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Public Enemies - Marion Cotillard interview

Marion Cotillard in Public Enemies

Interview by Rob Carnevale

AFTER her Oscar-winning success in La Vie En Rose French actress Marion Cotillard chose to play Billie Frechette, the love interest of John Dillinger, in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies.

She talks to us about finding the character of inFrechette, getting to grips with the English language and why she loves extreme scenes…

Q. Why did you say yes to Public Enemies?
Marion Cotillard: I’m a great fan of Michael Mann and when he asked to see me I couldn’t believe it. I was very happy. I met him and I read this beautiful script. I didn’t know anything about Dillinger. I fell in love with the movie and Michael Mann.

Q. How hard was it to master the American accent?
Marion Cotillard: It was a technical issue and very hard, actually. When I started I thought it wasn’t possible at all, but I really tried to do my best. Fortunately the character is half French. But it’s very technical and you really have to work and work and work to crack it. It’s about using your whole face, jaw and tongue in a totally different way. It was very interesting – I love the English language, which made it easier.

Q. Were there any words you struggled with?
Marion Cotillard: ‘Particularly’ is particularly difficult because the ‘L’ and the ‘R’ are totally different, like totally different letters. I would spend hours in front of the mirror with my dialect coach to observe my tongue. You don’t think, when you speak, about all the things that happen in your jaw and your mouth, how everything reacts, so you have to watch all those things and realise we have a totally different use of our tongue and jaws.

Q. Michael asked you to meet real-life gangsters’ wives and girlfriends, didn’t he? How did you go about that?
Marion Cotillard: They were actually convict’s wives. Some of them were not really involved with gangsters. But they were so generous to share their stories with me – the very painful experiences they had. We spent a few hours together and it was very, very emotional. They were so emotional going through the stories of their lives and actually I have to say more than the stories – and the stories were important – what they felt when they told me those stories… they went back over all the emotions, all the fear and all the pain, because they didn’t know what was going to happen.

They felt alone, some of them had kids, and I could see and hear their pain and their fears not knowing what was going to happen the next day – you don’t know if your husband is going to be alive the next day. It helped me a lot. You gather some emotions and feelings and it creates your character. Those women really helped me a lot.

Q. You mentioned you didn’t know anything about Dillinger. Is he not known in France?
Marion Cotillard: I’m not very sure. I think my generation doesn’t know Dillinger and yeah I didn’t know anything about him, I didn’t even know his name. The first thing I read was the script and the book Public Enemies, but I didn’t do a lot of research about him – my research was more about the period, American history, and Indian history too because Billie Frechette was part Indian. So I really wanted to know about American and Indian culture.

I knew the period because I went to school and knew about the crash of 1929 and the crisis of the 30s, but I didn’t know that much about American and Indian history. With Dillinger, I saw a lot of photos of him, but my research was really on Billie, the 30s and culture. But Dillinger might be well-known by some French people, I’m sure, but I’d never talked about him.

Q. Johnny Depp must be well-known in France…
Marion Cotillard: Well, he’s well-known all over the world and especially in France because he’s one of our sweethearts’ husband. Well, they’re not married. But we do know about him and more about him of course because he’s Vanessa Paradis’s partner.

Q. Can you tell us how you use the technical and emotional research to inhabit a character?
Marion Cotillard: The first thing, the main thing, about how I work is I need to understand the character. Especially for real people, every little thing I could read about her, I met some of her relatives in Wisconsin and they talked about her childhood… But even in fiction, you can understand many things about someone if you can know or imagine how they were as a child. Michael Mann is a perfectionist and he gave me a lot of things.

The first time I met him, before I had to go back to do a screen test, an hour afterwards someone came out of the hotel and gave me this big box – and in this big box were movies, music, some books, some information about Indian culture, some newspapers from the ‘30s, and many things. I love to work this way – I love the time of preparation. If you feed yourself with all the information and you get to understand who the character is then you can really be her.

Q. Was the experience of working with Michael Mann more than you’d expected?
Marion Cotillard: I’ve been a great fan of his work and right away when I met him, when I came into his office, I felt right away there was a connection between the two of us, a really strong connection. I’m always 100% committed to a character, a story and a director, and with Michael it was 1,000%. I don’t know how to explain this… Sometimes you don’t need to explain how you care and love someone so much, but I really love him as a person and as a director. I wanted to be perfect for him. I wanted to give the best of my best of my best. I don’t know if I did, but I was touched by him. He’s totally inspirational.

Q. How was it filming the interrogation scene?
Marion Cotillard: The difficulty of the scene was when you have a very emotional and violent scene to do you really can’t think of the technique. I had to keep this Midwestern accent and it was difficult because I had to let the technique go but at the same time think, well not think about it but feel it. Actually, I love extreme scenes. After this kind of scene I feel empty but also fulfilled. It might be like when you do sport, you have a competition like the 100 metres, and after that you feel tired and empty but fulfilled because you did something that was intense. It’s the same feeling in a way and I really love it.

Q. Christian Bale is know for his commitment to Method acting. What was he like to work with?
Marion Cotillard: I didn’t work with him on the movie, except for a little scene. There’s an atmosphere on a movie that even when the camera isn’t rolling, especially when you’re in period costume… There’s something that stays in you. For example, if you have a German accent you may keep it up between scenes because it’s hard to get there and when you’re there it’s better sometimes to stay there, even when you’re not shooting, because if you totally get out of it to come back is the same journey.

Before I did La Vie En Rose I thought it was dangerous to stay in character, and more than dangerous I thought it was ridiculous. I had a judgement because I didn’t know that it’s really hard to go back there. It was a stupid judgement because I didn’t know what I was talking about, but now I know different. I didn’t force myself to stay in character on La Vie En Rose, it was easy because there was so much work to get there. There was a whole process. So I really do understand that now.

Read our review of Public Enemies

Read our interview with Johnny Depp