There is major Oscar buzz surrounding Marion Cotillard’s raw performance in Rust and Bone as a killer whale trainer who loses her legs. Here, the French actress talks to us about the challenges of playing the role and juggling her career and motherhood.
How did your experience on the movie influence your attitude to life and to your own body?
I always keep something from an adventure, from a story, from an encounter with a character, with a director, with other actors. The first thing is a lot of joy and then it’s kind of hard to explain what stays with me. When I talk about joy it’s this energy of when you share something and you feel that it’s deep, then it really makes you feel part of something that has a right place, you know what I mean? Also, I think an actor is kind of an anthropologist of the human soul and so the more you explore the human soul the more you learn about us. And the more you learn about something, the more respect you have – and a lot of love too. I kind of love human beings, I have to say. Voila, did I answer the question?
Physically, how did you work out for the part? It must have been difficult to think of yourself as legless?
It’s actually not difficult. The complexity will be the emotion and the different layers of a character, which is very interesting, of course, for an actor. Difficulties, for me, are always technical. There were no major technical difficulties with the physicality in this movie because it was imagination – a lot of imagination. It’s hard to explain, or maybe it’s just as simple as I just imagine I have no legs – which is kind of hard to explain, but simple to say.
Can you talk about the special effects? They were incredible.
Yeah, it had to be because it has to work, otherwise there is no movie. They did an amazing job. And they did an amazing job because it didn’t affect the shooting at all. It was very fast and technically we didn’t feel that something kind of heavy in the process of having no leg could have been. I didn’t know at all what it would be – I didn’t know if I would have to walk very slowly, I didn’t know anything. The fact is, there was nothing more to do that just being on set and doing the work that we usually do – and they just took my legs off.
"I think an actor is kind of an anthropologist of the human soul and so the more you explore the human soul the more you learn about us."
We know about the intensity of your playing, but the moment when you discover your legs are gone – how do you do that?
Well, it’s imagination. I don’t know.
It must be more. And how hard is it for you to play that?
That’s what I try to do. Being a character and trying to feel what a character would feel… If you fall in love, if you lose someone or lose something. I really think it’s just the imagination.
What is it like to come back to your country and your language? What difference does it make?
It’s totally different because you don’t have to think about the way you talk. You create a different way of speaking, which is why I like to create something that is different, or a lot different, or slightly different from my way of speaking, my way of moving. I like that a character will have its own way of living but, for example, with the last movie I did I’m a Polish girl, so I had to learn Polish and some of my scenes are in Polish and also I had to have this Polish accent in English. It’s a lot of work. When I do a scene it’s like my brain has separate places for each complexity and technical difficulties. In French it’s just French – I don’t have to think about the way I have to say this word, or if it sounds French. It does! I know that it will! I know that it will sound French no matter what, no matter how I speak.
There’s this amazing shot where you’re standing in from the glass with the killer whales on the outside. How difficult was that shot?
Well, I was lucky to have a very strong connection right away with the whales and we had rehearsed this scene before, but it was not a rehearsal – the choreography was not like the show outside before the accident. The choreography was very specific. Here I knew what I could do to have this conversation and it was kind of an improvisation of the whale and me. It was a conversation that was totally improvised in a way that I decided to wave and she would wave back. I decided to tickle her nose and she would make the bubbles. So it was pretty strong because you never know if she would react and she reacted to everything that I proposed her.
What was the whale’s name?
There were two whales and actually the first one was kind of mad at me and the whole crew. It was the only time I was really scared and I freaked out even though I knew the glass was totally secure. But I asked her something and because you’re in character and there’s the whole crew behind you and it’s not a usual show for her, she became mad at me and she screamed at me with her jaws open and I got really scared.
Have you gained power from injuries in your own life?
Well, I think a human being goes his way and you’re richer from your experiences. So, of course, yeah.
Let’s talk a bit about ‘the dark knight rises’ – what was it like working with Chris Nolan?
Oh, it was amazing, I love working with him. I loved working with him on ‘Inception’ and then I was very lucky that I could work with him again. It’s actually the first time that I’ve worked with a director twice. I loved his set, even though it’s a big scale movie because it’s huge obviously, but it really stays at a human size. He’s a family guy and his set is like a family, which is kind of weird when you talk about Batman, but it’s actually true.
How do you do that logistically, working so much and being a young mum?
Well, he knew that I was a young Mom and he has four kids and they were amazing with me – they were really amazing. I cannot thank them enough to make me part of the adventure and still being entirely a Mommy.
Not many European actresses have made it in America. What do you put your success down to?
I just go where I think I belong. I’m so lucky that sometimes it’s in the U.S. and I have the opportunity to explore a wider world. An actor is happy when you explore something different each time and to get to explore Italy when I play an Italian woman, or Poland when I play a Polish woman, because then you learn about the history of the world and the history of a country. So I’m grateful to Olivier Dahan who gave me all this because of the role in ‘La Vie en Rose’. He’s the reason I’m so happy right now.
Where have you put your Oscar statue?
It’s in Paris. I’m never in Paris so it’s been a long time.
Where in Paris?
Well I’ve just moved from my apartment so it’ll be in a box somewhere.
How was it working with Jacques Audiard compared to other directors you’ve worked with?
Well it’s impossible to compare any of the directors that I’ve worked with. That’s why I had amazing experiences with all those people because they are so different and that’s what I’m looking for. Something different each time, a different vision of life in a way. All the directors I worked with love the story they’re telling, obviously, and they love their characters but with Jacques it’s so strong the love that he has for his characters. It is so strong that is, first of all, very inspiring and secondly, very beautiful to watch.
Finally, how was it to kiss Batman?
How was it to kiss Batman? Jeez (laughs).
Photos: Courtesy of TRUNK ARCHIVE