Photo by Kristina Nikishina/Epsilon/Getty Images
Photo by Kristina Nikishina/Epsilon/Getty Images

It’s pretty safe to say that Marion Cotillard is an actress in a league of her own. To label her a “celebrity” is almost doing her a disservice, since she harks back to a time when digital media, selfies, and tabloid journalism didn’t exist. You won’t see her surface much on gossip sites, gallivanting around Hollywood (Starbucks in hand), emerging from the gym, or visiting the latest “it” celebrity haunt. She doesn’t seek out publicity, but she’ll play the media game when she needs to—on her terms, and in service to her craft. The only time you’ll get a glimpse of her, it seems, is in attendance at the cream of the crop of awards shows, or when she’s hard at work on the set of her latest picture.

And this fall, Cotillard is regaling us with many pictures—three in fact—coming out in rapid succession. Speaking on the phone from London, where she’s wrapping up shooting the final scenes on the film Assassin’s Creed with Michael Fassbender, the actress is soft-spoken, polite and perhaps a bit shy, with her thick Parisian accent still intact. In Assassin’s Creed, Cotillard plays the role of a scientist trying to find a cure for violence in a time-shifting fantasy-action world. Steeped in history and mythology (the film takes place largely in 15th-century Spain), the film (set for a late December release) is based on a popular video game, which may at first seem like an odd choice for Cotillard. But as she tells it, playing a diverse array of roles is in keeping with her vision as an actress and being a consummate explorer. “I [always] look for something I’ve never done before, that’s what I’m interested in, exploring more of the human heart and soul,” she says. “I look for a story that moves me or teaches me something.”

Based in Paris when she’s not filming, Cotillard keeps a relatively low profile, so it may seem as though the actress has been out of the spotlight for some time. In fact, she hasn’t: it was just last year that she was nominated for an Oscar for her role as a young working mother fighting to save her job in Two Days, One Night. But with today’s 24-hour news cycle, where things trend on Twitter for a few hours and then disappear, one year can seem like an eternity. Cotillard has nonetheless been very busy: in May, she wrapped the film Allied with Brad Pitt and A-list director Robert Zemeckis, which is set for an Oscar-season release at the end of November. Set in the early 1940s, the film focuses on French intelligence agent Marianne Beausejour, who marries a British agent (played by Pitt) after embarking on a dangerous mission in Casablanca. Pitt’s character learns that his wife, and the mother of his child, is likely a Nazi spy and begins to investigate her. Cotillard describes the piece as “a love story that is complicated by the situation of war in the world.” The actress has nothing but praise for Pitt, who she had never worked with prior to Allied. “I think he’s one of the most amazing American actors and I was really looking forward to working with him,” she says. “We rehearsed for two weeks before we started shooting. When you work with someone you haven’t met before, you don’t know how this person works, so you rehearse for a few weeks so you can really create a way of working all together.”

Despite recent tabloid speculation that she and co-star Pitt were getting a bit too cozy on the set of their film, Cotillard is clearly committed to her family, which includes long-time partner and film director Guillaume Canet, with whom she has a five-year-old son, Marcel. (Pitt is famously married to Angelina Jolie and the pair have six children together.)

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 31: Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt seen filming scenes for 'Five Seconds Of Silence in Hampstead on March 31, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Huckle/GC Images)
Cotillard and Pitt on the set of Allied. Photo by Alex Huckle/GC Images

Of wrapping a film, Cotillard says that it can be bittersweet: “It’s always a good experience—in a way, you’re happy to go back to your family and see your friends, but at the same time you miss something very intense. Sometimes it’s hard to leave a character because you love being this person so much and the energy created by the crew on the set is really amazing. But then again, you go back to your life and to the ones you love and it’s a great thing to finish a movie too.”

Cotillard was thankful to be reunited with actor Michael Fassbender and director Justin Kurzel on Assassin’s Creed, both of whom she worked with on Macbeth in 2015. “I was very happy to work with [Fassbender] again because he’s such a committed, passionate actor—and also to work again with Justin. So a few of us reconnected for a very different movie, but I really found the same passion and the same connection in all of them and it was fun to explore a whole different world, different characters. I really loved it.”

Though the actress is often paired with notable leading men on screen, she relished the chance to work with French actresses Nathalie Baye and Léa Seydoux in It’s Only the End of the World, out this month. “I was very happy that I did this Canadian movie with two actresses that I admire a lot,” she says. “I was very fascinated by them, and I would love to work with more actresses.” The film, directed by homegrown boy wonder Xavier Dolan, was nominated for the Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival and Dolan nabbed the fest’s Grand Prize.

At the premiere of that film, the star landed on many best-dressed lists, looking elegant in a black Christian Dior gown. In fact, the actress always seems to appear effortlessly chic, whether she’s on the red carpet, or sitting front-row at Dior fashion shows. A long-time face of the brand’s Lady Dior handbags, Cotillard admits that it wasn’t until her introduction to the storied fashion house that she became schooled in the world of style. “I didn’t know much about fashion and that was a little intimidating for me,” she says of first joining Dior back in 2008. “I’m not sure I have a style, but when I started working for Dior, I met John Galliano and he really opened my mind to the fact that fashion was a form of art and that you could give a message through this world of fashion. I would say that Dior really taught me everything I know about fashion, which is not much, but at least now I see that it’s a form of art.”

Cotillard is nothing if not committed to her work, to which her countless awards—(74 and counting, including an Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose)—can attest. In fact, the actress has turned down roles in the past if she doesn’t feel ready. “Sometimes I refuse to do projects because I don’t [feel I] have the time to work on an accent, or if I feel like I don’t have enough time to do a good job,” she says. “It breaks my heart, but I won’t do it, because some characters just require a lot of work and you need to have the time to work.”

That said, Cotillard does her best to balance work and family life as much as possible. Any downtime she gets is all about family and friends. “I like to share moments, share my time with my friends, my family, with new people; I have amazing and interesting friends who have amazing friends so meeting a very interesting person is something that I love. Sharing things with people is one of the most important things to me.” That Cotillard is something of a national treasure in France is no surprise; she won the country’s top artistic merit award in 2010 and in July her name was put forth for the country’s highest order, The Legion of Honour. Outside of her acting efforts, she has been a longstanding supporter of the environment. In 2010, she created a series of travelogue videos with Greenpeace, in which she travelled through the Congolese rainforests, bearing witness to the destruction caused by logging. She has also lent her support to raise awareness for illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest. “I support [Greenpeace] and any time I can lend my voice to a cause and draw attention to it, I do it,” she says. “I work with some other organizations too and I help shine a light on those people who have very important things to say. It’s a chance to make this world a little better.”

It’s this passion for life and learning that drives Cotillard in her work as well. It’s about “understanding who you are,” she says.

“I have a passion for human beings and I try to understand them, and try to explore different people.”