Marion Cotillard: Why she is Hollywood's hottest French actress
The Oscar-winning ingenue prefers the quiet life in Paris to dodging paparazzi, says John Hiscock
Growing up in Paris, Marion Cotillard dreamed of being not just a French actress but what she calls an actress of the world. "My dream was wide, I didn't see any boundaries, and maybe that's why I crossed the ocean," she says thoughtfully.
But now, having successfully crossed the ocean, she is ready to go home. We are talking at the Toronto Film Festival, where her new film, Rust and Bone, has been showing, but her flight back to France is booked for later in the evening and she is looking forward to getting on it.
She needs to seek refuge in France, she says, to escape the constant attention and hounding by paparazzi that has been part of her life in the US ever since her 2008 Oscar win for La Vie En Rose, the story of Edith Piaf.
She now chooses to divide her roles between French and English-language productions, usually playing complex, strong women in films as varied as Public Enemies, the musical Nine, Midnight in Paris, Chris Nolan's Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.
"It's not the fame that changed my life but La Vie En Rose," she says. "It put me in a different universe and gave me the opportunity to discover different worlds.
"But I'm not like some celebrities who live with paparazzi 24 hours a day. That's why I'm keeping my life in France."
Her home is still in Paris, where she lives with the actor and director Guillaume Canet, whom she met in 2003 when they appeared together in Love Me If You Dare. Since then they have acted together in two other French movies and he has just directed her in the not-yet-released French thriller Blood Ties.
They have an 18-month-old son, Marcel, and live a relatively simple lifestyle, although she is clearly uncomfortable talking about her private life.
"Some people need a partner who is the total opposite of themselves and some people need to find someone who is exactly alike. It's really hard to explain the combination of two people who love each other.
"I won't say anything smart and beautiful about it today because the explanation would be very long." She laughs. "But I loved working with Guillaume again and I'd love to work with him some more. He's an amazing director for actors."
The lissom, long-limbed Cotillard has a reputation for doing meticulous research. She has studied English diligently and speaks it almost flawlessly, albeit slowly.
After the festival screenings of Rust and Bone in Cannes and Toronto, she was singled out for special praise by critics for her performance as Stephanie, a whale trainer at a marine park who loses her legs when a show ends in tragedy.
Directed by Jacques Audiard, the movie co-stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali, a nightclub bouncer who becomes her helper and lover.
"I researched and I watched videos of amputees but I didn't do major deep research because I didn't really need to know exactly how you move without legs and I thought I would learn with her and experience it with her," says Cotillard.
"If she had been an amputee for 10 years I would have done more, different research."
For once, she did not object to love scenes, which for her are usually the worst part of being an actress. "I am shaking; I feel very bad and I want to cry most of the time because I hate it so much," she says. "But here it was totally different. I was so involved with my character that I was happy she would enjoy something like that. It's a movie about love, about flesh, about rust and bone and heart and sex, so without the sex scenes the movie would have missed something."
It is not surprising that there is an air of theatricality about Marion Cotillard. She grew up in an artistic household, the daughter of an actor-director father and actress mother. As a child she appeared on stage in plays written by her father and began her professional acting career at the age of 16 in the TV series Highlander, then made her feature film debut in Luc Besson's action-comedy Taxi.
Until recently, Cotillard occasionally sang and played bass and keyboard with the French band Yodelice, with whom she recorded several songs.
"It was two years ago, when I could still go on stage, and I would love to do it again because my place in that band is very special. They gave me a lot of freedom to come and go and I want to give some time to music. That's what I'm going to do," she says.
Rust and Bone opens on November 2