It seems Marion Cotillard can do no wrong. Since winning the Best Actress Oscar for “La Vie En Rose” in 2008, the French actress hasn’t made one false move, working with everyone from Christopher Nolan (“Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises”) to Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”) to James Grey (this year’s overlooked drama “The Immigrant”). She continues that trend with her latest release, “Two Days, One Night,” directed by Belgian sibling filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“The Kid With a Bike,” “Rosetta”).
In “Two Days, One Night,” Cotillard appears in every scene as Sandra, a mother who learns that she’ll be laid off from her job at an energy plant if she can’t garner enough votes from her co-workers to keep her. The chief obstacle: the staff have been promised a 1,000-euro bonus if they vote to fire her, and work more hours. In his glowing review for Indiewire, Eric Kohn wrote that “Cotillard’s best work since ‘La Vie En Rose’ unquestionably ranks as her most credible turn, as the actress demonstrates a fragility that never veers into the realm of overstatement.”
Having just screened the drama at the New York Film Festival earlier this week, Cotillard sat down with Indiewire to discuss working with the Dardennes. IFC Films will open “Two Days, One Night” in New York and L.A. on December 24 followed by a nationwide expansion.
When your casting was announced for this film, people familiar with the Dardenne brothers were no doubt surprised they chose to go with somebody as high profile as you. In your wildest dreams, did you ever even think that one day they would come to you?
The Dardenne brothers are two of my favorite directors and I have seen all of their movies. I love them all. And it was not even a dream that I would allow myself to have because, now that I know some dreams can come true, I’d rather have a dream that can come true.
This one was unreachable so I didn’t even have it, so when they asked me if I wanted to work with them, I was super, super surprised. Super excited, too. I was wondering when they asked me, well, are they moving to a different place, first of all, because all of their movies take place in Seraing, their home town. And I thought maybe they’re going in a different direction and that’s why they’re asking me to be a part of it. Secretly, I was hoping that they would take me to Seraing and when I read the script I was so happy because I was like they’re really, really inviting me into their world and it made me so happy.
Given that you were such a huge fan before working with them, what most surprised you about their process?
I was sure that they were very, very hard workers because to achieve such a level of authenticity — you’re almost in a documentary form even if their stories are very cinematographic. Everything they do is to take the audience on a journey, surprise them, move them, question them, and they always talk about the audience while in the process of the film.
Oh really! Even to you? Interesting.
Actually that was a surprise that day. That was the third day of rehearsal. That was a surprise that they talked so openly about the audience, but at the same time it was not, because you can feel it when you see their movies. There is a very strong connection with the audience and they really want them to have an experience. I never expect to have an amazing adventure when I start a movie, but I have to say that I started to let this desire go, this desire of having a real osmosis with a director. I thought that I would have it many times, and it didn’t really happen. I had great experiences, but this kind of experience, this total osmosis, I never really had. And they gave it to me. I felt that they gave me everything I needed to give everything I could give. And I felt total freedom on a very strong base. They are very demanding. Very demanding. And that’s what I want from a director, to be very demanding and to allow me to open things that I didn’t even know I could open or that I though I never had the opportunity to open.
This is really the first time you’ve felt that connected to your filmmaker during the process of making the movie?
[Long pause] Yeah.
That’s crazy considering who you’ve worked with. About the audience — are you to consider them when shaping a performance? Or was this approach new to you?
Sometimes, and I had the experience several times. Talking about the audience on set is like talking about evil. It’s like a non-authorized word on set, which is something I never really understood. I remember having almost a fight with someone. It was not on set. It was a different situation, but we were judging short movies and I talked about the audience and suddenly this guy who was the president of the jury killed me with “Whaaat? The audience? Who cares? We’re judging the artistic form. Why are you talking about the audience?” I was super shocked and super surprised because who are we doing movies for? [Laughs] And on the third day of of rehearsal with the Dardenne brothers, they were talking about the audience and then suddenly in a very nice way, they turned to me and as a warning said “We talk about the audience.” And I thought that was liberating and it was obvious actually that they would think about the audience that much, because when you see their movies, they cherish the audience and they really will do everything for the audience to have a real experience watching their movies. That’s why you cannot qualify the Dardenne brothers’ movies of film auteur because it reduces their cinema. What was it like to therefore watch “Two Days, One Night” with an audience for the first time?
Cannes Can. Cannes is very, very special. I would say. There’s this pressure because we know when we go to Cannes that the audience is very, very…
Judgmental. Sometimes very hard. So, it’s a very special audience. Movie lovers. Movie goers. And, this can be a place where everybody wants to give their judgment on a movie and it’s like a melting pot of reactions and judgments and—
And, tweets. And, the best sentence to describe a movie or to kill it. So, it’s a pretty closed world of people wanting to give their opinion and sometimes it can create something that is… I’ve seen people come out of the movie thinking it’s beautiful and then the next day start thinking that it was not that good by talking with people who gave their opinion. Sometimes the opposite happens too, but it’s sometimes claustrophobic.
I hear you.
But, sharing the movie here to a film festival in a foreign country, I always find it very moving to be able to travel with a foreign movie and that happened the first time for me with “La Vie en Rose.” That was one of the most amazing experiences.
Yeah that movie did OK. [Laughs]
Not talking about what happened, the Oscar and everything, but that all the screenings were really very intense experiences for me.
You’re doing alright career wise. How did you relate at all to the struggle your character in “Two Days, One Night” experiences over the course of the film?
I can relate to her struggle because some people I know are very close to who she is and what she goes through. Some very close people, friends or family, and it was in front of my eyes and I tried to understand the state they were in. I tried to help sometimes. So, yeah, I was very close to what it is without experiencing it first hand.
The film, given that it takes place over such a short, compressed amount of time, must have been, no doubt, really challenging for you as an actress.
What was amazing — and that was one of my dreams as an actress, to have this kind of experience — we shot the movie chronologically.
So important for a film like this.
That was just amazing because you really follow the thread and we shot it in 11 weeks, which is a lot. But, going step-by-step with her and the evolution of her state was a great experience.
Was it a taxing one? Was it an emotionally draining one as well?
Yes, that was. She really moved me.
Was she a tough character to let go?
I never know how it’s going to happen. But I find it very interesting now, I find that way it’s super interesting and I get richer of it. The way out is as interesting as the way in. Now that I know that, I need to get out. I need to get out of that [Laughs]