Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sitting in on a Conversation with Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard at NYFF
One of the most graceful actors on screen today, Marion Cotillard is a rare example of simple and delicate beauty as well as profoundly perceptive, nuanced cinematic portrayals. Last Sunday, I finagled my way into the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Amphitheater to sit in on a conversation with the Oscar-winning actress, part of the 2014 New York Film Festival’s free live event series. The talk served as a precursor to a screening of Cotillard’s latest film, Two Days One Night, directed by renowned Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, in which she plays a young mother battling depression, who has just one weekend to convince her co-workers to let her keep her job.

In a chat with interviewer and Variety critic Scott Foundas, Cotillard discussed her process, her inspirations, and her latest project. My takeaways from the conversation below:

On working with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne:
What struck me most about them was how well they had organized everything. They had left plenty of time, a full month, for rehearsals, which is unusual for a low-budget film. It was really helpful because it allowed us all to explore and for me to go deep into my character. But really, Jean-Pierre and Luc gave me everything I’d want in terms of a relationship with my directors: the creativity, the challenge. It was one of my best experiences.

On getting immersed into dark roles, then stepping away from them post-filming:
I sometimes get asked when I’m going to stop living the lives of people who are so “messed up.” (laughs) But I unfortunately, or fortunately, love doing them.  Sandra, my character in Two Days One Night, has a history of depression. Sometimes, she’d burst into tears mid-conversation for no apparent reason other than her dark past. I needed inspiration to understand how and why this would happen, so I started researching and scripting my own dramatic scenes for preparation, just for myself—the directors didn’t even know about them! But they helped me get to those emotions during the tough scenes.

La Vie En Rose was the first time I went so deep for months into the body and spirit of someone dark. After that, I realized that I need a process to get back to my own life, something like a detox. It’s hard, but it can be as interesting as the process of getting into a role.

On watching herself on screen:
I feel like it’s important to see my work. It’s part of the entire experience of making a film, and I also do it out of respect for the director’s work. The first time I watch my own film is especially hard because I don’t actually watch the movie. I’m too busy judging myself, which I do very harshly. The second time around, it’s easier to watch the movie—that being said, if I really didn’t like myself during the first watch, I won’t watch it again! Two Days One Night I haven’t seen and I don’t know if I will. The process of making it was so intense that I don’t think it’s even possible for me to watch it as an audience.

Cotillard plays a young mother battling
depression in "Two Days One Night"
On “celebrity:”
It’s a very weird thing. I don’t think you can ever be prepared for it. When people began to recognize me after Taxi, I used to literally run away—not something I’m very proud of doing! But now, I’m used to it and I do like a lot about it. It’s a different connection to people, many people you may never meet, with a story that touches them. But it was my childhood dream to be unrecognizable from one movie to another. So for me, it’s more about that, as well as the opportunity to explore more than my own culture. I’ve been Polish, Italian, Belgian, even a non-living person! It’s been everything I wanted and more.

On keeping at it during the tougher years:
There was a phase in my early 20s when getting work, at least the type of work I was ambitious to get, was hard. I was questioning my patience because I always wanted more even though I was lucky to be working and many of my friends weren’t. I viewed my ambition as negative at first, and wondered if acting was useless. If you think about it, it is a very strange job. Especially since I tend to choose such heavy material and let it consume my life. Then, a director asked me point blank, “why do you do this?” And after thinking about it, I just replied, “Because I feel alive when I do it.” (laughs). So I guess it really isn’t all that useless after all.

On actresses she admires:
I’m inspired by a lot of people. I love Toni Collette. When I saw The Hours, I couldn’t recognize her. She completely disappeared into her role. She’s a genius. There’s also Meryl Streep, she’s the master, isn’t she? I’ve always loved Greta Garbo. And then there are the younger prodigies, Jennifer Lawrence and Adele Exarchopoulos, from Blue is the Warmest Color. I’m always very moved when a newcomer gives such amazing things at such a young age.

On next steps:
­I don’t really have a strategy for how I go about my films. I read scripts, meet people, and when I feel I have a place in an adventure, that’s when I go along with it. It’s funny: in the past, whenever I’ve felt a particularly strong need to express a specific emotion, a movie and character comes along that allows me to do just that.  A few years ago, I had been feeling a certain need to channel anger. And then A Very Long Engagement happened. It’s never planned; I’m lucky that it just happens.  I’d love to do more comedy. That would be fresh air and a departure from my comfort zone. And then, I also have stories I’ve really wanted to tell, with French actresses I’ve always wanted to work with. So direction could happen. It’s definitely a desire growing inside me.

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