Two Days, One Night is currently only showing in 14 theaters, but if it’s anywhere near you, you should seek it out. The film was one of my favorites from 2014 and has yet another incredible performance by Marion Cotillard. Late last year, I sat in on a press conference where she and the Dardenne brothers spoke about the film. Unfortunately, the Dardenne interview was lost to technical issues, but Cotillard’s was luckily intact. She has a lot to say about her acting process, what she likes in a director and a whole lot more. So now, for your reading pleasure…
Was it difficult to do the Belgian accent for you?
Marion Cotillard: Um… kind of, because I didn’t want to have a Belgian accent, I wanted to have a flavor. And I needed it, because all the other actors — and especially the actor who plays my husband and the two young actors who play my kids — they have an accent. It’s actually one of the first things, if not the first thing, the Dardenne brothers asked me, which was to lose my Parisian accent. When you’re asked to do such a thing, usually — I mean, James Gray wanted me to have a Polish accent — so you have a dialect coach and you work for hours, days, weeks, months (when you’re lucky enough to have months). But here it was losing my French-Parisian accent and I have to replace it with something. I mean we all have accents or we are robots, so I thought, okay, I need to have a Belgian accent, but it is not what they asked me. And they’re very precise in their demands, so I knew that they were not asking me to have a Belgian accent, but… And then the month of rehearsal that we had was very helpful, because I was able to listen to all those people around me who has a different kinds of Belgian accent. I was kind of nervous that it would be too much or not enough. And then because I was working by myself this time, without a dialect coach, I got a little nervous about it. And sometimes they would say, oh no no, this is too much of a [can’t make out the word] accent and I was very happy about that, but then I knew that I needed to reduce so that it would not be disturbing, because some people in the audience now my face already, which is something new for the Dardenne brothers. And I knew that I really needed to fit into their world, but that the accent shouldn’t be disturbing for the audience.
What did you first think of this script when you read it?
Cotillard: When I first read the script, it resonated with some deep questions and reflections that I had a year and a half before. When I read a letter of someone who had decided to end his life, because he was working in a company — and at that time, a lot of people at the same company had decided to do the same thing — and that was a big thing in France at the time. And one of them left a letter explaining that he was putting an end to his life because he felt useless. And I started to really question — I mean, I’ve always questioned our society and how it functions or how it dysfunctions –but I was reading at the same time some things about Indian and African tribes and in those tribes an individual never questioned their place in the society. So of course, I came to the conclusion that our society created isolation and this feeling that should sound crazy in a perfect world where everybody on earth has a place, otherwise this person would t be here if there didn’t. So when I read this script for the first time it really brought back these questions and reflections that I had and it made sense to me to experience someone from the inside who feels useless and worthless.
Your performance is very subtle. How did the rehearsal process help?
Cotillard: Well rehearsals always help, because you — I remember when I started to be an actress, I read this biography of Romy Schneider, this genius actress and at the beginning of her biography she talks about always preparing for a role and she was kind of a model for me and is still — and she says, “I’m gonna work on a character and I’m gonna explore 50 ways. Most of the time, the first way is the right way, but it’s enriched in exploring the 49 other ways.” And when you have the time to rehearse, you try things and you can go wrong because you’re not shooting. And the next day you’re going to try something different and its going to be richer because you experienced what was not exactly what you were looking for, but you got to experience it. I always need preparation time, because I love it, first of all. I love this process of exploring. It’s like a like a “gold searcher.” That’s not how you say that, but someone who looks for gold and then you have the gold! And you have time to digest and to make it better. And I need that time because one of my favorite parts is when you start feeling he character in your body. And I cannot work only on what’s in her mind and what her life was like before, but when I start feeling the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I breathe becomes her. And then I see myself disappearing. And rehearsals — it was the first time for me that I did this process of rehearsing with the directors and we rehearsed all of the scenes on sets, with the actors in costume. This process of rehearsal was not focused on acting, it was finding the dynamic of the camera, because these were all sequenced shots. Sometimes you have a scene that lasts ten minutes and you really have to create the choreography and the Dardenne’s cinema is — the rhythm is really, really important in their movies and they’re very demanding in terms of rhythm. Sometimes I would have this scene where I get off the bed, put my shoes on and I put the right shoe and then the left shoe and [snaps her fingers] I start to cry. We did it like 80 times and sometimes it would happen when my foot was in the left shoe or when my foot went back on the floor and they would come over and say, that was great, but if you can cry when the right shoe goes on, that would be great. There was that level of precision, which I really, really loved. But then the rehearsal time it was about finding the dynamic and of course finding the dynamic is about actin, because what you give, gives a rhythm and then you try to do something beautiful with all those elements. But then when you’re on set, it’s all about acting and your focus on acting, which is heaven for an actor. Did I answer all your questions?
