LOS ANGELES—Marion Cotillard had done something no one had done before. She had won the best actress Oscar in 2008 for the film La Vie en Rose even though she spoke French throughout the movie. She says in an L.A. hotel room that although the public was enthusiastic, there was a segment of French society that wasn’t impressed.
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“I felt very supported by the French people, but from the French media it was different. I don’t read them anymore. If they think you are getting too high [on yourself], they will try to put you down.”
The U.S.–based media have been different. They’ve praised almost everything she’s done here, including Nine, which received a lot of bad reviews but won Cotillard acclaim, as well as Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe nominations. She may receive even better reviews for her latest film, Inception, which opens Friday (July 16) in Vancouver. In it, she plays the late wife of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man who steals from people’s dreams. To do that, he has to enter someone’s dream and find the things they are trying to hide in their subconscious. He is good at it, but he keeps running into images of his wife. His guilt over her death leads him to conclude that she is seeking revenge.
Once Cotillard had won her Oscar, Hollywood studios began to pursue her for films that called for her to play Americans. First up was Public Enemies, in which she played a woman with a French name—Billie Frechette—but a Midwestern background. She admits that when she finished the movie, she decided to wait a while before taking on another character with lots of lines and no French accent.
“It was such a hard job trying to get the American Midwest accent and knowing that I wouldn’t be 100-percent perfect,” she says. “I worked hard, but it was frustrating because I needed to find the authenticity of a role. After it was completed, I had another offer which was a beautiful offer, but I couldn’t imagine that the character would have any French flavour in her accent. I was not ready yet to go back into four months of dialect coaching to try and erase my French accent. Maybe I will go back there in the future, because it’s a challenge that I would love to succeed at, but it was really hard because I knew when I was not perfect and it was difficult to get there. I learned English when I was 12, but with a very bad English teacher who was French. He would say ”˜azeef [as if]’. You really have to start very early to learn another language so that it gets into your brain and it becomes automatic. If you don’t, it’s really hard.”
Cotillard admits that although she still owns a home in Paris, she has a soft spot for the City of Angels. And she says that after making several films here, she finds herself feeling homesick when she is away. “I love it here, actually. I have had this weird thing where I have never been homesick [for Paris] because it is your home, so you know that you will always go back there. But after Inception, I spent three months here and I went back home, and although I was happy to go back home, I felt I was missing L.A., which was weird because before I came here I had a lot of clichéd ideas about it. But I happened to really fall in love with the city.”
Part of that enthusiasm can probably be traced back to the awards season of 2008. Cotillard spent a lot of time in Los Angeles between January and March, with nominations for the Screen Actors Guild and Critics’ Choice awards and wins at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and the L.A. Film Critics Association awards. She says that even though it was a bit overwhelming, it was among the most memorable periods in her life.
“I enjoyed it so much. It was a new experience. I didn’t expect it at all. I met so many amazing people that I had admired for many years. It was almost three months here with a movie that I loved so much, that I loved to do, and then got to share here. We [the cast and crew of La Vie en Rose] didn’t expect to travel that much with this movie. Every day was special and unique, and I had no pressure because if you don’t expect something like that, you live in the present time with your eyes open. You have this innocence. Even though I am not a little girl anymore, I felt I was entering a new world that was so positive.”