As of now, Marion Cotillard is only the second French actress to ever win an Oscar (for her moving portrayal of Edith Piaf in 2008’s La Vie En Rose), and her diverse film choices, which include numerous performaces across the French film scene and Hollywood alike, may have something to do with her rise to critical acclaim. From superhero blockbusters such as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, to intense dramas like Rust and Bone, she has proven herself to be an actress able to conquer many genres.
It should come as no surprise then to find her in the new adaptation of the immensely popular video game Assassin’s Creed. Appearing as Sofia, a scientist at the mysterious Abstergo facility, her character plays a crucial part in saving Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) from death row and introducing him to the concept of “genetic regressions”.
Having worked with Fassbender before on the set of their recent Macbeth film, Assassin’s Creed presents a very different movie, merging science fiction, action and elements of history. Michael Fassbender is sent back centuries to embody his ancestors in an ancient war between two factions: the Assassins and the Templars. The actress explains more from the film’s set in London:
Who is Sofia?
Sofia has this ideology, which is a very strong desire to find a cure for violence, and to erase violence from our society. Everything in her life is dedicated to finding this cure, and she thinks that the only way is to find something called the “Artefact”. She will discover that her father has another agenda; she’s been blind to some clues that would have her question her father’s ideology, which she thinks is the same as hers.
She believes in what Abstergo is doing, but she’s not the bad guy.
Yeah, she’s a Templar, but she considers herself a scientist, which is something she puts above being part of a society.
What kind of relationship does Sofia have with her father?
It’s tough. She’s so involved in what she wants to achieve that she’s blind, and I think many times she forces herself to be blind because there are obviously things that her father does that should tell her they’re not doing the same thing at Abstergo . There is a very internal fight and plenty of tension between the two of them.
How would you describe her relationship with Cal?
She tries to gain his trust, and it comes from a good place. She saved him from death, and I don’t think he’s a character who trusts anyone. So of course, there’s a lack of trust that she then tries to build on that because she really needs him to trust her.
You worked with Michael and Justin Kurzel on Macbeth. Has it been interesting to take that relationship into a new project?
I had such an amazing experience working with Justin and Michael on Macbeth; there are so few directors who are that good at directing actors. I really wanted to work with them again.
It hasn’t happened that much in my life, to have a relationship with a director who is so deep into the details of the emotions of a character, and when he asked me if I wanted to do another movie with him, I said, “Yes, of course.” It’s really, really rare to have this opportunity. Justin is different, and I think that’s why they wanted him to direct this movie, and why Michael got him on board. He knew Justin would do something different.
What exemplifies that difference for you?
Justin really enters the soul of the people he is telling the story about, and that’s what I want to do as an actress. I want to work with people who will dig into hearts and souls and make any stories interesting because it’s about how a human being will deal with any situation. Even the less significant scenes or actions, he does something great with it. He talks to all the actors on set, whether they have one sentence or 100. He is interested in what you can deliver, and he has respect for every actor. It’s beautiful to watch, honestly. He has a consideration for everybody on his set, from the extras up. That’s why there is so much soul and life in his movies.
Does it help, too, to have had that shorthand with Michael? The relationship between your characters in this is very different from Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
I know and love who he is as an actor because he’s always surprising and always so involved in the story. At the same time, he’s super creative and he always wants something special. To get something special, he’ll really dig into authenticity, which leads to good ideas. Sometimes you have actors who want to make everything special and find an idea for each scene, and sometimes it can lead them to be over the top or doing too much. Michael has this intelligence – this actor’s intelligence – that will always create an idea that is authentic and it’s fascinating, honestly. I remember on Macbeth, I never knew what would happen in a scene, so I was ready to react to anything. But because there was this bond and this commitment from everybody, we were on it.
Does it sharpen your toolset when you work with people like this?
Definitely. Working with good actors, you get to observe the way they work very closely. What was amazing the first time I worked with them was that we actually rehearsed for five weeks. So, of course, you learn, because you’re entering a place that most of the time, you never enter; the preparation of another actor for a role.
Michael’s passion for his job is very inspiring. His love for cinema is contagious and he will bring everybody together to tell the story he wants to tell. The difference here is that, because he’s also almost at the origin of the movie as a producer, there’s something different about the relationship we had on this one.
It’s a project of two halves because this whole section of the film takes place in the past. Are you sorry to miss that side of it?
No, I really love this character, and I actually never thought about that. I want to make Sofia live, and my focus was to create who she would be on-screen. I did a little bit of research on the Spanish inquisition, and specifically about the Templars because I felt I needed to.
There’s a huge fan anticipation for the film from a love of the games. How familiar are you with that side of things?
I really don’t know anything about the game, but after reading the script, I thought the story was very interesting because it was a reflection on the world we live in and violence in that world. I have a friend who’s a very big fan of the games, so she fed me with information, but I really don’t know anything beyond what she told me. What she said was that it’s really amazing how you can travel in time and in cities that don’t exist anymore.
These two groups fight to bring peace, with all the inherent contradiction of that. Even your father, who is the “bad guy” – all he really wants is an end to the bloodshed.
Yeah, you know, he has his way and his ideology to eradicate violence, which goes too far. She has another vision of it. If I had to find a way to end violence, I wouldn’t do what she does, but it’s very interesting because it’s the confrontation of different ideologies for the same goal, which is basically what happens in the real world. We all want the same thing, but we don’t have the same books, and we don’t have the same vision. Wars are fought in the thought that bringing people to the same ideology or religion will make the world a better place, and that’s absolutely not working. Not that it’s right or wrong; it’s just not working. This thing that a lot of people think – that to eradicate violence we have to walk the same way and so there will be order and peace – is something that I really don’t believe in.
It’s interesting the film can have that argument given it’s essentially a studio movie. Do you think it’s important for even the biggest films to have something to say?
I think it’s really bold and amazing because it’s going to be an actual subject for a long time. What it says is really interesting – the different visions. There are no good people and bad people; it’s all just different visions for the same goal, which creates war.
Would you want to continue exploring this character in future movies?
Oh yeah, totally. Sofia is a very mysterious person. She’s a little twisted because she’s dedicated her life to one thing. She has no life. I think she has issues, and I created my own Sofia – the one that nobody knows.
Assassin’s Creed is out in UAE cinemas now. Watch the full trailer here: