The Many Faces of Marion Cotillard

9:00 AM PST 05/09/2012 by Stephen Galloway
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Marion Cotillard

From a mystery role in the "Dark Knight Rises" to a paraplegic whale trainer in "Rust and Bone," the once-self-loathing actress known as France's Angelina Jolie has Hollywood giving her the royal oui as she heads to Cannes for the first time.

Blog headlines such as "Marion Cotillard: Secrets and Lies in the Last Audiard" indicate how scrutinized the Angelina Jolie of France is. Of course, there are perks (a multimillion-dollar deal as the face of Lady Dior; almost $1.5 million a film, a gigantic sum in France) but also drawbacks. A female stalker was arrested by the FBI in August; Cotillard hasn't seen her cat, Touftouf, in two years because she's been working so hard; and she still isn't used to the ever-present paparazzi. "I was 4-1/2 months pregnant and I went to this store in Paris. I was in the dressing room and looked at my belly, and they took a picture!" she recalls. "It was horrible. It really made me sick physically."

She also admits she isn't accustomed to having her words watched so closely. She was widely criticized for comments made on French television in 2007 that implied the World Trade Center was not hit by real planes: "I think we're lied to about a number of things," she said. "We see other towers of the same kind being hit by planes. Are they burned? There was a tower, I believe it was in Spain, which burned for 24 hours. It never collapsed. None of these towers collapsed. And there, in a few minutes, the whole thing collapsed."

Cotillard now regrets her statements. "It's kind of easy to say, 'It was taken out of context,' because people now think that's a way to hide something," she says, wrapping a shawl over her simple black T-shirt and satin pants -- casual and with no makeup -- to ward off the frigid air-conditioning. "It was totally stupid to talk about this on TV. It was not serious, and I really regret that I talked about such a painful subject for so many people in this very light way. I know people who lost family members or friends in this tragedy."

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The actress started filming Knight in June 2011, working on and off until the fall in locations including Los Angeles, New York and Pittsburgh. She says there were long gaps when she wasn't needed: "It was a very, very small role."

Otherwise, Cotillard is coy about the picture, whose storyline has fueled pages of Internet speculation. All she'll confirm is that, contrary to some fans' belief, she does not play Talia, the vengeful daughter of Liam Neeson's character, Ra's Al Ghul (who also appeared in Batman Begins), and that she takes the role of Miranda Tate, an ecologically minded businesswoman who "is fascinated by Wayne Enterprises. They go through difficulties, and she wants to help provide the world clean energies. She's a good guy." But does she stay that way? "Yes," she insists.

Cotillard's commitment to Nolan left her unable to rehearse with Audiard, and she admits he was "sometimes not very happy" about that. "It was frustrating."

Adds Audiard: "At one point, I was afraid. So I said to myself: 'We don't know each other; we don't know the character she plays except in bits and pieces. Let's make a virtue of this.' That's exactly what we did, and it worked."

The actress had only encountered the director briefly at France's Cesar Awards when he approached her for his film. With Marcel on hand, they met in Paris in the middle of last year to discuss the movie. As Audiard remembers, "We spoke for 18 seconds about the film, and the rest of the time we talked kids."

Cotillard has a slightly different recollection: "It was very unclear for me who the character was. She was very mysterious." To her surprise, rather than being bothered by this, "Jacques said: 'Yes, I have the same feeling. When I start a movie, I never know who these people are.' So we took the road together to find her."

That road wasn't easy. Cotillard had just days to prepare before Rust started shooting in the fall in Antibes, France. "I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time to rehearse, and it was very disturbing to me because Jacques works a lot with the cast before he starts a movie," she says.

It wasn't only her fellow actors she had to worry about. There were killer whales, too.

"It was a very weird experience because I came back from the United States and was totally jetlagged," she remembers. "I arrived directly in Antibes where their Marineland water park is. I've always had a repulsion going in a place where animals are in captivity. I had to work through my rejection of this world, which I still feel. But I had a job. And even though the orcas are as big as trucks, they're animals, and you have a connection with them."

Cotillard had to quickly improve her swimming skills: "Training in the Mediterranean was hard because I couldn't use my legs and there were strong currents, and it was freezing in October." And she had mere days to learn some of the simple whale tricks, such as looking in a certain direction while pointing, because "if you keep staring at her," says Cotillard of her whale co-star, "she won't move." She felt guilty about withholding fish treats when the orcas didn't obey her.

Following a fatal accident involving a whale trainer at Florida's SeaWorld Orlando and another nonfatal incident at Marineland, Cotillard was never allowed in the water with the orcas, and the screenplay had to be altered as a result. At first, "The accident was meant to happen with me on the nose of the whale," she explains. Now the whale erupts from the pool and strikes her directly.

She was surprised to find Audiard -- who has a reputation for being intense and driven -- less somber than she had expected. "He has this grin on his face all the time," she says.

He was equally impressed with her: "The day we shot, it was no longer an actress that we had but a trainer of orcas. She blew me away."

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