Marion Cotillard and The Dardenne Brothers on Solidarity, Purpose and Self-Esteem in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT-Open in Select Theaters

“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.   At that time, a lot of people in this company took the same decision as this man, so it was a big thing in France.  And one of them left a letter explaining that he was putting an end to his life because he felt useless…” Marion Cotillard

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This transcript is from a press roundtable for Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne’s TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT.  The press day features a roundtable interview with actress Marion Cotillard, and writer/director brother team Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne.  Two Days, One Night opens in New York City December 24, 2014 and expands to Los Angeles and beyond in January 2015.  (Warning:  **SPOILERS** in this post!)

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Journalist:  Was it difficult to do the Belgium accent?

Marion Cotillard:

Kind of…..because I didn’t want to have a Belgium accent….I wanted to have a ‘flavor.’  And I needed it because all the other actors (especially the actors that play my family) have accents.  It was one of the first things that The Dardenne Brothers asked me was to lose my Parisian accent.  With other directors that had been with a Polish accent, Italian accent, so you have a dialect coach for hours, days, weeks or months.  So I needed to replace my Parisian accent with something.  I mean…we all have accents or we’re robots.  And they (Dardenne Brothers) are very precise in their demands.  The month of rehearsal was helpful because I listened to all those people around me who had different kind of Belgium accents.  I was kind of nervous that the accent would be too much or not enough because I was working without a dialect coach.  Sometimes they would say ‘Oh no, this is too much of an accent’ and I needed to reduce it so it would not be disturbing

Some people in the audience (watching this film) new my face already, which was kind of new for The Dardenne Brothers to work with a well-known actress.  And I really needed to fit in their world but that the accent should not be disturbing.  That was a long answer!  (Laughing/joking).

Marion Cotillard as ‘Sandra,’ a Belgium factory worker has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job

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Journalist:  This movie is kind of like a road movie.  And it’s also a re-awakening of a romance because in the beginning (the couple) is not having sex, they’re sort of estranged and then they kind of come back together. So how did you see this film when you first read the script (genre wise or maybe it defied a genre)?

Marion 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 in this company took the same decision as this man, so it was a big thing in France.  And one of them left a letter explaining that he was putting an end to his life because he felt useless.  And another person there (at the factory) had kids, too.  And I started to really question….I mean I’ve always questioned our society and how it functions or dysfunctions.  But I was reading at the same time about Indian or African tribes and never read that an individual in those tribes questioned his/her place in society.  So of course I came the the conclusion that our society created isolation and this question that sounds crazy in a perfect world where everybody on earth has a place, otherwise this person wouldn’t be here if this person didn’t have a place or a purpose.  So when I read the script the first time it brought back all the questions and reflections I had and made sense for me to experience someone from the inside who feels useless and worthless.

Journalist:  Your performance is such a subtle performance; it’s not ‘showy‘ but with raw vulnerability and nuance.  Did the 5-week rehearsal process help with the subtleties of delving into the world of working class mothers, factory life, etc.? 

Marion Cotillard:

Rehearsals always help. I remember when I started being an actress I read this biography and in the beginning of the biography the author says she worked a lot on preparing for a role.  And she was kind of (and still is) a model for me.  She says ‘I am going to work on a character and I’m going to explore that character 50 different ways.’  Most of the time the first way is the right way.  But by exploring the 49 other ways (when you have the time to rehearse) you can go wrong because you’re not shooting.  But on another rehearsal, you can trying it another way and it’s going to be richer because it was not exactly what you were looking for, but then you experienced it.  I always need preparation time because first of all, I love it.  I love this process. It’s like exploring and finding gold.  And you have time to digest and make it better.  I need that time.  One of my favorite parts is when you start feeling the character in your body.  I cannot work only on what’s in her mind, what was her life before (which is something that I love to do) but when I start feeling the way I walk, I talk, the way I breath becoming her and then I see myself disappearing.  It was the first time rehearsing with the directors on sets with the actors.  And we were even in costumes.  The process of rehearsing was not focused on acting; it was finding the dynamic of the camera because it was all sequence shots.  Sometimes you had a scene that lasts 10 minutes and you had to create the choreography.  With the Dardenne’s films, the rhythm is really important in their movies and they’re very demanding in terms of rhythm.  Some times I would have a scene where I get up out of bed, put my left shoe on and when I put my right shoe on, I burst into tears.  We did this take like… 80 times.  And sometimes it would happen on the opposite shoe or I would put my foot back on the floor.  They would come to me like “That was great. But if you can  really like burst into tears when you put the other shoe on”…… that level of precision is what I love.  The rehearsal time was focused on finding the dynamic.  And about acting because what you give, gives a rhythm.  When you are on set, it’s all about acting, which is heaven for an actor.

