Question: Your director said he had you in mind. When did he come to you to tell you about the project?
Marion Cotillard: When the script was written, one year after that, I heard the first time about the project, because my agent called me one day, and he told me that Olivier Dahan, who I didn’t know at all, was about to write a script about the life of Edith Piaf, and that he was thinking about me. At that time, because the script wasn’t written, I would forget about this because I don’t like to be disappointed. And then one year later, I received the script, and then I met him.
Was there any hesitation to tackle the part?
Absolutely not. But my dream of character was smaller than this. When I finished the script, what I had just read was…I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that I had this in my hands. So no, no hesitation. I knew that I would have some, let’s say, weird periods of “Am I able to do this? Am I able to be 47? To look 70? To act like a child? Am I able to do…?” Yeah, all this. But no hesitation, never.
Would you say this is your most challenging role, just having to transform emotionally and physically?
Yes. Physically, and to play an old lady, it’s something that I…Yeah, I haven’t imagined that one day I would play a whole life and play an old lady, because all that period of time, when she’s 40 to 47, it’s not just anecdotic. There are several scenes as if I was 47 and I would have to play a role of 47. What was the question again? Sorry, did I answer?
Did you think it was your most challenging role?
Yes, of course. Of course.
What was involved with the make-up process of when you played the older version of Edith? Were you wearing all sorts of prosthetics?
Yes. I had a body prosthetic to make it a little bigger. And a prosthetic on the face, and a lot of latex and acrylic painting. At the end, I had that bald cap with the few orange hair. But I really liked it, even if sometimes I wanted to kill all those people around me, touching me, touching me. And all those smells. But sometimes, I felt like when I was a child. Since I was a child, I loved to act, and I remember when I was 10 and with this care freeness, you play a dog, you play an old lady, you play a man, you play just for fun, just to play. And it was almost the same feeling and the same care freeness with that role.
Do you sing all of the songs yourself?
No, the only part I sing myself is because she’s drinking, she sings like hell. [laughs] And they decided, I don’t know why, to keep my voice. But no no, I sing much better than in that scene, too, because I love to sing. But the lip-synching, it’s a very, very difficult thing to do. It’s very technical, you have to remember it precise, very accurate. Everything counts. Your whole body, everything. Your whole body is involved in the process of doing a good lip-synch, and do it almost perfectly. And it was the hardest thing to do. What took me the most time, the most energy, what drove me the most crazy, and was all the days of lip-synch, I was very, very stressed out. [laughs] Because it was important for us to make this almost perfect. Because if it’s not, the audience will just come out from the movie for that long. And you can’t do this.
How did you get into such a different character?
I didn’t try to imitate her. I wanted to understand her inside. And there’s a very technical part–reading, watching, listening. I watched her a lot. The movies she did as an actress, the interviews, the personal images…And I tried to understand who she was. That’s not the technical part. That’s the other part, which is more abstractive to tell. And if the technical part and that part are put together and then you abandon yourself to it, and you find your pleasure doing all those scenes, I felt that something would happen.
What was it like filming in
Yes. Definitely. The thing is, we started the shooting in
When did you feel relief from the pressure of portraying Edith?
Oh, no, I can’t say this. [laughs] I wish I could. About the first part of your question, I was not so nervous about the fact that she was an icon, because when I discovered her life, that I didn’t know anything about, I discovered a woman, and not an icon. And I felt something close immediately. So I was not anxious about touching an icon. When I’m on the set, and as I told you before, I have pleasure to do what I do. When I go back home, I think that I have done a good job at that time. After the result, it’s hard to talk about your acting. [laughs] I’m not able to judge my work like this.
But have people come up to you and given you positive feedback in
Yes, we have very positive feedback. But what I see in the feedback, it’s not about me. It’s about…What I notice, what I feel, is that all those people who come to me and share what they felt, it’s like a circle. Because she was a very emotional person, and I lived a very emotional adventure. And people who see the movie, and what they tell me is, what they share now with me is all the emotion that I shared with all the crew, with Piaf, with Olivier, and I can feel and I can understand what they feel, because I felt it before. That’s something that I love, and that’s what I am here in that job for, amongst many things, to be able to share this and to feel like there’s a circle of emotion in sharing.
As Edith you had to scream and yell at a lot of people. Did you strain your own voice?
[laughs] I have to be honest. Yes, a little bit. [laughs] But in a measure that I would control. To have that in order to get that voice, the preparation in the morning was to sing very, very, very loud. And very low. Low register, but very loud. And that’s how I tried to get to that voice I wanted to have. But for the end, for example, of the movie, I wanted this little broken voice. But then you can’t break your voice, because you have to work the next day. But sometimes I tried to be at the limit to have that voice. But I’m not able to hurt myself, [fortunately] for me. And I don’t want it. I want to push to the limit, but never cross it.
Was there anything you learned about Piaf’s life from your own research that you would have liked to see in the film?
Not really…Her last husband was someone very important in her life, and who was a very good guy. He loved her. He really, truly loved her, even if, of course, it was like a platonic love. But he was there for her, and the love was true. And when Olivier asked me if I would have loved to see something add to the movie, it was the only thing. But when I read the movie, I knew that it was Olivier’s vision, and I really liked it. So yeah, I was fulfilled with what was there. And the thing is, I knew that all the scenes would teach something about her, would tell something about her. And I really think it was about her intimacy. For me, I had all I needed in the script.
Do you think people will rediscover Edith Piaf through this movie?
I think that not many people know about her life. But I think that yes, you can re-discover her songs.
Do you plan on doing any more American or English-language movies?
I don’t see it that way. I mean, there’s a lot of directors I dream of in this country, but it’s more about the stories and the people who you meet than about the country you work in. But I hope so. [laughs]