“Is it okay if I smoke?” asked Marion Cotillard, her eyes checking with me right before she lit her cigarette. And while smoking is a habit she shares with her character Marlène, the drug-addled protagonist in Vanessa Filho’s debut film Angel Face, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival over the weekend, Cotillard admitted it is the only trait they have in common. Set in a small town on the French Riviera, the film follows eight-year-old Elli and her alcoholic mother, Marlène, who leads a life of excess filled with lovers and late nights (one critic described the character as a “full-blown train wreck”). “It’s always a challenge to portray a character who is so far from yourself,” said Cotillard. “You have to create a voice, a behavior, and you never know if it’s going to be enough or too much.” Here, the French actress, who has also been very publicly shopping a high-profile, all-women spy movie costarring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, and Fan Bingbing around the festival, talks about the outfits she’ll never wear and how the Kardashians helped her get into character.
What was your research process like for this role? I was supposed to watch reality TV but I couldn’t do it; it was too painful. Especially this French reality show I was supposed to watch. It’s a show called The Angels of Reality TV. I found it very hard to watch.
So what did you do instead? I decided to follow Instagram videos of the Kardashians to get into character. That was the only technical research I did.
Was there anything specific you took from the Kardashians and mimicked? I mean, the Kardashians were the kind of thing my character would dream about. The lives of these people who become famous just being who they are.
The movie was filled with sequined micro-minidresses and five-inch heels. Would you ever wear any of the clothes you wore in the movie in real life that you wore in the movie? Neither the makeup nor the clothes, no.
What was the best advice the director, Vanessa Filho, gave you? She didn’t give me any advice. Her direction was toward authenticity because she had carried this character around with her for so long. She had these characters inside of herself very deeply. There was no advice, but what was fascinating was to look at [Vanessa] and watch her direct the little girl. It was really hypnotizing. It was the little girl’s first movie—she had never acted before. That was very powerful to track her mind and heart, and to have her become this character.
What was the most challenging part for you as it was a role you’ve never held before? It’s always a challenge to portray a character that is so far from yourself. You have to create a voice, a behavior, and you never know if it’s going to be enough or too much. You have to find the right balance, which is kind of stressful sometimes. But then you have a director who helps you, gives you everything you need to actually find the authenticity of the character.