Journalist:   When you’re on set, going scene to scene, what’s the key for you as an actress to actually stay in the moment no matter what.  Is there something that puts you right there?
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Marion 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 hard to give anything and find the authenticity and everything I have to give to a scene.  So that’s the first thing…..and then….if I feel free and if there is a strong connection with the people I work with, it’s not hard for me to stay in the character.  Some times I know I need time in the process, time by myself in the day.  When I did La Vie en Rose I always came an hour before the call time because I needed this hour to do stuff, to get into the character.

Journalist:  You’ve mentioned that you go so deep into a role sometimes that it’s difficult for you to come out of this role.  How was this in your role as Sandra?  How did you go into her and then how did you come out of her character?  Of her whole psyche, her anxiety and depression.

Marion Cotillard:

The thing is….as I find the process of getting into a character very interesting, I find the process of getting our of a character very interesting, too.  (Laughs).  I didn’t know before La Vie en Rose that I would have to find a way out.  I thought it was a job and after the last cut, I would go back to my life and go back to normal…..well normal, I was about to say, what is normal anyway?  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.  I never know how it’s going to happen.  So I am always looking for this experience.  It can take the form of someone who will tell me something and we are going to enter a discussion and then I will feel that it (the character) is going away.

.Journalist:  You’ve worked with so many great directors and so many types of great directors from Wood Allen, Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, the list goes on and on.  Working with The Dardennes and their different style and approach to making films, what was that like?  And what are you looking for from a director when you’re working on set?

Marion Cotillard:

I need to work with directors who need more than anything to tell a story.  I’ve worked with directors who if they were there (on set) or anywhere else, it would make no difference and it was painful because I need it to almost be a matter of life or death.  Because first of all, when you do a movie, it involves a lot of people who trust you.  You will ask people to come to see what you want to say, and if it’s not something that you really need to say, I’m not interested.  Because it’s too painful for me and I was totally lost.  And I was with someone…. who was not in the deep need to tell a story.  So that is one thing.  The Dardenne Brothers….. one of the greatest experiences (if not the greatest experience) I had on set with them was total osmosis.

They always talk about the audience….when sometimes on set “audience” is a bad word.  That is what I love about their movies, because they are going to take you somewhere and surprise you.  I’ve seen all their movies.  I love them all.  For me THE SON is a masterpiece…I don’t know if you’ve seen this movie?  For an audience, taking a road…and then you turn and the story is totally different from what you thought entering the theater.  And for 30 minutes you thought …. I mean I won’t ruin it if you have not seen the movie….but obviously you think this guy is this kind of person and then suddenly it unravels.  For me, as part of the audience, it is what cinema is for.  On the second day of rehearsal they were talking about the audience and that was funny because it was new for me and it was really like….freedom.  They had already given me a freedom that was beyond freedom but this was….I loved it so much.  And they turned to me and said “We talk about the audience all the time.”  And the first scene is – no we don’t want the audience to see your face as in almost all their movies.  Then they will be surprised…….I found all of this relieving.

Journalist: What you are up to project wise/what’s next?

Marion Cotillard:

I did a movie at the British movie at the beginning of the year based on MacBeth.  So that will be released at the beginning of next year.  We went to the purest Shakepeare you could find.  Because sometimes they adapt it a little so people can understand…..If you don’t it’s normal…..(laughing) but it took me a little while to understand…..but I’m French.

Journalist: Who is the director?

