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.

Three months after she began, following sleepless nights and trips back to the U.S., Cotillard was exhausted. "I was working all the time; my son was not sleeping," she says. "Not sleeping, working, taking care of a kid -- I had never been that tired."

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Growing up, Cotillard was full of self-loathing: "I really didn't know how I would spend my life. I didn't like anything about myself -- my looks, my personality. I was very, very angry."

That persisted until a mini-intervention by her then-boyfriend when she was in her late 20s. "He would look at me and go, 'Why are you hurting yourself, when it's so easy not to be angry? Try another way.' And I did."

Born in Paris in 1975, Cotillard was brought up in the suburb of Alfortville, Paris' equivalent of an inner city in the U.S. "I was living in an HLM," the projects, she says. "I come from 'la cite.' That's who I am. As they'd say here, 'I'm still this girl from the Bronx.' "

Her parents, while not wealthy, both belonged to the theater: Her father started as a mime and then became a director, while her mother was an actress who worked with famed directors including Daniel Mesguich and Ariane Mnouchkine.

"I have very vivid memories of going with her to rehearsals," Cotillard recalls. "I was fascinated. I always wanted to be an actress."

Life changed as her father found growing success, working as a director and starting his own company, leading the Cotillards (including Marion's younger twin brothers) to abandon Alfortville for the countryside near Orleans, some 80 miles outside Paris. Suddenly, she was an outsider. "We were in a huge house and it was beautiful, but that was a totally different world," she explains. "I was 'The Parisian,' even though I was not coming from Paris."

She longed to act, and started doing so while still in her teens, then moved to the capital, where she lived in a run-down area near the Gare du Nord train station, surviving on occasional acting jobs such as My Sex Life ... or How I Got Into an Argument and the comedy La Belle Verte (both from 1996), and by making colorful key chains that she sold to candy stores.

In her 20s, she got her first big break as the hero's girlfriend in the 1998 action-comedy Taxi. It was followed by her Cesar-winning role as Tina Lombardi in 2004's A Very Long Engagement -- and finally, in 2007, the movie that made her name: La Vie en Rose.

Called La Mome or "The Kid" in French, the film tells the story of Piaf's arduous life from growing up in a brothel to becoming a singer to losing her great love in an airplane crash to becoming a morphine addict. Making the movie created a battle for its director, Olivier Dahan, who insisted on having Cotillard in the lead before she was a bankable name. With a tight schedule, she rarely slept during the shoot.

"A very good friend told me, 'Well, Edith Piaf wouldn't sleep at night, and maybe that's why you're not sleeping,' " she notes. "Maybe. But I would sleep during the makeup sessions and I was kind of happy when they lasted five hours!"

Roger Ebert called Cotillard's performance "extraordinary," and the Oscar turned her from a working actress into a celebrity.

"She is alive to the world, to a neighborhood, to an ambiance," says Mann. "She just goes on an adventure with you."

That adventure has included pictures like Nine (Marshall's version of Fellini's 8-1/2) and Inception, which followed an intense immersion course in English, when she found Hollywood eager to meet this bright new star. But it also led to a career that has taken her away from home for long periods of time -- making our meeting place, New York City's NoMad Hotel, all too appropriate.

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