Marion Cotillard: 'As a child I was fascinated by Garbo, Hepburn, Davis... I would watch old films again and again'
It might seem curious that Oscar winner Marion Cotillard would choose to appear in a big-screen take on a video game. But, as she tells Susan Griffin, it's all about that human connection, and she's always open to exploring brave new worlds.
Marion Cotillard isn't someone who believes in New Year's resolutions.
"Along the way in life, I discover things about myself, so I never wait until January 1 to tell myself, 'Okay, I'm going to quit this, I'm going to start [that]'," explains the French actress.
And her desire to continuously challenge herself is why she signed up for the big-screen adaptation of the blockbuster video-game series, Assassin's Creed.
"I've had the chance to explore many worlds, so why not some world I haven't explored? This is what I love, to enter the unknown," says Cotillard, (41), who's pregnant with her second child - a sibling for five-year-old son Marcel - with her partner Guillaume Canet, and dressed for comfort in leather-look trousers, T-shirt and a checked shirt.
In Assassin's Creed, she plays Sofia Rikkin, the lead scientist at the mysterious Abstergo facility, who introduces Cal (Michael Fassbender), a convict facing capital punishment, to the Animus Project.
Using revolutionary technology, she unlocks the genetic memories contained in Cal's DNA in order to send him back to 15th Century Spain, where he lives out the memories of a distant relative, Aguilar de Nerha, a member of a secret society known as the Assassins.
By harnessing these moments, Sofia believes she will find a cure for violence.
"She thinks she's working for a noble cause. She's trying to improve the human race and discover what ignites violence in a human being," explains the actress, who won an Oscar in 2008 for her role as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose.
Cotillard wasn't familiar with the video game before landing a part in the film. "And I still haven't played, because you need time to be able to drive your avatar," she notes.
"But the concept of the game, that your DNA allows you to go back in time and explore the genetic memories of your ancestors, I thought it was fascinating," she adds.
The film also allowed her the opportunity to reunite with Fassbender, who produced the movie, and director Justin Kurzel, following their success on 2015's Macbeth.
"I had an amazing experience working with them on Macbeth, and to get on board knowing the experience will be on that level of joy is something I couldn't miss. So even before I read the script, I wanted to be part of the project."
And that's despite a certain mishap on the final day of the Shakespearean shoot, when Kurzel managed to lose Cotillard in a swamp.
"We were in the Isle Of Skye, the weather was brutal and the wind forced me down. It took four people to put me back on my feet," she recalls, laughing.
Fortunately, the elements were easier to cope with on their second collaboration, and not only in relation to the weather. Cotillard admits she felt less anxious this time round.
"I was so stressed out on Macbeth. I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, because I was French and I was taking on such an iconic role [Lady Macbeth] that a lot of amazing UK actresses could've done perfectly," she admits.
"This pressure never left me during the whole shoot, so having the opportunity to work on a totally different project with less stress was something I really enjoyed."
Born in Paris to father Jean-Claude, an actor, director and playwright, and Niseema Theillaud, an actress and drama teacher, it's no surprise she made her acting debut at a young age, and recalls wistfully how she'd watch old movies as a child.
"I was fascinated by Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis," says Cotillard, who reveals her recent role as Marianne in the Forties-set spy thriller Allied reminded her of these women.
"The whole movie made me think of those dreams I had when I was a kid, when I would watch those Forties and Fifties American movies over and over again."
After studying at the Conservatoire National Superieur d'Art Dramatique in Paris, she was cast in TV shows and then made her feature film debut in 1994.
She's since appeared in the French Taxi film series, written by Luc Besson, Tim Burton's Big Fish, Rob Marshall's Nine, Christopher Nolan's Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris, and Steven Soderbergh's Contagion.
She also earned Bafta and Golden Globe nominations for 2012's Rust And Bone and another Oscar nomination in 2015 for her performance in Two Days, One Night.
By her own admission, her research is meticulous.
"I know everything [about a character] when you see her on screen. What you don't know and what you won't see, you might feel... You feel the life, the past, the depth of her soul and art, and this has to be created by the actor. This is what I do when I prepare for a movie and this is a part I really love, because I get to be creative and nobody will tell me, 'No, this is wrong'. [Because] no one will ever know."
Although she makes precise notes ahead of a scene, she'll happily throw them aside.
"I'll have written something to feed that special scene and I'll realise what I had imagined just doesn't work, so I have to think of something different and it will come," she says, clicking her fingers.
"It's close to a survival instinct, the instinct of an actor, like, 'Save your ass right now.' Find something that will get you to the authenticity and emotion that you need right now for the character."
From period dramas and musicals, to thrillers and action adventures, "every project is different", she notes, but there is a common denominator in her choices.
"I want to work with directors who have a very strong vision and who have the need to tell stories," says Cotillard, who will appear in It's Only The End Of The World and From The Land Of The Moon next year.
"I've had a few offers in the past of big, big movies that became huge blockbusters, and I was super excited by some of them, thinking, 'Oh my god, this is my dream', and then I would meet the director and I wouldn't feel the desire.
"They would show me amazing sets, amazing costumes, amazing drawings of the universe, and I felt they would be amazing with the camera but that I would be alone and I didn't want that," Cotillard confides.
"So working with Robert Zemeckis [on Allied] or Michael Mann [on Public Enemies], yes, it's a totally different world, but there is a desire and need to tell a story about human beings, which is one of the most important things for me as an actress."
Assassin's Creed is in cinemas on Sunday.