Currently playing in theaters is director Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies”. The film is set during the Depression-era’s great crime wave and it’s the story of the government’s attempt to stop legendary criminals John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. This operation transformed the FBI into the first federal police force. By now you’ve seen the trailers and commercials, so you know the cast is filled with famous faces like Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Channing Tatum and David Wenham.
Anyway, to help promote the film, our partners at Omelete sent me to cover the international press day and I was able to participate in a small press conference with Marion Cotillard. While Marion doesn’t have a huge part, she absolutely holds her own against Johnny Depp, as she plays his love interest Billie Frechette. After the jump is what she had to say about the movie and a lot more. Take a look:
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.
Cotillard: I think I knew it before, but when I had to work on this Midwestern accent and it was really hard for me and part of my brain and my heart were always focused on this accent and I know he works on details and that’s what I love about him. I really wanted him to be happy with my accent so I worked hard. But knowing that it would never be a hundred percent perfect because I’m French I started learning English when I was twelve and it’s already late to really have a perfect accent and plus I started to learn English with a French teacher and it was more like, ‘Ze cat iz in zee garden -‘ and ‘Chrees iz very happy to see you today.’ I mean it was really bad English. So, a Midwestern accent, before I wouldn’t know if this was Midwestern or southern. Now I kind of know where it is and even between British and American I didn’t really know. Now I really know. He was the one, because I was so focused on the accent all the time, to tell me, ‘You really have to let it go now. You worked hard and enough, but now you have to give heart and soul and flesh and emotions to Billie [Frechette] and then the accent will follow.’ I was sure, my brain was sure that if I would totally let it go and if I didn’t think about it would not be good. He was right, actually. It was when I really let it go, when I didn’t think about it that it was the best for everything. The character was there. She had flesh and bones and emotions. Also, a better Midwestern accent with a little flavor French [laughs].
Question: Did working with Johnny Depp help you as a French actress?
Cotillard: I don’t know. How can I answer this question? What exactly is your question actually? Is it that it helps that he knows French women? Maybe. I don’t know. How can I answer this question? I will try. I mean, he’s a very, very nice person. He was very nice to me because I was very stressed out. It was my first movie after two years. It was my first movie after ‘La vie en Rose’. It had been two years and I was very stressed out. I’m always very scared when I start a movie because I never know if I’m going to be able to do a good job or do a very bad job. He was very nice. That’s what I can say. Actually, we never spoke French because I really wanted to stick with the English, like I told you before, so that it was really getting into my brain. So I would not allow myself to speak French even with my boyfriend, my mother, my brothers. It was really weird but it helped me a lot. Even with some of my friends that have really, really bad English it was better than French.
Question: Aside from the accent, what were the other challenges in creating this Midwestern American woman when you’re French and the French are supposed to be very sophisticated? Can you de-sophisticate yourself to play this woman?
Cotillard: I don’t think that I’m that sophisticated. Maybe I’m not aware of it, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that it was a challenge, but it was so interesting. I never thought that I would have to play an Indian, well half French, but an Indian woman in my life. I got to discover Native American history and American history. So it was more like I opened a box with a lot of treasures about a culture that is not mine, but that is so interesting. I met these people from Menominee Tribe and it’s an amazing culture. I met with really amazing people. I was very lucky to be in a situation that I had to be one of them. I had to be one of the American history which is amazing for a hundred percent French girl. But I would say that the only big challenge for me was definitely the accent and that the rest of it was…it was the accent and also, I mean it was the biggest challenge to let it go and not think about it than to actually work on the accent. I think that when you work you can get somewhere. But all the rest was just a joy.
Question: What do you love about acting and is there a particular moment in this film where you can really see that passion for acting?
