The latest film for Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone, is a French art film about two broken individuals who find love at the edge of the sea. It's poetic, lyrical — and not necessarily playing at a theater near you.
That was not the case earlier this summer, when Cotillard appeared as one of the central characters in the blockbuster Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises.
Cotillard first came to Hollywood's attention in 2008, when she won the Oscar for best actress. She was the face of Dior, but hardly recognizable in her stunning performance as Edith Piaf in the film La Vie en Rose.
Cotillard speaks with NPR's Robert Siegel about her role as an amputee, her life as the child of actors and her love of the English language.
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."
On the special effects required for the movie
"We worked with amazing CGI guys, and when I was in the wheelchair, I was — I would just fold my legs in a special space that they had created, built in the wheelchair. And when I was like, with bare legs, I wore green socks most of the time, with little dots on those socks. And they, they just erased my legs in post-production. But what was really incredible is that they were on set all the time, those guys. And they were so talented, so fast, so discreet that it was really as if I had no legs on set. The technical aspect never got in our way."
On the sex scenes in the film
"You know when it's an awkward situation, you have to do something out of it. ... But those scenes were very special, because usually I'm not very comfortable with sex scenes. But that time was very different, because the sex is a big part of this movie. Without it, we would miss something.
"Something happened to me on set when we were filming those scenes. ... I was very happy for my character, because she went through so much and, and then suddenly she's gonna reconnect with sexuality — with her sexuality.
"Usually I'm in a very bad state ... on those days with sex scenes, but on this movie, it was very, very different. I accepted much easier."
On how she learned English
"Well, first of all, I love English language, so it makes it easier. And also when, when I was in Los Angeles in 2008, and I met with Michael Mann and he — we did this movie together, I really had to work on my American accent. And I worked for four months, every day, with a dialect coach, and I improved my English a lot. I still have a lot of work, but I feel much more comfortable than a few years ago when I got here and I couldn't express myself properly."
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard's latest movie is a French film about two broken individuals who find love at the edge of the sea. It's poetic, beautiful to look at and not necessarily playing at a theater near you. But this summer, you could see Ms. Cotillard on screens across the country in a very different kind of movie, the blockbuster "Batman" sequel "The Dark Knight Rises."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE DARK KNIGHT RISES")
MARION COTILLARD: (as Miranda Tate) Bruce Wayne at a charity ball?
SIEGEL: Cotillard has been a Hollywood star since 2008 when she won an Oscar for her performance as Edith Piaf in the film "La Vie En Rose."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LA VIE EN ROSE")
SIEGEL: And Marion Cotillard joins us now from New York City. Ms. Cotillard, welcome to the program.
SIEGEL: If I were to tell someone that there's this French movie about a love affair between a beautiful killer whale trainer who loses her legs in an accident and an impoverished street fighter, it doesn't sound all that inviting, but it's one of the most acclaimed films of the year. It's very engaging. What is "Rust and Bone" about for you?
COTILLARD: Well, it's, what you said, a love story, a very unusual, unconventional love story between two people who were not supposed to meet. And I would replace - in your description, I would replace killer whales by orcas.
SIEGEL: That it's not a killer whale. You're sticking up for the whale or just for accuracy?
COTILLARD: I am saying it for the whale but not for the killer.
SIEGEL: The whale does terrible damage to your character.
COTILLARD: It does.
SIEGEL: You're pulled into the water, and there's a scene in which you wake up in a hospital bed, and you realize what's happened (unintelligible).
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "RUST AND BONE")
COTILLARD: 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.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "RUST AND BONE")
SIEGEL: From that point on in the film, you play a woman who's lost her legs, and it is amazing what somebody in special effects did with this...
SIEGEL: ...movie because you look as though you have no legs below the knees. How did they do this?
COTILLARD: Well, we worked with amazing CGI guys. And when I was in the wheelchair, I was - I would just fold my legs in a special space that they had created, built in the wheelchair. And when I was like with bare legs, I wore green socks most of the time and with little dots on those socks, and they just erased my legs in postproduction. But what was really incredible was that they were on set all the time, those guys. And they were so discreet that it was really as if I had no legs on set.
SIEGEL: Was the whole special effects team there also for the sex scene where you don't have legs?
COTILLARD: Well, yeah.
COTILLARD: That created pretty funny situations because that was when I would do shadows on Matthias Schoenaerts, my co-star. I would do shadows on his back, and we can use certain takes because of that. So we were directed by Jacques Audiard but also of those two guys, and we just had a lot of fun. It's usually what happens during sex scenes. You have a lot fun. So you can relax, you know?
SIEGEL: This might strike some people as a rather awkward situation to be in, but no?
COTILLARD: Well, you know, when it's an awkward situation, you have to do something out of it and - but that was - those scenes were very special because the sex is a big part of this movie. Without it, we would miss something. And also, something happened to me on set when we were filming those scenes. It was that me, myself, I was very happy for my character because she went through so much, and then suddenly, she's going to reconnect with sexuality, with her sexuality. And so it was - usually, I'm really in a very bad state when I on those days with sex scenes, but on this movie, it was very, very different. I accepted much easier.
SIEGEL: I want to ask you something completely different here. This is an exchange from Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" in which you played the mistress of Pablo Picasso. This is a little bit of dialogue between you and the actor Owen Wilson.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MIDNIGHT IN PARIS")
COTILLARD: (as Adriana) For me, "La Belle Epoque Paris" would have been perfect.
OWEN WILSON: (as Gil) Really?
COTILLARD: (as Adriana) Yes.
WILSON: Better than now?
COTILLARD: (as Adriana) Another whole sensibility, the streetlamps, the kiosks, the horse and carriages and Maxim's then.
WILSON: (as Gil) You speak very good English.
SIEGEL: Which is precisely my question. You speak very good English.
SIEGEL: How did you come by your very good English?
COTILLARD: Well, first of all, I love English language, so it makes it easier. And also when I was in Los Angeles in 2008 and I met with Michael Mann and he - we did this movie together. I really had to work on my American accent. And I worked for four months, every day with a dialect coach, and I improved my English a lot. I still have a lot of work, but I feel much more comfortable than a few years ago when I got here, and I couldn't express myself properly.
SIEGEL: Well, you expressed yourself at, you know, the Academy Awards when you won an Oscar.
COTILLARD: Oh, it was very bad English.
SIEGEL: We'll let the listeners decide. Here you are. OK.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "80TH ACADEMY AWARDS")
COTILLARD: Well, I'm speechless now. I - well, I - thank you life, thank you love. And it is true, there is some angels in this city. Thank you so, so much.
SIEGEL: OK. So an English teacher would say there are some angels.
COTILLARD: There are, of course.
SIEGEL: There are some angels.
SIEGEL: Apart from that, you know, I mean, that's a point off. Otherwise, an A-minus for that.
COTILLARD: Oh, yeah? Well, it's just that I couldn't prepare anything, and what came out of my mouth was just like super fresh and not always good English, but, well, that was the way it was.
SIEGEL: Did you study English in school in France?
COTILLARD: Oh, yeah. But, you know, we study English with French teachers who have most of the time a very, very bad accent. So we learned to speak English like that, and so it's very French.
SIEGEL: That's the way Americans expect you to speak English like that.
SIEGEL: Marion Cotillard, thank you very much for speaking with us...
COTILLARD: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: ...in awfully good English, I might add...
COTILLARD: Thank you.
SIEGEL: ...about "Rust and Bone."
COTILLARD: Thank you. Bye.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.