Marion Cotillard is tired. Of course she is: a) we are in Cannes and b) her new film, Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts – about to be presented at festival Love & Anarchy – just opened this year’s festival. No wonder that when she decides to start the interview by taking off her shoes and gently massaging her feet, it feels… strangely appropriate. If you are one of the brightest stars in the industry, you could probably perform your press duties half naked and no one would even blink.
Funnily enough, the film’s set up – she plays Carlotta, the long-lost wife of filmmaker Ismaël Vuillard (Mathieu Amalric) whom he considered dead for 20 years – echoes Cotillard’s personal story: last time she saw Desplechin was on the set of his 1996 drama My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument. “When we first met, I was just happy to be doing movies. I was looking around and I couldn’t believe I was actually an actor,” reminisces the actress. “At that time I was still waiting for my dream to come true. So I guess the biggest difference is that today I live in the present, not in the future.”
When you first met Arnaud Desplechin, you were still an aspiring actress. Did you ever expect to work with him again?
I think I have seen all his movies since then, but no, I never thought I would. Just like I never thought I would work with the Dardenne brothers or with Jacques Audiard. I go where the wind takes me. The only time when I was sure I would work with a director, he died. It was Chabrol. I had never actually met him, but when he died, I was devastated. I was waiting for the experience of working with him. I think I would have written to him if it had taken too long. But I never did.
Do you often reach out to directors?
Once I “passed the message”. It was a French director and the crazy thing is that he responded right away: “I have a movie that we can do together. Now.” It was an amazing script and a great character – the role of a lifetime. But she was so fucking crazy! I had just done Two Days, One Night and this woman was so depressed, and then I had done Macbeth – another crazy lady. After spending so much time with these two very disturbed women I couldn’t picture myself sharing my life with this other character. I called him right away, saying that I couldn’t believe I was turning this down. I was the one who knocked on his door. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I was told that the actress he chose is amazing. It’s her movie now.
Ismael’s Ghosts is also not a comedy. Although at least you got to dance to Bob Dylan.
I know – why do I keep doing it to myself? I try to protect myself outside of the set, because I have kids. But on set, I want to go as deep as I can. A lot of people see Carlotta as this destructive force, but I think it’s quite the opposite: she brings life back into Ismael’s life. You can also see it in her dance – This Ain’t Me Babe is not a song you would normally dance to. You don’t dance to Dylan! When she comes back, she does so to break the last locket that keeps her in the past. Then she can finally be free.
Desplechin’s filmmaking is very specific, with every film being a part of a bigger universe. How do you fit into that?
His writing is very singular and special, and there is a very specific melody to it. But once you get it, you are in his world. It’s like with Shakespeare – it’s beautiful, but it takes a while to get used to the rhythm. When I did Xavier Dolan’s movie It’s Only the End of the World, the writing was very singular too. You need to adjust in order to find the authenticity of the character.
But how do you do it when you don’t know the language? In The Immigrant, you actually had to speak Polish.
And I don’t remember one word of it! No, that’s not true – I remember this exclamation ‘Matko boska!’ – mother of God. On this film, I needed to understand everything. I could not just memorize it phonetically – I had to know exactly what every word means. When you are exploring another language, what’s interesting is that words have a different place in the sentence. It says so much about the culture and the people of that country.
Why did you decide to go so personal in Rock’n Roll? You are basically playing yourself in this film. Well, kind of.
Because it was funny! I thought the script was hilarious and also very profound. Guillaume [Canet, Cotillard’s partner] wanted to play with the image. The one we have of ourselves and of others. As actors, we see ourselves ageing on a big fucking screen. You see everything! So it’s something that’s really weird. And also, it’s the only time when I felt truly indispensable. In this business, you can always be replaced. If a director tells you he won’t be able to make a movie without you, he is lying – he will always find other people. That’s the only time in my life when I knew that nobody else could play this role: I play myself and Guillaume plays himself. So it’s personal but at the same time it’s not, because these are only versions of us. In real life, we are both quite different.
So this is how you think the public views you?
In France, people think that I live in Los Angeles and have this amazing life. And I never left my country! They just invent a story and believe in it, or react to things other people say. Things that are usually false. Over the years, there were so many crazy stories I heard about myself, but I stopped reading them. When you are a young actor, you can’t help yourself. You have this huge ego, which is like a beast devouring everything around it. You haven’t tamed it yet. So you read everything, all these horrible things, but one day you go: Do I really want to do it? You shouldn’t read this stuff. Or go for it, read it all, and it will take you a lifetime. I will always be my own biggest critic and reading shit about myself gives me precisely nothing. What’s the point of getting upset over something that’s not even real? The only person that can destroy your life is yourself. Nobody else can do it. You will face horrible experiences and meet horrible people, but they won’t succeed if you don’t let them.
Are you referring to the last year’s rumours? [Cotillard was blamed for her Allied co-star Brad Pitt’s divorce]
I was not referring specifically to that, but when it happened, I felt very, very sorry. Not for myself, but for all these people who reacted like I was the most horrible person on Earth without knowing anything about the reality. I get it, because hatred sells better. Horrible things sell better – especially online. Nobody wants to read lovely, positive things. It’s the negativity that really drives people. Funnily enough, I never took that personally. It didn’t even touch me. What touched me was having these two people trying to deal with a very difficult situation. The more horrible the comments got, the more me and Guillaume would laugh reading them. It was like: “Are you kidding me?” What needs to be in your head to make you act this way? That pushes you to write these things?
Why did you decide to respond to them though? Wouldn’t it be easier to just wait the whole thing out?
I honestly didn’t want to react, because I didn’t want anything to do with this. But then suddenly there were paparazzi camping out outside of my house and Guillaume went: “You need to do something – I can’t bear this anymore.” So I used my Instagram account, which was the best way because it’s direct and you know that nobody is going to change your words, which is very often the case. And then it just went away, because I couldn’t have been clearer. It was like: “Guys? Are you fucking kidding me?” Two days later it was over. It’s easier to talk to people through your own channels, because today, everybody is a paparazzo. Everybody can listen to what you say, record what you say or take a picture. Everybody has a camera. If you want to survive in this business, you have to figure out a way to communicate with people on your own terms.
Speaking of preconceptions, do you think that winning an Oscar for La Vie en Rose changed the way people perceived you as an actress?
When it happened, suddenly I entered this world of amazing opportunities. I gained access to amazing projects, and amazing directors. It’s heaven for every actor, especially if you are not an English speaker, because then people are afraid of giving you jobs. So yeah – it changed a lot. It changed my life. It’s crazy how one little thing, the thing you let your son play with – although it’s very heavy, so he dragged it around a bit – can bring you everything you have been dreaming of all these years. And don’t get me wrong: the dream is still very much alive. But now it finally feels like nothing is impossible anymore.
The full interview was published in Episodi.
French actress, musician and spokesperson for Greenpeace. Lucky Greenpeace.