This week, Marion Cotillard carries on her busy 2017 after ‘Assassin’s Creed’ with a return to her indie French language roots in Xavier Dolan’s ‘It’s Only the End of the World’. The film, based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, tells the story of Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), who returns home after an absence of 12 years because he wants to tell his family the terrible truth; he is dying. When he gets there however, old tensions reawaken almost as soon as he crosses the threshold, and the return of the prodigal son leads to bickering and fighting among the family. Louis is then faced with a choice; to tell his family the truth or protect them.

Marion Cotillard plays Catherine, Louis’ sister-in-law, and is an oasis of calm in an aggressive and argumentative family. We caught up with the actress at the Cannes Film Festival last year to find out more about Catherine, and just why she stays with such a loud and dysfunctional family.

Xavier Dolan seems like such a young genius when you watch his films. Does it feel like that with you work with him?
Marion Cotillard: He’s a very singular, unique and rare director. He loves actors, he loves acting, and also he has something that cannot really be explained. He has more than a style, he writes his cinema – not like writing it down – but he has a very special grammar in his movies. This is something that you cannot explain; he’s a prodigy who lives for cinema. He has a passion for movies and this art form is so deep, so wide. The way he works with actors is very unique too. I used this image before talking about him, but it’s really what I feel; he’s like a sculptor or a painter. When we are on set he is with us, he talks to us while we are shooting, he’s part of the family, he’s part of everything he does – of course the director is part of every little thing in the movie, but he breathes like his films – so his film, and his films, breathe like him.

Is there any room for improvisation when working with Xavier Dolan?
MC: There’s no improvisation at all. The writing is a big part of this project; it’s a play and the writing is very peculiar. I remember when I first read the script I thought “Oh my god, I don’t know how to do that”. Especially Catherine, who cannot make a proper sentence. To learn it was difficult because of the repetition, because of the stopping; she corrects herself constantly. We wanted to respect the writing.

‘It’s Only the End of the World’ is adapted from a stage play. Did you rehearse the film like you would in the theatre?
MC: No we didn’t; we didn’t have time at all. On the last day of Cannes [in 2015], Xavier was on the Jury, and we flew all together, and started shooting the next day. We didn’t rehearse, but we talked with Xavier, and he is really part of every thing he draws; he does the costumes, he does the make up, he really creates everything. Talking about the costumes; you see how he sees the character by what he has chosen for a character to wear, the makeup and costumes. We did one reading all together. That was great, I think we were all very impressed to work with each other; we have a lot of respect for each other. We were all very nervous, at the first reading you could really feel the heavy silence filled with anxiety. I don’t remember who was the first one – I think it was me – who said “You know what guys, I’m very bad at reading so I am freaking out right now”, so it opened the door to everyone saying “My god, me too!” [laughs]. [Xavier] created between the actors a very special energy.

The film is about communication – or the lack thereof – is this something you feel you are good at?
MC: It depends on the context, but I would not consider myself as someone who knows how to express myself with words. Again, sometimes in some contexts, I will have the facility to express myself, but I don’t consider myself as someone who easily expresses myself.

Women are told to be sweet and polite. Do you feel this contributes to that?
MC: No I don’t care about that. I really use the freedom I have as a woman in this society to not care about that because a lot of women have to care about that. I feel very lucky that I have the freedom of being who I am, which is not easy all the time. Sometimes you are in a situation where it’s hard to be yourself, but most of the time, the more I allow myself to just be myself.

Why do you think Catherine stays with this loud and crazy family?
MC: Because she is in love with her man, and I think she understands him a lot. She knows that he’s a troubled man, and she loves him. I think she has very little judgement on these people; she carries a lot of love in her heart and she knows that on the boats she has formed with her husband, she’s important, even if he keeps putting her down. She stands by him.

There seems to be a special bond between Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) and Catherine in the movie, as the two outsiders. How did you create that?
MC: That was a very strong desire of Xavier, and it’s a little different from the play. There are aspects of the special relationship that they create – both of them – right away. Both of them are outside this family, without judging, and when they judge it’s because they need to protect themselves from this tumultuous family. They have a lot of tenderness towards these people, and that was a beautiful thing to play; the relationship that my character has with Gaspard’s character. In the play she doesn’t really know what’s going on, but this tenderness, this very subtle – and very deep at the same time – exchange was very enjoyable.

There are a lot of close-ups in the film, is that different for you, working as an actress?
MC: I have never been really aware of how the camera films me, so if the camera is very far or very close I will do the same thing; try to be as authentic as I can in finding the truth of my character and the scene and the story. It doesn’t really change anything for me, because I am never really aware of it. The thing is, the closer it is, the less you see.

Is that part of the reason you wanted to be an actor; to have the chance to live other lives?
MC: Yeah, but I wanted to understand human beings. Very early, when I was a very young kid, I had very deep questions about human beings. Not why we were here, but how does it work between all of us. It was more that, that I had a hard time to understand. I think I became an actress to understand this, and to explore the more human beings that I could. I had the chance to explore even more than my culture, by doing movies outside of my country, which I am constantly grateful for. Step by step, I understand more and more about the relationships that we have, the connection that we all have all together.

Do you choose roles that help you to do this?
MC: I guess my choices drive me to more understanding or more answers to my questions. When I choose a movie it’s not conscious that I think about that, but probably, yeah.

How do you feel when you watch your own movies?
MC: I’ll never get used to it. It depends on the movie, also. Some movies I can manage to forget myself, which is something that is pretty enjoyable, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s just a nightmare. I know that if I don’t like a movie, it’s not a big deal. If people disagree with me, it’s a good surprise.

You are in Cannes with two movies, are you a workaholic?
MC: I wish I could say no… Actually I don’t think I am. I am a lazy person hiding behind a workaholic [laughs] but sometimes the lazy one goes “it’s been such a long time, stop now”. I am not a workaholic, honestly, it’s just that some things are just irresistible. Some things I have a chance to have amazing propositions from amazing directors with amazing stories. The year that I had has been very hectic, but that’s OK. I have the luxury also to work for a year without stopping, then I can just stop for another year.

Words: Brogen Hayes

‘It’s Only the End of the World’ is released in Irish cinemas on February 24th 2017. Watch the trailer below…