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Marion Cotillard praises Brad Pitt’s French skills in ‘Allied’

By Bruce Kirkland, Special to Postmedia Network

LOS ANGELES — Brad Pitt is nowhere to be seen at the press conference for his latest film, the World War II romance and spy thriller Allied.

No wonder. We are in the aftermath of the dissolution of his marriage to Angelina Jolie, amid wildly unreliable rumours that he had an affair with his Allied co-star, French actress Marion Cotillard. Even at the best of times, superstar Pitt is reluctant to interact with media hordes. These are not the best of times.

Privately, friends of Cotillard are dismissing the rumours as malicious and false, given that “she is very much in love” with her partner, the French actor-director Guillaume Canet. I heard that directly from a close source. Meanwhile, Cotillard and Canet are expecting their second child together. She is shrugging off “the scandal” that never happened as part of the celebrity game.

Publicly, Oscar-winner Cotillard does show up at the awkward press conference, which is over-managed and uber-controlled by Paramount Pictures staff, who refuse to allow journalists to ask their own questions directly.

Privately, Cotillard happily agrees to a one-on-one interview with Postmedia Network, as long as those nagging rumours are not part of the conversation. But she has no problem talking about Pitt as a co-star— and as a willing if stressed-out student of French.

Pitt has to speak French in the movie, posing as a Parisian who is married to Cotillard but has been held up on business during the German occupation. Meanwhile, they are both Allied spies who are teaming up on an assassination plot in Casablanca (sadly, they do not drink with Humphrey Bogart at Rick’s American Cafe).

For Canadians, Pitt’s character is intriguing: He plays a Canadian pilot who works for British Intelligence on spy missions, including to North Africa. Cotillard plays a French spy, which she finds intriguing.

“I love the complexity of the character, because then you get to explore such an interesting world. World War II, this is such a fascinating period because people were in such extreme situations. They had to face questions that they were not used to facing and they had to face feelings and choices that they were not used to facing. An extraordinary situation reveals a lot about a person.”

Even shooting a film about WWII reveals a lot to Cotillard about her own self. For one thing, she detests guns and would never handle them in real life. On-set, Allied director Robert Zemeckis asked Cotillard to put the lock on her machine gun “because he knew I hated the gun — and he could see it.”

Cotillard did undergo firearms training, along with Pitt. Cotillard quickly felt comfortable. “But I still didn’t love the gun!” Then came the day of the shooting — when she and Pitt were staging the assassination scene. Things did not go well. “I freaked out, honestly!” Cotillard admits. “I knew I would be discovered as a non-lover of guns!” Zemeckis had to call for a break and summon the weapons trainers. Things finally went right.

As for training Pitt in French, Cotillard provided helpful tips, although he also took serious lessons in advance. While his character is said to be from Ontario, he supposedly speaks French with a Quebec accent and has to refine it to pass as a real Frenchman. Or so the story goes.

In real life, no native French speaker would ever be fooled. But Pitt is never dubbed, Cotillard says, and he was diligent.

“He worked very, very hard and long and it is all his voice,” Cotillard says. “But it is a challenge and he had a lot of pressure on him and he was very stressed out. Because, not only does he have to speak French but he has to speak French with French people — and then you add in the Parisian accent. I knew the situation hat he was in because I was in that situation, too.”

Cotillard is referring to her own struggle on English-language films such as Public Enemies (2009). Obviously, French is her first language and she won her best actress Oscar for her stunning work as French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (2007).

On Allied, she was more comfortable with speaking English (with some French) than she was in Public Enemies. Forthcoming releases include another Hollywood production, Assassin’s Creed, adapted from the video game.

Cotillard says she does not plan out her career and no longer pays attention to the language she will have to speak: “No, I have no plan, no plan at all. I just go where I think I have a place and where I have something to say and where I have something to discover.”

Allied opens in theatres Nov. 23.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

BKirkland@postmedia.com