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"Rust and Bone's" Marion Cotillard on Blockbusters vs. Independents and the Role of Marine Parks

The actress turns in another award-attracting performance, this time in her native language.

By Scott Huver
|  Monday, Jan 14, 2013  |  Updated 12:37 AM EDT
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French actress Marion Cotillard stars in "Rust & Bone"

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No matter what language she’s speaking, Marion Cotillard is utterly fluent in fine acting.

The 37-year-old French stunner took home an Academy Award as Best Actress for her immersive performance as singer Edith Piaf in 2007’s “La Vie en Rose” and has crafted an impressive list of Hollywood credentials in the aftermath, most notably working with director Christopher Nolan in “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Cotillard returns to performing in her native language with the unpredictable drama “Rust and Bone,” playing a whale trainer whose life is upended after a shocking accident, placing her on a journey of redefinition alongside an unlikely potential soul mate (Matthias Schoenarts).

Already topping many critics’ lists as a leading contender to take home another Oscar trophy, Cotillard provides a look into how she crafted her performance.

On delving into her complicated character:

What was different from the other thing I did before was that when I read the script, even at the end of it, Stephanie was still a mystery. And that was a mystery that [director] Jacques Audiard and I needed to solve. But I also found out that, usually when I work, I need to explore every bit of a character. I need to know who this person is entirely, and I realize that that mystery that she was not to be solved entirely because it was part of who she is. When we started working, before we started shooting, and even when we started shooting, Stephanie was a big mystery and we tried many things. And that one day, Jacques told me, ‘Yeah, I know now: she's a cowboy.’ I thought it was kind of genius, and from there everything found its place. At the end of it, I didn't expect to be so moved by her. She turned anger into power. That's a cowboy thing, right?

On playing scenes in which her character’s lost limbs are exposed:

The physicality was never an issue. First of all, the CGI guys were really talented. They went really fast. They were very discrete on set when they were with us every day. But the fact that I actually have legs never got in our way. It was never an issue. Basically, it's very technical: I wore green socks and they [digitally] erased my legs, so we had funny moments because I had to put my legs in this certain position so I would not cast some shadows on Matthias’ back, for example, in some scenes. So we actually had fun doing it.

On the most challenging physical demand of the role:

I had to swim in the sea – it was freezing, it was late October and I got bit by a jellyfish. The camera was not working and I knew that if I would go back on the boat, it would take longer, so I stayed in the water with the jellyfish biting me. And man, it burns! And I didn't allow anyone to pee on myself.

On the most challenging mental demand:

What was the most difficult for me was to go to Marineland, because I don't feel comfortable in a place like this. And I needed to consider the animals as an actual animal and not as something that was turned from an animal into a clown or something, an animal who does a flip-flop when you ask the Orca to do it.

And the first day, I thought it was kind of horrifying, when I would ask them to do something and they would actually do it. And I thought the connection was easy to have because I would give them some fish, and they would do whatever I wanted them to do, if I did the correct gesture. But then on the second day, I had this rehearsal for the scene behind the glass, and that was not choreographed like the show is. And that was basically improvisation with the gesture that I knew, and that day, I had a real communication with the whale, and that changed everything for me.

On facing her own strong personal feelings about aquatic theme parks:

On my first day, I arrived five minutes before the show and I watched it. And I thought it was horrifying. And my trainer turned to me after the show and said, ‘Did you like it?’ And I thought, ‘Okay – What am I going to answer? Am I going to lie? Am I going to tell the truth?’ I couldn't lie, and I said, ‘Well, no – I hated it. But I don't want you to think I'm disrespectful.’ Those people, they have a passion. They're passionate about what they do. They love the animals, so they made my job easy because passion is contagious.

I will never go back to Marineland. This is an open question because some people's children won't ever have the possibility, because of money, to go and see the whales in their environment, and sometimes it can raise an awareness and the desire to save those animals. But then again, I have this example and maybe it's silly, but I remember when ‘Finding Nemo’ came out. This is a story about not taking those fish out of their environment, and there was an explosion of sales of clownfish after this movie. And that was something that I really couldn't understand because the story of that movie is telling the opposite: DON’T take them out to put them in an aquarium. And that's exactly what happened. So sometimes, I don't know – I'm really wondering if those Sea World, Marineland, however you call them, really make a difference.

On tackling the role after just becoming a new mother:

I usually never talk about my personal life, but my personal life was totally stuck to this project because, yes, I had my baby with me. And he was very, very young, and all the crew was really amazing with me because it was not easy – neither for me nor for everybody!

On moving between smaller-scale films and big-budget blockbusters:

I feel very lucky that I can travel from one very special universe to another very special universe. My experience in Hollywood with the big blockbuster, though, is very special too, because it's a blockbuster directed, written, produced by Christopher Nolan, who's not a studio director. I had some propositions of big movies, and I met the director, and I thought, ‘This guy is just here because they need a director, but it's not the most important thing in his life to tell this story.’ I need to work with directors who have the need to tell a story – and Christopher Nolan is definitely a director who needs to tell stories.

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