) and the other sweet (Jeremy Renner).

The forthcoming year may be her best yet. Michael Fassbender will be playing Macbeth in the adaptation by Snowtown director Justin Kurzel. “I knew that one day I would play Lady Macbeth, but in my mind it would be on stage and in French,” she says. “I never thought that one day I would say the original lines, which took me ages to understand. I was very honest when I read the text for the first time. I called the director and said. ‘Thank God I know the story, because I didn’t get any of the words’. It’s kind of crazy for them to ask a French actress to do that.” 

On the subject of Lady Macbeth, Cotillard says that she’s infatuated by, “The depth of humanity in her – but it’s all driven away by fear and  despair. How you do things to have a better  life – but when they are against humanity, you will fail.”

Moral decisions are also central to her forthcoming turn in the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night. The film is expected to land at Cannes in May and Cotillard says, “The way they do cinema is everything that I love – and they pushed me as much as they could, and I was ready for anything. It’s hard to talk about the movie, because they are still editing and I haven’t seen it yet...” The film is about a woman who will not be made redundant if she can persuade bankers to forego their bonuses. She adds, “Okay, I know the set-up is fake.”

Fake or not, the plot is intriguing, and with Cotillard starring, it’s one of the most anticipated films of 2014.

"The Immigrant" and "Blood Ties" will be released in the spring

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there