Marion Cotillard has had what can only be described as a remarkable seven years. Truly.
Since winning the Best Actress Oscar for her breakthrough performance in “La Vie en Rose” she's starred in Woody Allen's best film this century (“Midnight in Paris”), Christopher Nolan's Best Picture nominee (“Inception”), worked with Michael Mann (“Public Enemies”), smartly joined a Steven Soderbergh ensemble (“Contagion”), headlined a massive French-language hit (“Little White Lies”), was already robbed of a second Best Actress Oscar nomination (“Rust and Bone”) and was the center of an acclaimed drama already well on its way to cinephile cult film status (“The Immigrant”). Throw in one flick for her life partner (“Blood Ties”), a paycheck too hard to turn down (“The Dark Knight Rise”) and a musical that just didn't work (“Nine”) and Cotillard is already well on her way to living legend status. Now, get ready to add “Two Days, One Night” to her glowing resume.
The film is the latest slice-of-life drama from Belgian auteurs The Dardenne Brothers and finds Cotillard playing Sandra, a mother who is laid off from a very small manufacturing company. Having just returned from a medical leave, her bosses have enough sympathy to allow her to try and convince her co-workers to rescind their personal bonuses so she can keep her job, but she has just one weekend to do so. The film follows her as she visits them one by one, pleading for a job her own family desperately needs to survive. “Two Days, One Night” earned strong reviews at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and Cotillard was surely in the mix to win the best actress prize (Julianne Moore took it instead for “Map to the Stars”).
The Dardennes, who have won the Palme d'Or twice for “Rosetta” and “The Child,” have rarely if ever worked with a star of Cotillard's stature before, usually hiring unknown or inexperienced actors. In fact, during an interview earlier this month, Cotillard admitted to HitFix she was very surprised when they suggested working together, having never believed she'd be on their radar.
“That was a dream that I didn”t allow myself to have because I knew it was impossible,” Cotillard says. “So surprised and overexcited. Actually it took me time to actually believe that it would happen, that I would work with them.”
The trio first met while Cotillard was filming “Rust and Bone,” a film the Dardennes co-produced. While she says she “would have done anything they would have offered” her, the first project the group considered just didn't feel right. Eventually, the Dardennes decided to turn to their long in-the-works script for “Two Days, One Night.” Cotillard says she found the story and the character of Sandra very compelling. What really surprised her, however, was the Dardennes' shooting technique. From the outside their films are so naturalistic it often seems like a lot of on-set improvisation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Everything is written,” Cotillard says. “It”s super precise. You need a lot of work to go beyond the work.”
While the Dardennes required a lot of rehearsal before filming began, Cotillard says she benefited from the fact that they shot chronologically, a rarity in the film business no matter the budget or locale. This especially helped Cotillard to map out Sandra's emotional roller coaster as she visits all of her conflicted co-workers.
“That was a great experience because then I really followed her rhythm, the rhythm of the Dardennes, and I felt [I was] part of the rhythm of this movie,” Cotillard recalls. “Like the scene in the car when she”s starting to laugh when she turns the [radio] volume up. It came in rehearsals and it felt authentic. It felt real. For me, these are the magical things that happen when you know where you are going, and then suddenly there”s another direction, which is even more interesting. But that is happening because you know exactly where [you are going].”
Cotillard then transitioned from the drama of “Two Days” to Justin Kurzel's new interpretation of William Shakespeare's “Macbeth,” which finds her starring opposite Michael Fassbender. She describes the production as “dramatic, dramatic, dramatic.” Lady Macbeth is certainly no walk in the park for any actress, but Cotillard became noticeably serious when the subject came up, describing it as a “tough experience.”
“Well first of all with the language, Shakespearean English, and also it”s kind of hard to talk about it,” Cotillard says bluntly. “I haven”t seen the movie and I have no idea if what I did in this movie is good. I don”t know. I lost control of everything in this movie. I think I”m always a little affected by the character I play as she loses control of everything and she becomes crazy and kills herself. I didn”t go that far but I lost control of a few things and I have no idea of what I did in this movie. So it”s kind of hard for me to talk about it because I”m still in the darkness. Yeah, it was total darkness.”
Cotillard says she doesn't consider herself a method actor, but admits she couldn't turn being Lady Macbeth “off” during production.
“I try to now that I”m a mum,” she says. “I have to, but it”s hard to turn it off. But I”m not in the control of this. When I shoot a movie I enter a different world. Before I was a mum it was easy. I would just open the door and then leave whenever I could when the movie was done. Today it”s a little more challenging because I cannot bring Lady Macbeth at home with my kid. He would totally freak out. But there”s a little part of her that stays with me all the shooting long, which is something that I cannot control. And I cannot protect myself either from this because if I start protecting myself then what”s the point of being an actor?”
She won't be backing down from artistic challenges anytime soon. Cotillard's next film will be an adaptation of Milena Agus' 2011 novel “From the Land of the Moon,” a drama about a passionate but fleeting affair in a small village following World War II. And at this point, as we noted earlier regarding Cotillard's impressive resume to date, you simply have to trust her instincts.
“I”m not closing any door,” she says. “I mean I've had experiences with scripts that I loved and horrible experiences because the director was not involved as much as I wanted a director to have been involved in the story he”s telling or she”s telling. Now I can say 'no' to a beautiful story because I don”t believe in the director. But I sometimes did some movies because I loved the director and I was not really into the story and I didn”t regret it because it was an amazing experience. I go wherever I feel my place is.”
“Two Days, One Night” opens in limited release on Dec. 24.