Marion Cotillard:

Justin Kurzel.  He’s an Australian director and it’s his second movie.

Journalist:  So you’re going to follow-up this movie with a comedic movie, obviously? (Joking)

Marion Cotillard:

I would love to!   Honestly…..when I accepted my next movie, first of all my boyfriend was like…”Oh….it’s going to be funnier….”   Because I was not supposed to do a movie after The Dardenne brothers movie because I was kind of exhausted.   Justin came with this offer and I always knew I would play MacBeth, but I thought it would be on stage and in French.  And I thought ‘well this is an opportunity that I cannot miss.’  And the same boyfriend said “Are you kidding me?”  Because he knows I want to do comedies…..”Lady MacBeth….I mean this must be a joke.”  And my next movie is not funny.   Drama, drama, drama….It’s a French movie directed by a woman who is also an actor….Nicole Garcia and it will be a great movie.

Journalist:  Did you have fun doing a bit in Anchorman 2?

Marion Cotillard:

I was so stressed out because I am not used to doing comedies and when you’re not used to doing something you never know if the level of what you do is too high or too low.  Plus you’re on screen with genius Jim Carrey and all those people who are my heroes.  I had fun and at the same time I was so stressed out that it kind of ruined a little bit of the fun.  Can I say this?  I was supposed to shoot the next day and they pushed the day and I was totally hungover. (Laughing) because a big event was the night before.  I really want to do a comedy.  I would have more work than with a drama because this is what I’m familiar with.  This would be a risk I would love to take.

Marion Cotillard:

Thank you very much!  (Marion wishes the crowd goodbye).

Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Marion Cotillard and Luc Dardenne
(picture via
Photo.gala.fr)

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Journalist:  I love the movie.  It’s so wonderful and it fits in line with a lot of your similarly themed films.  I am wondering what about her story that you wanted to tell.  Similar things to working class and the family and the value of money.  What about her (Sandra’s) story?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

At the start we wanted to tell a story about a woman has no confidence.  First of all who lacks confidence in herself and secondly in others, because after all, of these other employees, they voted against her.

So we wanted to talk about her journey and a journey where she gains confidence through solidarity, secondly with her co-workers who are with her at the onset (Julia and Robere), and further along with the solidarity of the other workers that turn around and decide to work with her.  And we wanted to tell about that journey of her overcoming that lack of confidence and this fear that she had through this process.

Journalist:  Enchanté.  I was curious about the challenges?  I saw that you shot in chronological order.   Do you always have that many rehearsals before the actual shooting?  All the blocking is done on location?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

We rehearsed for 5 weeks. We always rehearsed for a lengthy period of time and in this case we had a lot of actors so we always do the rehearsals on the locations where we are going to shoot.

I am going to continue to answer in terms of the long takes…..Each sequencetial shot is one encounter that Sandra has with other people…another individual.  We found it was important  to have these long takes and encounters because that way the audience can go through what Sandra is going through in the encounter simultaneously.  We feel that these sequential takes allows the film the breath …. that you have a feeling that of real life happening in front of you.

Journalist:  This is a very universal film.  Especially in the past couple years there has been a recession in Europe, United States and in other places.  I’m just curious where you’ve shown this film elsewhere and have you also had people come up to you and talk about their own experiences where people are having to fight for their jobs?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator): 

Well of course in a lot of places we have met people who have lost their jobs and are struggling with employment and to come back to what we were saying before, in the film.  Part of what we are trying to say is a response to the Economic Crisis.

And it’s true in our region and in the locality of where we shot the film.  It’s a very omnipresent problem.  It’s very present.  And yesterday in Brussels there was a march of 120,000 people who were crying out against the lowering of salaries.

