Marion Cotillard on Singing the Wild Vision of ‘Annette’

Ever so elegant and regal, Marion Cotillard remains one of the great international film stars, unafraid of still taking chances with bold work. She won an Oscar in 2007 for playing iconic French singer Édith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose,” yet has never shied away from big-budget blockbusters. Cotillard now returns to a musical setting, but a literal one, in the form of “Annette,” the latest from French auteur Leos Carax. This amalgam of rock opera and overwrought melodrama brings Carax together with the music duo Sparks, who have composed a strange and haunting experience. Cotillard plays Ann Defrasnoux, a soprano in Los Angeles having a grand romance with shock comic Henry (Adam Driver). Theirs is a tabloid relationship, sincere and passionate in private, but publicly obsessing the gossip outlets.

In true operatic fashion, the story of Ann and Henry spirals into murder, heartbreak, a secret affair with a conductor (Simon Helberg), and the birth of a daughter infused with a great talent. It is Cotillard’s first collaboration with enfant terrible Carax, whose cinema has never bothered to follow commercialized convention. While Cotillard has graced billion dollar franchises before, like her turn as a stealth terrorist in “The Dark Knight Rises,” this work with Carax follows more in the tradition of her roles in films like “Rust and Bone,” or “The Immigrant.” These are films unconcerned with following trends. Cotillard spoke with Entertainment Voice to discuss the experience of chasing after the vision of “Annette,” the challenges of singing and working with Carax.

“The specificity of this musical is that all the music is live,” says Cotillard, “so we had to train differently than when it comes to regular vocal training, singing training, because when you sing usually your whole body is involved in the singing without doing anything else than singing.” The role itself is never stilted. Cotillard had to evoke the songs and their moods while doing everyday activities. “We had a lot to do. All the action, I had to sing while swimming, while lying down, while smoking, while taking a shower (laughs). All those actions affect the sound, so the training involved all these actions so I could understand how the sounds travel inside my body. I had to find the right balance between the singing that should be in tune, and good enough to be heard, and the actions, emotions. But it was very exciting to sing live. That was one part of the project that I was really, really excited about.”

What expectations did Cotillard have when stepping into the zone of a creator like Carax? “I felt very lucky, first of all. He’s directed six movies in 40 years,” she says, “He’s a very rare director. He’s an amazing artist. He’s a poet. Yeah, he’s considered an enfant terrible. But most of it comes from that he’s someone who will never give up.” Such determination is essential for Cotillard. “This is something that I really expect from a director. I need to work with directors for whom it’s vital to do cinema, to do films. I felt lucky and I felt welcomed in his world which is so rich and very intimate. When you enter a Leos Carax movie you know you’re going to be surprised. You know you won’t expect what’s coming next. I loved that as an audience member. I loved being part of this project where every day I would come on set and know I would face difficulties, because the singing itself is difficult, but then I was supported by this director who loves actors.”

Cotillard’s co-star, Adam Driver, who has also charted a career bridging commercial bombast with intimate artistry, from “Star Wars” to “Marriage Story,” was another point of excitement for the French actor. “I’ve admired his work since the beginning,” she says, “so I felt very lucky to work with him. I always feel lucky to work with great actors who are dedicated to what they do and passionate.” 

Simon Helberg shared the same enthusiasm for working with Driver when speaking with Entertainment Voice. “He truly is one of the great actors,” he said. “When you work with great actors there is usually something that comes alive in the scene, hopefully, that surprises you. You want to see people living on the screen. He has that quality all the time, a sense of danger, or something offbeat that is exciting and compelling. Working with him is very similar.”

As with directors, Cotillard admires the unwavering drive of the truly committed. “I’m grateful that Adam was there on this project from day one, which was six or seven years ago, and he never went away from this project. It was beautiful that our relationship was built on this same anxiety and excitement of doing a Leos Carax movie, of going into a place where we would face difficulties with the singing. You know, he’s a very, very beautiful human being. He loves this world he’s in. He’s very respectful of everybody on set, the actors and the crew. He’s smart. So the connection was easy. It’s easy when you work with someone who is such a beautiful soul.”

Annette” begins streaming Aug. 20 on Amazon Prime Video.