“As an actress, I just want to tell beautiful stories.” – Marion Cotillard
French actress Marion Cotillard is known for her brilliant work in films like La Vie en Rose and Two Days, One Night among others. She has achieved critical and commercial success, winning an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award, two César Awards, a European Award, and a Lumières Award. Apart from acting, Cotillard is also an active philanthropist and environmental activist.
“I’ve always felt an outcast,” Cotillard said. “There is something strange about me. I don’t ever feel at ease in a group of people. I have to fight hard to overcome my fears…I couldn’t identify with anyone. At school I was considered very strange. I didn’t understand the relationships between people.”
She added, “I used to pretend I was Louise Brooks or Greta Garbo in my bedroom. I absorbed a lot from my father. He taught us how to mime at home with games. I saw it as a way to escape myself. But it was through acting that I met myself.”
On her 45th birthday, we take a look at some of her best film performances as a tribute to the undeniable talent of Marion Cotillard.
Marion Cotillard’s 10 best films:
10. Contagion (Steven Soderbergh – 2011)
Steven Soderbergh‘s 2011 thriller has become our reality, with a deadly pandemic waging war against humanity. Featuring impeccable performances from an ensemble cast which includes the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and others, Contagion is a strikingly prescient film. Cotillard plays the role of a doctor in the middle of a virus outbreak, perfectly capturing the disbelief and the helplessness.
“There were two things that were unsettling,” Soderbergh said at the time about his Contagion research. “One is that everyone you spoke to said, ‘We’re due for a big one.’ And some of the stories from the people who go out and parachute into the situations, how politics prevented them from doing their work, are really depressing.
“Where they literally show up somewhere where there’s been an outbreak of a treatable disease and they’re there with supplies ready to go in. And because a volatile political situation existed, they weren’t allowed in to keep people from dying. They don’t have jurisdiction anywhere. You have to ask them to come. They have to be invited.”
9. Love Me If You Dare (Yann Samuell – 2003)
Marion Cotillard stars in Yann Samuell’s directorial debut as Sophie who engages in a childhood game with her best friend Julien (played by Guillaume Canet) only to discover that they love each other. Cynical in nature, the story revels in its dark humour and Cotillard does justice to every bit of it.
“I love working with him. Already on Love Me If You Dare, we had a great connection,” Cotillard said while speaking about her co-star and boyfriend Guillaume Canet. “I really admire him as a director. I think he’s one of the greatest directors and I would love to work with him again.”
8. Public Enemies (Michael Mann – 2009)
Cotillard stars alongside Johnny Depp in Michael Mann’s 2009 crime biopic as Billie Frechette, the girl who famous American gangster John Dillinger (played by Depp) fell in love with. Cotillard works out the complications of her role perfectly in this cross-genre blend of gangster films and arthouse traditions.
According to Cotillard, the biggest challenge was getting the accent right. “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 [Michael Mann] 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.”
7. Innocence (Lucile Hadžihalilović – 2004)
Lucile Hadžihalilović’s bizarre 2004 mystery drama focuses on an unusual private school for girls where new students show up in coffins. Cotillard puts up a strong performance as Mademoiselle Eva, one of the teachers working at the strange establishment.
Cotillard acts as a guiding female presence who makes the students indulge fairy-like dances through a nearby forest and teaches them mysterious life lessons. Oscillating between the innocence of childhood and the awareness of female sexuality, Hadžihalilović’s work is a unique experience.
6. Macbeth (Justin Kurzel – 2015)
Justin Kurzel’s innovative 2015 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play features Cotillard in the pivotal role of Lady Macbeth. Together with Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, she plans regicide. The actress seamlessly transitions from hatred and greed to fear and guilt, marking her legacy in the pantheon of great actresses who have starred in that role.
“We had a rehearsal period that last a month and a half,” the actress recalled. “It was really like a theatrical rehearsal process. During the preparation, we went through all the scenes and worked on the meaning of each word because Shakespeare can put a lot of different meanings to one sentence, so you have choices to make.”
5. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen – 2011)
Often touted as the greatest Woody Allen film of the last decade, Midnight in Paris revolves around the incursion of writer Gil (played by Owen Wilson) into the myth of Paris. He thinks about his past and his ex-lover Adriana (Cotillard), instead of the present and his fiancee.
“I’m very ignorant of what [Woody Allen] did or he didn’t do, I just see people suffering and it’s terrible,” Cotillard said to the Hollywood Reporter. “I have to say today, yeah, if he were to ask me again … I don’t think it would ever happen because the experience we had together was very odd. I admire some of his work but we had no connection on set.”
4. The Immigrant (James Gray – 2013)
Marion Cotillard delivers one of the most powerful performances of her career in James Gray’s 2013 drama as Ewa, a Polish Nurse who is forced into prostitution by a theatre manager (played by Joaquin Phoenix). She won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress for her work in The Immigrant.
Cotillard said, “Well, learning English was different because I really wanted to speak English. So I worked to learn English. Learning Polish wasn’t really learning Polish; it was learning the 20 pages of Polish that I had in the movie. I don’t know how to speak Polish today. I don’t even remember my lines.
“When I said yes to James Gray, I didn’t realize how Polish was in the movie, first of all because all of the Polish dialogue was written in English in the original script. It was only mentioned that there would be Polish. It was only when I started to realize that it was massive, and that I only had two months to prepare.”
3. Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard – 2012)
Audiard conducts an unsettling psychological examination of the human condition in his 2012 melodrama. Cotillard is fantastic as Stephanie, a killer whale trainer who loses both her legs in a horrible accident. She bonds with Ali (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), a former boxer and single father who helps her come to terms with things. Cotillard earned a nomination for César Award for Best Actress for her performance.
Cotillard elaborated on the scene where her character realizes she has lost her legs, “That was a hard scene to get, because it’s hard to imagine what would be your reaction when you wake up and you realize that you miss your two legs.
“So we did different versions, and we ended up with, like, this state of shock. Like, she cannot even scream. It’s really a shock. What we hear in that take is almost nothing. Almost an inner struggle, and that leads to the question, ‘What did you do with my legs?’ Which is a crazy question.”
2. La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan – 2007)
Marion Cotillard stole the show as iconic singer Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan’s 2007 biopic. She brings Piaf back to life, following her meteoric rise from a poor childhood to a globally celebrated figure. For her brilliant performance, Cotillard won the Academy Award for Best Actress, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award among several other accolades.
Cotillard reflected, “I did three French blockbusters, which allowed me to connect with the audience, but not the industry. For the industry, those movies were not considered very serious movies, and I wasn’t considered a very serious actress.”
She added, “But even in France, where I had been around before, the big breakthrough was La Vie en Rose. It was a big thing for me.”
1. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 2014)
Marion Cotillard’s finest performance occurs in the 2014 Dardenne Brothers drama as Sandra, a young woman who has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. Cotillard garnered an Academy Award nomination and won the European Film Award for Best Actress as well as the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress.
“I was so happy to be doing this work,” the actress revealed. “I had written a lot of material, a lot of scenes from her past. I had a notebook with scenes from the middle of her depression, how it affected her kids, her husband, scenes of her childhood. So that was something that I used to feed some moments of emotion that I needed to reach.”
While speaking about her character, Cotillard said, “Sandra will burst into tears in the middle of a conversation that’s not emotional. Well, how do you do that? Sometimes, you have a scene and you talk about something super dramatic and it’s kind of easy to get the emotion when you talk about your dead husband. But out of nowhere?…You need something to use, so I used all the dramatic [backstory I had written].”