"Rust and Bone"
Sony Pictures Classics "Rust and Bone"

Was there a lot of technical preparation on your part, in terms of learning how to train the whales?

Yeah, well, training the whales was not the hardest thing to do, because basically you give them fish and they do what you want them to do, even though they told me that I have a special connection and I think it's true. I love animals and have always had a very strong connection with animals. But it was hard for me to consider those magnificent wild animals as animals because they were in that environment, which I don't really get. In terms of, how do you take them out of their environment and put them in swimming pools? But, anyway... so I think I had a connection, but without the fish, this connection wouldn't have been that strong. So that was not the hardest part.

"I mean I didn't have to drive a car very fast -- that would be challenging for me."

The hardest part -- technical part for me -- was to learn how to swim better. I was not a very good swimmer, and I had to learn how to swim like a very good swimmer, because obviously they're very good swimmers. So that was my physical preparation. And then I had to get my muscles back because with the green socks [for the green-screen necessary to remove her legs digitally], you have to have, like, [be in] very specific positions. Like, straight legs, even when you are carried. But it was not very hard. I mean, I didn't have to drive a car very fast -- that would be challenging for me.

Still, there is a stunt sequence of sorts in the film -- the scene where you beckon the orca to you from behind this massive wall of glass. How did you pull that off?

That was actually when I felt that I had a very special connection with the orcas. The first thing that I learned is all the movements, all the gestures, and then we created the choreography when I knew everything. But then this special scene was on my second day of preparation. It was like five days before we started shooting, and it was the second day, and so my trainer took me to the glass and she told me, well, "Just call for her; she's going to come. And then, you know all the gestures, so just improvise and see what works." Jacques wanted some specific things. Like, he wanted the orca to be like--

Swim up?

Yeah, up, so that we could see how big it was. So that was the only thing that I had to place somewhere. But otherwise, it was really improvisation. So, that day we rehearsed, that was one of the craziest moments for me on that project, because I actually felt the connection. It was not the show -- it was just me and her communicating. And so when we shot the scene it was a little bit different because the first time it was just me, her, and two people. That shooting day was a lot of people, cameras, something unusual for her, so she got mad at me. We had to replace the orca because she really got mad at me, because maybe I did something not very clear and that was different for her. So, we switched the orca I was usually working with.

"Rust and Bone"
Sony Pictures Classics "Rust and Bone"

For my character in the movie, it's like a big, big step taken, you know? And that was very emotional that day. Because it's kind of like a forgiveness scene for both of us. Because those whales, they're not meant to kill. They're not killer whales at all. They're orcas. They're like, wild animals put in a situation, which is from my point of view unbearable.

Was it hard to let go of Stephanie after wrapping the film?

I really, really loved her. And I had a very special relationship with this character because some things that happened in her life made me so happy for her. Like the sex scenes, which is not something that I usually love -- it's kind of the opposite -- that was very different on this movie because it's a very important part of the story. But it's also something that happens in her life that made me so happy for her. But then, I mean, with my experience as an actress, I know now that I can go deep inside a character, but I know how to get out of it. It was really, really hard for me when I shot "La Vie en Rose" because I went the deepest I could, but I didn't know the way out. So it took me a while. But now, I mean, yeah, I think it's experience that [teaches] you how to get out, and how to go back to your life.

Honor Roll 2012 Profiles:
December 2: John Hawkes, "The Sessions"
December 1: The Team Behind "How to Survive a Plague"