“It’s one of the most powerful movies that I’ve ever seen, but I know I won’t be able to watch it again because it’s such a strong, emotional journey.” Marion Cotillard could have very well said the same exact thing about her film Rust and Bone, the harrowing French drama which has earned her a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actress in a Drama category (and will likely earn her another Oscar nod) about a woman whose life takes a sharp turn when a horrific accident leaves her a double amputee. Instead, Cotillard is talking about another kind of gut-wrenching tearjerker: David Lynch‘s 1980 classic The Elephant Man. “I remember seeing it and I cried so much I didn’t want to go to school the next day because my eyes were so big from crying so much,” the actress recalls.
It’s obvious within moments of meeting her that Cotillard is an actress who wears her heart on her sleeve both on the big screen and off. In fact, it’s that very same sensitivity that provided to be her biggest challenge in the film. In Rust and Bone Cotillard’s Stéphanie is an Orca whale trainer at Marineland. The actress says that while she felt a connection with the majestic creatures, their being attractions at a theme park proved to be too much for her. Cotillard — who once “had the opportunity once to swim with whales in the ocean and it’s fascinating, it’s totally amazing” — admits, “I’m very uncomfortable in a captivity [environment]. It’s something that I don’t really understand, how we can take these magnificent animals out of their environment and put them in swimming pools. That was my biggest challenge, was actually to be cool during those days.”
The stunningly beautiful 37-year-old star may have not been able to connect with Stéphanie’s ability to work with whales in captivity, what she didn’t have a hard time with was finding ways to connect to the spirit of her character and her many struggles. In addition to her injury, Stéphanie falls for a handsome, but troubled single father Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and their tumultuous relationship both burdens her and sets her free. Cotillard says that her Rust and Bone character is “much more violent than,” than she is in real life, but she understands that through violence people can release themselves from pain. “I had a period of my life when I questioned existence. I had so many questions and there was no answer and I was kind of lost. I didn’t know what to do with myself, I didn’t know why I was alive.”
But those very questions of existence and the “Whys?”, like the ones Stéphanie continually asks herself and others, can lead to something quite unexpected. “There’s a process of self-destruction when you don’t get those answers because you don’t know if you’ll ever get them,” Cotillard says. “Before you find something that allows you not to worry anymore about those answers, that thing is most of the time, love,” she says of her character’s journey, both with herself and in her unique relationship with Ali. “When you hit the bottom and there’s nothing left but yourself to face, you abandon a lot of bulls**t. You get straight to the point, you’re up front, you have no time to lose with not saying things or saying things in a very complicated way. She tells what she feels because that’s who she is now.”
But it’s those very complications that draws the Oscar-winner — whose film credits in 2012 ranged from the small, intimate Rust and Bone to the blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises — to her projects. “I love complexity, that’s really what I’m attracted to. With [Stéphanie] …she was such a mystery when I read the script for the first time. I thought, ‘Well she could be a lot of people.’ There’s very little information about her, about where she comes from, about her family, about her past, there’s almost nothing. So we really had to create almost everything about her and to find the authenticity, to find who she is and that was an amazing journey because when you do this with such a brilliant director [Jacques Audiard], it’s very inspiring.”
Cotillard gives a lot of the credit to Audiard (whose brutal and brilliant A Prophet earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010) for making the heaviness of the film work. “Jacques is this mix of a very grounded person and at the same time, a great poet seeking authenticity in everything he does and I loved working with him.” Cotillard has spoken before about the importance of a great director to a project, like she did during The Hollywood Reporter‘s recent actress’ roundtable. (“I realized that if I don’t trust the director, if I don’t like him, I’m going to be bad.”)
At that same roundtable, Cotillard found herself surrounded by the very women who are earning accolades for their work in film this year. The very same women she’ll face off with this awards season, including other Globes nominees Naomi Watts, Anne Hathaway, Sally Field, Amy Adams, Rachel Weisz, and Helen Hunt. But, that’s not the way Cotillard sees it. “I’m the biggest actresses lover! I love actresses, I’ve always felt a connection [to them]. We share something in that we play our emotions and we tell women’s stories.”
Rust and Bone is currently playing in limited release.
[Photo credit: Roger Arpajou/Sony Pictures Classics]