La Vie en Rose, however, was a sensation in both France and America. The director, Olivier Dahan, had written the script with Cotillard in mind—he saw something terribly sad, even tragic, in her that reminded him of Piaf. Although she plays a singer, the power of her performance lies in its silences. Cotillard’s father was a mime, and Cotillard intrinsically understands how to convey deep feelings without words.
By the time she walked onstage to accept the Academy Award in 2008, Cotillard was proficient in English. Today, she is fluent. In fact, in her next movie, which is still untitled, she speaks English with a Polish accent. During the making of that film, she lived in New York with her partner, the director and actor Guillaume Canet, and their son, Marcel, who is 18 months old. Marcel was born just before production began on Batman, and at the premiere, Cotillard was shocked by the size of her breasts in the movie. “I was nursing,” she said, laughing. “There are scenes where I went, ‘Whoa! Look at that! Who is that woman?’ ” She paused, then said, “Maybe that added to her mystery.”
What is the first movie you remember seeing?
Fantasia. The dancing hippopotamus made an impression on me. And, of course, E.T. I went totally mad in the theater. I was almost pulling my hair out when they took E.T. away. That’s a deep memory of anger, despair, and pain. They had to get me out of the theater. I was screaming.
Was there a particular actor or actress who made you want to go into
Both my parents were actors, and their favorite was Charlie Chaplin. My mother’s favorite actress was Greta Garbo.
There is a lot of Garbo in you! The mystery… Were you a dramatic child?
I always wanted to express myself by being someone other than myself. I needed to experience the human soul—something more than just my soul. I wasn’t enough! When I was 10 or 11, I played an angry housekeeper in a play at camp. I was yelling at everyone. I remember the feeling I had when it was over. I really loved it.
What was the first movie you acted in?
The Story of a Boy Who Wanted to Be Kissed. I wasn’t very good in it. The more you work, the more you have to work. If you’re lucky, you get better.
Your first major American movie was Big Fish.
I was a big fan of Beetlejuice, and I really wanted to work with Tim Burton. I remember I kept the pages of the scenes under my pillow for a month. I don’t know if that’s why I got the part, but I know I wished for it every night.
Now that you’re fluent in English, do you dream in English or French?
I recently spent six months filming in New York, and all my thoughts were in English. I played a Polish woman, and I would have loved to dream in Polish. Mostly, I am confused—some people talk to me in French, and I answer in English. And some people talk to me in English, and I answer in French. I think I’m too tired to dream in any language.