When you’re on set, what’s the key for you staying in the moment?
Cotillard: A good director. That’s the key. If I don’t want to give, because I don’t trust the director, it’s really, really hard for me to give anything. So that’s the first thing and then if I feel free and if there’s a strong connection with the people I work with, it’s not hard for me to stay in the character. But sometimes I know that I need a process or time by myself before the day. When I did Le Vie En Rose, for example, I always came an hour before the call because I needed this hour to…do stuff. (Laughter) But yeah, when I feel free and trusted…it’s simpler.
You said that you go so deep into a role that it’s sometimes hard to come out of it. How was that with a character like Sandra and her psyche which is dominated by depression? Did you find yourself struggling to come out of it?
Cotillard: The thing is as I find the process of getting in very interesting, I find the process of getting out very interesting too. I didn’t know before La Vie En Rose that I would have to find a way out. I thought that it was a job and that after the last cut I would go back to my life and it would be normal. But that was a very interesting process that took me a long time. And then I realized that I needed to do it for almost all of the movies and I never know how it’s going to happen, so I’m always looking forward to this experience. It can take the form of someone who will tell me something and we’ll enter a conversation and suddenly I will feel that it’s going away. It’s really hard to explain. But I learn a lot out of it. And I never know how it’s going to happen.
What was it like to work with the Dardennes and what are you looking for from a director?
Cotillard: I need to work with directors who need more than anything to tell a story. I’ve worked with directors and found though working with them that if they were there or anywhere else it would make no difference. And it was painful. I need it almost to be a matter of life and death. Because first of all, when you do a movie, it involves a lot of people who trust you and you will ask people to come to see what you want to say and if its not something that you really need to say, I’m not interested. Because it’s too painful for me and it happened and I was totally lost because I was with someone who was not in the deep need to tell a story. So that’s one thing. The Dardenne brothers, this was one of the greatest experiences if not the greatest experience that I had on set with directors. And the relationship that I had with them was through osmosis. They always talk about the audience, whereas sometimes on set “audience” is like a bad word, but they always talk about the audience and that’s what I love about their movies. They take you somewhere and they’re going to surprise you or move you. I’ve seen all their movies and love them all, for me The Son is a masterpiece. I mean, for an audience, taking a road and then you turn and the story is totally different from what you thought and for thirty minutes you think this person is one kind of thing and it suddenly unravels. I mean, as part of an audience, it’s what cinema is for. And on the second day of rehearsals they were talking about the audience and that was funny because it was really new for me and it was like a little more freedom that they gave to me. And they turned to me and said, “oh you know, we talk about the audience all the time. And the first scene is, we don’t want the audience to see your face and then we’ll do this and the audience will be surprised by that and…” I found it relieving. I don’t know if I answered your question.
What do you have lined up next?
Cotillard: I did a movie based on MacBeth that I think is going to be released next year.
You’re Lady MacBeth.
Cotillard: I am. I hope. It’s super traditional. We went to the purest Shakespeare you could find. Because sometimes you adapt the material a little so people can understand. If you don’t, it’s normal. It took me a long time to understand everything. And the director, this is his second movie, but he’s going to count.
So you’re going to follow this up with a comedic movie, right?
Cotillard: I would love to. Honestly, when I accepted my next movie, my boyfriend was like, “oh, it’s going to be another fun one.” But I wasn’t going to do a movie after the Dardenne movie, because I was kind of exhausted. But then Justin came with this offer and I always knew I would play MacBeth, but I assumed it would be on stage somewhere in French. So I thought, well this is an opportunity that I can not miss. The same boyfriend said, “are you kidding me?” Because he knows how much I want to do comedies. But he said, “Lady MacBeth? This must be a joke!” And my next movie is not funny. It’s a French movie from a French director. She’s an actress and a director named Nicole Garcia. And no, it’s not going to be a funny movie.
Did you have fun doing the bit in Anchorman 2?
Cotillard: I was so stressed out, because I’m not used to doing comedies. And if you don’t do them, you don’t know if your leveler too high or too low. Plus you’re on screen with genius Jim Carrey and all of those people how are all my heroes. But I was so stressed out that it kind of ruined some of the fun. Plus, they pushed the shoot back a day and—I don’t know if I can say this—but I was totally hungover. I mean, I had so much fun. I would have a lot of work, maybe more than for a drama, but that would be a risk that I would love to take.