NY Film Festival 2014: Marion Cotillard Talks Two Days, One Night

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Many films lately probe the tragic circumstances of lives scarred by joblessness or underemployment during the ongoing economic crisis. But few delve into going about somehow confronting those issues – and in the case of brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s superb dramatic feature Two Days, One Night – the triumph of the human spirit despite everything.

Marion Cotillard, who is no stranger to tackling complex characters and complicated women in movies, most notably as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, plays Sandra in Two Days, One Night. An emotionally vulnerable blue collar worker in a plant determined to pit her against the other employees by having them take a vote as to whether they want bonuses or her continued employment there, Cotillard subtly yet stunningly inhabits her entirely unpredictable role.

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Cotillard photographed by Studio Harcourt Paris in 1999.

Cotillard engaged in the following conversation for Two Days, One Night at the NY Film Festival, where the film was featured.

What can you say about Sandra, your character in this film?

MARION COTILLARD: She’s a simple woman, and very complicated at the same time. She is just recovering from a very deep depression.

And she is fragile. And she’s going to discover things about herself that she didn’t expect.

What is your attraction to complex roles, and often complicated and dark characters all about?

MC: Unfortunately, yes! When they offered me the role of Lady Macbeth, I said yes right away. Without my brain being involved in this decision!

And then I started to think, I was like, oh wow. Here we go again. Drama, drama!’

So I must be attracted to the darkness, for sure. And sometimes I’m having very sane, not schizophrenic conversations with myself.

But still conversations with myself. And thinking, when are you going to stop playing people who are so fucked up!

And I have no answer. I’m just waiting for sudden light. It will come, it will come!

How hard is it for you to resurface after a deep character like Edith Piaf, or your upcoming Lady Macbeth?

MC: For Piaf, it was kind of difficult. Because it was the first time I went that deep.

And I immersed myself entirely for months into somebody else. But I learned a lot.

You know, trying to get back to my life after La Vie en Rose. So now I know that I need a process to come back to my life.

And this process is as interesting as getting into someone. And now it’s part of how I work.

What about another different kind of challenge, becoming a celebrity and dealing with that?

MC: I don’t think you are prepared for this very real weird thing, actually. But at the same time, when you’re an actor you’re looking for a connection.

You know, with a lot of people you might never meet. But you want to tell a story, and you want this story to touch many people as a kind of connection.

When I started in acting and people recognized me in the street, it was so weird. And I didn’t know how to take it.

So I would run away! That was super weird. I felt very paranoid, and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do.

And I’m a very sensitive person, and sometimes it would be too much. But I’m kind of used to it. And it’s just a different connection to people, and I like it.

What was the filming process like, for Two Days, One Night?

MC: Sometimes we would have already done seventy takes, and I would ask for more! Because some were sequence shots.

Which have to be perfect, because you cannot edit. But I trust them a thousand percent.

So if they would have asked me to do two hundred takes I would have done it. Because I knew there was a reason behind this amount of takes.

And that was one of my best experiences as an actress. They really offered me everything that I had always wanted.

You know, in terms of relationships with directors. And today when I talk about the amount of takes, I’m like, oh yeah. This is a lot.

But on set, it was never overwhelming. It was never exhausting, it was just the process.

I mean, of getting something, getting what they wanted to have. And for me giving them exactly what they wanted to have.

How about a very opposite kind of task as an actress, doing comedy in Anchorman 2 with Will Ferrell?

MC: All those guys are my idols, so that was kind of crazy for me. And when they asked me, I didn’t even read anything.

I was like, oh yeah. I’ll be there. But being on a set with Will Ferrell was a dream.

And I was freaked out in that huge field. And the director was like super far away giving me lines.

Like new lines over this megaphone, and I could barely understand what he was saying. Can I say that I was hung over!

So it was part of me being in a disastrous state. And at the same time having a lot of fun.

What about working under Woody Allen, for Midnight In Paris?

MC: That was a tough experience for me, actually. Because it took me a long time to actually believe that I was on a set with Woody Allen!

I met Woody Allen five days before we started shooting. And we didn’t really exchange things.

We discussed a little bit about the vision of this character. But I had very little information.

And then being on set with him, I was so scared that I wouldn’t be good enough. I was always scared that he wouldn’t get what he wanted.

Because we had talked so little. And I think that I might have misunderstood what he wanted at the beginning.

And I knew that he was not very happy, which does stay with me. So yeah, I felt very uncomfortable

It was not very easy for me either, to be in front as an actress like an rabbit in the light! I’m very happy that I worked with him. But I could have done better!

More information about the New York Film Festival is online at: Filmlinc.com.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.