The Many Faces of Marion Cotillard
This story first appeared in the May 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Marion Cotillard heard from her CAA agent Hylda Queally in late 2010 that director Christopher Nolan wanted her for a role in his next movie. The French actress, of course, was ecstatic. "I'm like, 'Wait a minute, his next movie is supposed to be Batman!' And I've always been obsessed with Batman."
Her heart sank, however, when she learned The Dark Knight Rises -- the final part of Nolan's Batman trilogy -- would likely start shooting in May 2011, precisely when her first child, Marcel, with actor-director Guillaume Canet, was due. "I called Chris and said, 'My God, I can't do that!' " Luckily, Nolan -- who already had worked with the star on Inception -- was prepared to wait. " 'I'm writing now and nothing is impossible,' " the actress recalls him telling her. " 'We don't know where we are shooting, and I'll try to make it work.' "
The fact that one of Hollywood's top directors was prepared to change his shooting schedule and maybe even his script for the most anticipated movie of 2012 -- all based on Cotillard's availability -- was indicative of how big a superstar the 36-year-old has become in the four years since she won an Oscar for playing the tiny, gut-wrenching singer Edith Piaf (known in France as "the little sparrow") in La Vie en Rose.
With a gentle, almost ethereal presence, Cotillard since has exhibited a screen persona that stands in stark contrast to the ferociously intense Piaf. But it has endeared her to major directors ranging from Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) to Steven Soderbergh (Contagion) to Rob Marshall (Nine) to Michael Mann (Public Enemies). One of the few international actresses to have found success in America (fellow French stars Isabelle Adjani and Juliette Binoche have come and gone), Cotillard is a Hollywood favorite, having recently wrapped director James Gray's still-untitled Ellis Island period piece with Jeremy Renner and Joaquin Phoenix.
"I knew she was a great artist," says Mann, recalling how she boldly plunged into the dark realm of Chicago's strip clubs to research aspects of her role as the half-French, half-Indian Billie Frechette, a bartender and singer who becomes involved with John Dillinger in Public Enemies. "But what I found with her was it's all about the work, all about the commitment. Her energy evolves from this devotion to acting as an art. You don't want anything else."
Now she comes to the Cannes Film Festival competition for the first time, having been unable to attend last year for Midnight in Paris after giving birth. Her presence on the Riviera unites France's No. 1 star with its foremost art house director, Jacques Audiard, whose previous film, A Prophet, was nominated for a foreign-language film Oscar in 2010.
Their joint effort, Rust and Bone, may sound trite -- it's the story of a young whale trainer (Cotillard) who gets into a terrible accident that leaves her paraplegic then becomes involved with a homeless fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) -- but given Audiard's gritty, brutal style, nobody expects this to be Free Willy français. (The film had not been screened at press time. It will be released in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics this year.)
Rust has not been without controversy. Just two weeks before Cannes, the French blogosphere lit up after Cotillard told a French magazine, Obsession (a spinoff of the highly respected Le Nouvel Observateur), that she had shot the movie when she was still meant to be exclusively available for Knight.