Journalist:  I wanted to ask about casting Marion Cotillard and with an actress of her caliber, is there much adjustment that she needs (much direction) or does she basically direct herself?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

Ask her (joking/laughing)….Well I think that in the rehearsal process we work the same her Marion as we work with all of the other actors.  During those 5 weeks of rehearsal, we try to find the form, the structure of the film, for instance the sequential shots.  What happens with the actors during these 5 weeks is we try to strip away their defenses as much as possible and us, too.  We also want to be ‘naked’ vis-à-vis the actors.   So the characters can be borne, so that they can emerge and exist.  We want to strip the actors of any mannerisms, ticks or stereotypical character responses, etc.  And the most important thing for us is that the characters really start to exist and that the actor is not in performance mode.  So it’s a work process that we are involved in and the actors are involved in and it’s a total mix.  We do say ‘we’d like the scene to start here, we’d like the scene to end here…..that’s our job (Joking/Laughing).

Journalist:  How does Sandra’s journey to approach her co-workers to keep her job mimic your own journey to find financiers for your projects?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

Well, our wives are maybe like Manu in the movie.  (Joking/Laughing) They help us a lot.  There’s not really much of a link.

 

Manu (Sandra’s Husband played by Fabrizio Rongione) and Sandra

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Journalist:  Can you speak a little bit about Manu for the support of Sandra?  It’s very different from some of your earlier films where the main character has been sort of an outsider who doesn’t have support?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

In this film there is a family.  A functional family.  A family that is really unified.  In our other films, it is true that our other characters are very much alone.  And Manu helped us enormously in terms of this film because he allowed us to be inside and outside, but always having the connection.  Manu allowed several things, first of all he was that first element of solidarity and he allowed us to tell things that preceded the movie in a way.  It allowed us to link it with Sandra’s depression and he was the first anchor of solidarity before the other workers.  It allowed us to go inside and outside and keep that connection going.

Also, it’s no longer enough today for the woman to have the love of her husband and her children and to have their approbation within the household. She also needs to be affirmed in the outside world, and Manu is very aware of that.  And he supports that in her journey to be recognized.  She needs to be recognized by her co-workers, by society, outside, not just inside the house.

Journalist:  As she goes around making her case to her co-workers on her behalf, she never mentions to any of them, “I have children”  She makes her case for everything except the fact that she has children.  Why is this?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

When Manu says to her “You have to go out to them, one-by-one to try to get them to change their minds,” Sandra says “No, I can’t.”  That’s like being a beggar.  We felt as filmmakers given that this was in her character that if she went and started to talk about her children, she was no longer asking for solidarity, she was asking for pity and charity.  We did not want that for the film, because the subtext/undercurrent, when she goes to see her co-workers, even the people who voted against her, she’s saying to them ‘put yourself in my shoes’ and at the same time, she understands their point of view.  In this case, she creates an undercurrent of solidarity that is a theme throughout the film.  The film is not a trial.  Sandra is not going to each co-worker saying ‘This is a good  guy, this is a bad guy.’  She is going totally non-judgmental and there is no room in that characterization for pity.

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Journalist:  As brothers, you have been directing films for your entire lives.  I’m wondering if you can talk about the other styles and strengths that the audience might not know or that you both find in each other?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

We don’t think so much.  He knows my way of being.  I know his way of being.  We have to keep something secret, no?  (Laughing/joking).

Journalist:  Your second nature, knowing how each other works, do you feel that this comes from working with each other for so long or because of your relation as brothers?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

I don’t think you can do what we do if you’re not brothers.  It’s not a contest about which one of us is right.  I am not saying that we have to have the same Mother or Father, but I think that there has to be a profound link that goes back to childhood to work they way that we work together.

Journalist:  At the end of the film (ultimately) the decision about whether Sandra keeps her job rests with her.  How did you arrive at this?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator): 

It took awhile for us to come up with that ending, but in order for it to come full circle, we needed Sandra to be put in a position that the others were put in.  Where she kept saying “Put yourself in my shoes” and she was put in the same position.  That’s why she has come to this point where she was able to put herself in somebody’s shoes, that allows her to come out of it saying “I’m happy and we really put up a good fight” when she speaks to her husband.  It’s an ethical victory.

Journalist: Your choice of music in the film?

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (via translator):

We like Van Morrison and he was very nice with us.  But we chose that song in the car because there was a refrain and it allowed for the three of them to have a moment of solidarity in the car.

Thank you very much!  (The Dardenne Brothers wish the crowd goodbye).

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