In Rust and Bone, Marion Cotillard takes a dramatic step away from her chic, seductive earlier roles. Cotillard won a 2008 Oscar as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, played captivating dream women in Inception and Midnight in Paris.
Now the 37-year-old actress goes gritty and working-class as Stephanie, a killer-whale trainer at a French seaquarium. After she suffers a terrible accident, she enters a sexually charged courtship with Ali (up-and-coming Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts), a tough boxer/ bouncer with a criminal past. Each is damaged inside and out, each makes an effort to heal — and tame — the other.
To prepare, Cotillard took swimming lessons while filming The Dark Knight Rises in Pittsburgh and spent days learning how to interact with whales by observing orca trainers at Marineland in Antibes. (Spoilers follow.) But in a September interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, she said she playing a double amputee re-learning to walk did not require a lot of study.
“I didn’t need to watch a lot of videos” to create her character’s body language, Cotillard said. “They showed how amputees who were experienced with their artificial legs moved. My character, who was suddenly injured, was learning to walk from scratch, like a newborn, and she learns as she goes along.”
Cotillard’s father was a mime and theater director, her mother an actress, but they didn’t pressure her to perform, she said. Her early film diet was heavily Hollywood, and she considers herself “very lucky” to have collaborated with Woody Allen, Tim Burton, Michael Mann, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott and Steven Soderbergh.
Cotillard is famous for her immersion in her characters but she had never faced a challenge like playing a legless woman. For scenes in which Stephanie uses a wheelchair, Cotillard sat on her folded legs. Scenes where she walks on steel prosthetics were created with digital technology. “Once I put myself in the character of someone legless, I almost forgot everything below the knees.”
The love affair between Stephanie, who retains a healthy sex drive, and Ali, who is brusquely matter-of-fact about her injury, is by turns dramatic, frankly sensual and surprisingly funny. “The tragedy was already in the situation. We didn’t need to dwell on it as actors,” she said. “They both hurt, but they are transforming, regaining their lives, embracing love.”
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
The film opens at Coral Gables Art Cinema Friday, with a screenings at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. with a 9 p.m. reception. For more showtimes and info: