Winning the 2008 Best Actress Academy Award for her transformative performance as French icon Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, Marion Cotillard has not neglected her roots when Hollywood started knocking in a big way. Films with Michael Mann (Public Enemy), Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Robert Zemeckis (Allied), Justin Kurzel (Macbeth, Assassin’s Creed) and Steven Soderbergh (Contagion) have been interspersed with The Dardennes (Two Days, One Night), Jacques Audiard (Rust & Bone) and her partner, Guillaume Canet (Little While Lies and the intriguing upcoming film Rock ‘n Roll).
At the popular Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, she will be seen in two films, Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World and Nicole Garcia’s From the Land of the Moon.
It’s the latter that we spoke to her about at the Cannes Film Festival and got a rare insight into the mind of this intriguing actress. In the film set in 1950s France she plays Gabrielle, a free-spirited woman living in a conservative rural family who is forced into marriage, but whose desire is unleashed when she falls in love with an Indochina War veteran (Louis Garrel).
Is cinema from your own country really important to you, to keep connected to your roots?
Yeah, of course. The opportunity to explore a different culture, to work with directors from different countries, is really a chance that I’m so grateful that I can do, and it still surprises me actually. But doing French movies, we have such a strong and diverse cinema, and there are a lot of directors I would love to work with, so of course, it’s important.
Are there any major differences between making a film in France and making a film in the US?
There is a major difference between doing a movie with Nicole Garcia and Guillaume Canet, and there’s a major difference between doing a movie with Woody Allen and Robert Zemeckis, so it’s not about country. It’s not a matter of where you shoot the movie, it’s really the director who’s kneading the story and the team.
In what way can you relate to your character Gabrielle, because she’s so passionate about life?
I never try to relate to a character. It’s better if I don’t, actually, it’s easier for me to be very far from a character because then I have everything to build and there’s nothing about myself. I mean I almost hope there’s nothing about myself that will come in the picture.
Do you think that Gabrielle could exist in our world right now?
Well, unfortunately, she does. In the ‘50s, for a woman in this kind of society, this kind of family, this kind of environment, it was really hard, and it was definitely harder than it is now. But still now, it depends on where you come from, your education, where your family comes from, and obviously now I’m just talking about our society, Western, Europe. If you look at other countries, without naming them because unfortunately there are so many, women have to struggle with having their wings cut every day, so unfortunately it exists.
Why were they not allowed to be themselves in the ‘50s?
That’s a big question. Why don’t we allow women to show their power, why don’t we allow a man to love another man, or a woman to love another woman, why don’t we allow an artist someone who comes from a family who doesn’t think that art can be something you can make your life with. I guess it’s fear, fear of power, fear of love, sometimes fear of perdition.
Did you have such fear at the start of your career?
Fear, to be an actress, I don’t think so. Doubt, yeah. My parents allowed me to be whoever I wanted to be, and it’s something that is very precious because it’s not that common.
Why did you have any doubt?
I live with doubt, but I’ve always known that I would be an actress, so I never doubted this.
What is your definition of love?
Wow! [Starts singing]. My definition of love is when you accept to be yourself, and when you accept the person you love, that this person will be himself, herself. I think it’s acceptance, how you can abandon yourself while you’re still being yourself.
Was it easy to understand why Gabrielle doesn’t love Jose in the film?
I think she loves him, but I think because she’s not allowed to be herself, and she’s not allowed to have these very strong and raw feelings about love and passion and life, she starts to live in this fantasy, in this projection of what love would be, but then I think she’s very connected to love, so she can realise that she has it.
We understand that you had a notebook with you on set. Can you disclose a couple of things that you wrote in it?
It’s just feelings and stories that come to my mind that are part of my character’s story and that I need to write down, so I can use them again. It’s something that I need to have, it’s something that I start before I start shooting, in preparation, where I just write down things that come to me – mostly things that come when I open myself to the character, and I explore the character, and I find keys, just things that I need.
What was the key with Gabrielle?
It’s hard to give only one, but the key is what I was talking about, it’s like you cannot detach the wings of a bird without risking to push the bird to madness.
Gabrielle was such an intense character; in what way does she stay with you?
She was someone that I really wanted to protect, and I wanted to free, and she made me think of some people I know who were not allowed to be themselves, and so I don’t know what stays with me, but some form of love I would say.
Considering your work with Nicola Garcia, how different was it for you to be directed by someone who is also an actress?
I loved it, I really loved it, because she knows, every second of the shooting, between takes, when I would go back home, when I came in the morning, she knew what I was going through, and it’s really relaxing in a way, and it built another level of confidence. And there’s a link that you cannot really explain, but you just know the experience from inside.
From the Land of the Moon is playing at the 2017 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. For tickets and session times, go to the official site.