If the Academy Awards pundits (Indiewire’s own Peter Knegt included) are to be trusted, Marion Cotillard will in all likelihood be up for her second golden statue next year thanks to her searing performance in “Rust and Bone,” Jacques Audiard’s moving follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2009 crime drama “A Prophet.” (Cotillard made history in 2008 as the first to take home the Best Actress award for a French-language performance, for her work as Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose”)
In the new drama, Cotillard plays an orca trainer at Marineland, who, after losing her legs in a freak accident at the aquarium, finds herself cared for by a stranger (“Bullhead” breakout Matthias Schoenaerts) she had met at a nightclub before the horrific incident.
Honor Roll is a daily series running throughout December that features new or previously published interviews, profiles and first-person stories of some of the year’s most notable cinematic voices. Today, we’re running a new interview with Marion Cotillard, the star of “Rust and Bone.” A few hours before she received a special career tribute at the Gotham Awards, Cotillard sat down with Indiewire in SoHo to discuss her challenging work in “Rust and Bone” and what she’s learned since winning her Oscar.
Audiard is one of the most prominent filmmakers in France and one of the most revered internationally following the success of “A Prophet” — how long had you wanted to work with him?
Since his first movie. I don’t know what is the title in English, like “Watch Them Fall,” or something.
You can say it in French.
“Regarde les hommes tomber.” I saw this movie, and I was blown away by his vision of the story. And the editing, everything was — I mean, after watching this movie, I knew that I wanted to work with him. So it was a long time ago. But I didn’t know that I would. Of course, you never know. And I didn’t know that he would want to work with me… I don’t know why I had this idea in mind. And then when he asked to meet with me, I was thrilled. And then I read the script, and I fell in love with the story, with the characters, with everything about the project.
Did you see it as an unusual love story?
Well the thing is, I didn’t know anything about the story. Well, no — I knew that the character I would play was an orca trainer and that she would lose her legs. That’s what I knew about the movie.
So you just knew your character?
Yeah. And I was very excited because I expected from Jacques Audiard a very special story, because all his movies are very special. But I didn’t expect I was about to be in a love story.
Especially as a follow-up to “A Prophet.” The tales couldn’t be more different.
Yeah! And he’s never done that before. Like, a melodrama. And I thought it was even more exciting to be part of a project with a director who’s never filmed a love story before.
Despite the subject matter being so dissimilar from that found in his other films, it shares a striving for realism that he brings to all of his work. How did he work to achieve that, with you and with Matthias?
Jacques is someone who seeks for authenticity and even though his movies are very realistic, there is poetry in everything he does. He always wants to find authenticity, but at the same time, something special. If, with Matthias, we would do something that was kind of expected, he didn’t like it. That’s why he puts poetry everywhere. It’s because it’s his vision of a story, or of a character, it’s not just doing what is written. It’s doing more than what is written. And it’s very inspiring to work with someone who has such an energy, such a love for his characters, and such a desire to tell a story in a very special and poetic way.
Do you have an example of a scene that you shot where he pushed you to explore more?
Well, it happened most of the time. Jacques needs a very long time to prepare the movie with actors before we shoot. And I didn’t have that time because I was filming Batman [“The Dark Knight Rises”]. So, I really arrived on set. Like, we had a few readings, but that was not major — he never works on the actual scenes. He writes special scenes to work with actors before the shooting. But we didn’t have that time, so, I don’t know if it was different on his other movies, but when we arrived on set, a lot of things had to be created there. And sometimes we would take a scene and we would do a version of this scene, and then the next take, it would be a totally different version, like sometimes opposite version. And that’s how you make the right version, because then you have the experience of all the research around what you will choose to be the right version, the authentic way to tell something. So that was really, really interesting.
Given the varied number of takes that you did for each scene, what was it like to actually see the finished product at Cannes?
I’ve always had a hard time talking about what I feel when I watch a movie I’ve worked on. I don’t know how to talk about it. But I was very surprised by — not very surprised, but when you do many versions, you don’t know what he’s going to take, and of course everything makes sense in the final object, but I don’t know what to say about it.
It’s not uncommon for you to take on challenging roles, but still, Stephanie must have been an intimidating part to take on, especially given that you didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the role.
I was nervous, because I want to give everything I can, and sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to be right. Well, especially with her. She’s very mysterious, and we don’t have much information about her in the script. So we really had to create almost everything about her. Who she is. Who she’s not. Who she tries to be. Her struggles. And that was one of the best experiences as an actress, to work with a director — with such an inspiring and smart and brilliant director — and to create someone with him. To search and to research and to experience in order to find the authenticity of this person. And also, we realized that we didn’t have to solve the whole mystery she was, because the mystery is part of her, too.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.
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–
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.
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.