Cotillard: I can answer the first question. The second, I don’t know how to talk about myself like this and say, ‘Look, there you can really see that I love acting!’ I wouldn’t be able to say that. But I think when I finally found this way to express myself it was a relief because I didn’t know how to do it before that. I’ve always known actors because my parents are actors on stage and so I lived in a very creative environment when I was a kid. All my life. When I was young and my parents job was to tell stories to people, that’s how they fed us. It was amazing. They would travel around the world, I remember. My dad was a mime and then he had his company and created plays for children and was very successful with it. So he went all around the world. They would come back from Peru with Peruvian clothes and I mean it was magical, traveling and telling stories that make people laugh or cry, having emotions. I’ve always wanted to do that. When I started and felt that it was my way to express myself and if I needed someone else inside of me, which is a character, to express myself that it was okay. Voila.
Question: Would you like to work more here in the states or is your heart still in France mostly?
Cotillard: My only goal, if I can put it that way because it’s not really a goal but more of a desire, is to work with great people and in a way to tell good stories. I don’t plan things. I’m so lucky to work in the United States and do American movies because when I was young my heroes were Gene Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers and they were all American. I mean, I watched French movies, too, but it was really that my culture of movies was American. I never thought that I would work here one day. I’m so happy that I’ve had the opportunity to do that. But I’m also French and I love French cinema, but I’ll not say that I have to do a French movie and then an American movie and then do another French movie. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I really want to live in the present time and I hope that I will have beautiful offers but maybe in Japan, too. Why not? I think you’re where you have to be and I’m not a person who wants to control things too much because I love surprises.
Question: How did you identify with Billie Frechette in terms of your own personal views of love?
Cotillard: On love. Maybe it’s related to what she lived, how she loved. But where I can relate with her…it’s not about love, what I’m going to answer, but it might be related in a way. She had a very tough life. She went through very tough things. The first thing is that she was Indian and at a certain point she was at that boarding school where people told her that it was bad to be an Indian, that it was bad to have this language she had, that it’s bad to be who you are. I think that’s surreal for a child. It might be really hard to understand and it might be kind of a trauma. Then she had a very bad wedding with some very bad gangsters. I mean, he was even bad at being a gangster actually. But she always looked at the positive side of things and she was full of life. I don’t know if you have this expression here with the glass half empty or half full. She would always see it half full. I think that’s a strength especially in that era, the ’30’s in Chicago, The Depression. It’s a very, very tough life that they had back then and in this area. So I can relate to her. I really have an amazing life compared to what she had, but to try to see the positive things in bad things. Then I see it related to love in many ways. She was in love with a bad guy even if I think he was not that bad, but she loved him.
Question: What were your expectations of working with Johnny Depp before you started shooting? Then once you started production did he surprise you in any way or exceed your expectations and did you learn anything from him? How was the whole experience?
Cotillard: I think that you always learn something from working with good actors. I had seen a lot of his movies before I worked with him. I think he’s an amazing actor because he can do so many different things and be authentic in each of those things. He’s a very – I think I always say funny guy, but funny guy means more weird. I should say fun guy. Yeah? He’s a fun guy. He really likes to have fun on set. When I say he’s a simple person it doesn’t mean like he’s…it means he’s really easy to talk with. He’s the same person with everybody which is an amazing quality when you have a special life like the life that he has. He’s a real gentle man. I didn’t know anything about him except his work. Most of the time I don’t expect things. I don’t project, like, ‘Oh, maybe he’ll be like this or like that.’ So it’s not about surprise. It’s just about discovering someone who’s a very nice person and a great actor.
Question: You have some very heavy emotional scenes in the film that look hard to do. How do you handle that type of scene?
Cotillard: Well, it seems weird, but I love it. I know that it’s weird to imagine that someone can find pleasure in feeling really deep pain, but I think it’s a way for me to express myself. I wouldn’t know how to explain it and I don’t think it’s really a need. It’s better to do things than to explain them. There are many people who can explain it. When I did ‘La vie en Rose’ there were many, many emotional states. She was very emotional and there were a lot of scenes that were very painful and I loved it. Not that I’m a masochistic person. After these kinds of scenes you feel empty and full at the same time and for me it’s an amazing feeling. I don’t know if I answered your question.
Question: How did Chris Nolan approach you for ‘Inception’ and who you play in the movie?
Cotillard: I can tell you that he called my agent and wanted to see me, a very simple way. But you know that I can’t tell you anything else [laughs].