Marion Cotillard, Star of “Two Days, One Night”

Drawn to Drama

Jan 09, 2015 Web Exclusive
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Marion Cotillard loves to explore. She likens acting's preparation process to mining for gold.

"One of my favorite parts is when you start feeling the character in your body," the French actress says, speaking before a press corps in Los Angeles. "When I start feeling [that], the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I breathe becomes her. And then I see myself disappearing."

In Two Days, One Night, written and directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Cotillard plays Sandra, a mother of two young children whose depression has caused her to take an extended leave from her job at a solar panel factory. During Sandra's absence, the company's management saw that her co-workers were productive without her and offered them a choice: either agree to save her position for her return or accept a 1,000-euro bonus and eliminate it. With a Monday morning staff vote pending, Sandra's husband (Fabrizio Rongione) urges her to embark on an improbable, humbling campaign to keep her job by visiting each of her 16 co-workers at home over the weekend. Cotillard's understated performance is at once heartwrenching and empowering.

The Dardennes' script rekindled thoughts that Cotillard had been contemplating a year-and-a-half earlier when reading about a wave of worker suicides in France. In one of the suicide letters, a man explained that he felt useless. Around this same time, the actress had been reading about Indian and African tribes, and she pondered why she didn't come across similar accounts of members distressing over their place in the society.

"I've always questioned our society and its decisions and how it functions, or how it malfunctions," Cotillard says. "I came to the conclusion that our society created isolation.... So when I read the script the first time, it brought back all those questions and reflections that I had, and it made sense for me to experience from the inside someone who feels useless and worthless."

The films of the Dardennes are marked by realism and explore life on the margins. Cotillard rehearsed with the directors for over a month prior to filming, working on the rhythm and choreography of scenes, which oftentimes were shot in long takes. The Dardennes have a history of casting unknown actors but took a major step away from that with their 2011 film, The Kid With a Bike, by giving a lead part to Belgian actress Célcile de France. The brothers first met Cotillard by chance while she was filming Rust and Bone. Part of the film was shot in Belgium, and the Dardennes were co-producers. She ran into them coming out of an elevator, and they were smitten after the brief conversation.

After offering the part of Sandra to Cotillard, one of their first requests was for her to lose her French Parisian accent, in order for Sandra to come across as an authentic Belgian. This was on the heels of her speaking in an Italian accent for Guillame Canet's Blood Ties and a Polish accent for James Gray's The Immigrant, both of which premiered at Cannes in 2013.

"We all have accents, or else we're robots," Cotillard says. "Sometimes they would say, 'This is too much of a Liège accent,' and I was very happy about it, but then I knew that I needed to reduce it so it would not be disturbing. Some people in the audience know my face already, which was kind of new for the Dardenne brothers, to work with a well-known actress, and I knew that I really needed to fit in their world, but that the accent shouldn't be disturbing for the audience."

On the second day of rehearsal, Cotillard discovered that the Dardennes openly consider their prospective audience while crafting scenes. For example, they would discuss with her why they wanted her face to be hidden in a certain shot, surmising what the audience would think about it, and how that could lead to a surprise for the viewers.

"That's what I love about their movies," Cotillard says. "They take you somewhere, and they're going to surprise you and move you. I've seen all of their movies. I love them all. For me, The Son is a masterpiece. For an audience, the story is totally different from what you thought entering the theater. You think that this guy is a certain kind of person, and then suddenly it unravels into something totally different. For me, as part of an audience, it's what cinema is for."

Cotillard began working in TV more than two decades ago in France. A small few of her French films—Taxi, Love Me If You Dare—made their way to American art houses in the late '90s to early 2000s, and by 2006, she'd appeared in English-language films for Tim Burton (Big Fish) and Ridley Scott (A Good Year). But her Academy Award-winning portrayal of Édith Piaf in the 2007 French-language biopic, La vie en Rose, turned her into an international star. Since then, she's starred in films by Michael Mann, Christopher Nolan, Woody Allen, and Steven Soderbergh. Working with the two-time Palme d'Or-winning Dardennes might be her most prestigious casting yet. Her experience and reputation as an elite actress have allowed her to consider her projects more carefully.   

"You will ask people to come to see what you want to say, and if it's not something that I really need to say, I'm not interested, because it's too painful for me," Cotillard says. "It happened, and I was totally lost because I was with someone who was not in a deep need to tell a story.... If I don't want to give, because I don't trust the director, it's really hard for me to give anything, to find the authenticity. If I feel free, and there's a strong connection with the people I work with, it's not hard for me to stay in the character."

For La Vie en Rose, Cotillard had a routine for getting into character. She would arrive an hour before call time to prepare for the day by herself. "I needed this hour to do stuff, to get in," she says. However, she didn't anticipate the lingering effects of embodying a character so deeply.

"I didn't know before La Vie en Rose that I would have to find a way out," she says. "I thought that it was a job and that after the last cut, I would go back to my life and go back to normal. But that took me a long time. And then I realized that I needed to do it for almost all the movies. I never know how it's going to happen. So I'm always looking for this experience. It can take the form of someone telling me something, and we enter a discussion, and then suddenly I will feel that it's going away. It's really hard to explain, but I learn a lot out of it."

Later this year, Cotillard will star opposite Michael Fassbender in the Justin Kurzel-directed adaptation of Macbeth, which she describes as "super traditional."

"We went to the purest Shakespeare that you could find," she says. "Sometimes they adapt a little bit for people to understand. If you don't, it's normal. It took me a long time to understand everything." She laughs, adding, "But I'm French."

Macbeth continues Cotillard's streak of heavy, dramatic parts. She'd like to try a comedy for a change, but she's had difficulty passing up on the dramas being offered to her.

"When I accepted my next movie, my boyfriend was like, 'Oh, it's going to be a fun year,'" Cotillard recalls. "I was not supposed to do a movie after the Dardenne brothers' movie because I was kind of exhausted. And then Justin came with this offer, and I always knew I would play Lady MacBeth, but I thought it would be on stage and in French. I felt, 'This is an opportunity that I cannot miss.' Same boyfriend said, 'Are you kidding me?' Because he knows that I want to do comedies. He's like, 'Lady Macbeth? This must be a joke.' And my next movie [Mal de pierres] is not funny. It's a French movie from a French director. She's an actress and a director, Nicole Garcia. And no, it's not going to be a fun movie."

Two years ago, Cotillard lightened things up by making a cameo in Anchorman 2. Overall, she had a blast, even though she became stressed when her schedule was changed.

"I was supposed to shoot the next day, and they pushed [up to] the day before, and I was totally hung over because the Met Ball was the night before," she confesses. "I really want to do a comedy. I would have maybe more work than for a drama, because I'm familiar with drama now. But that would be a risk that I would love to take."

ifcfilms.com/films/two-days-one-night



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TomMartin
August 21st 2018
3:35am

Even actors can get injured while they are doing a movie. The Iowa Workman’s Compensation rules apply to them as well, if they aren’t to blame for their injury. People should be fairly compensated if they get injured at work and need money to pay the hospital bills and medicine.