The acclaimed French actress Marion Cotillard was born and raised in a house of artists, among parents and siblings who were actors or performers. Her first English-speaking role was in a 1993 episode of Highlander (1992), titled “Nowhere to Run,” in which she plays a rape victim. Since then she has earned a reputation as one of the most daring actresses in the business, and, 21 years after her first American title, she took on her first Polish role in James Gray’s The Immigrant (2014).
The Immigrant demanded more than just occasional lines of Polish dialogue. Cotillard performs full scenes in the language, and - on top of that - she trades her French accent for a believable Polish accent while speaking her English-language lines.
"I like to create characters who have their own physical language, their own way of speaking," Cotillard said at the film's Cannes press conference in 2013. "When one has to learn a different language, it helps you create a persona. With Polish, in this case, you pitch your voice differently compared to French or English. It does help you build up a character that's specific."
Cotillard had a total of 20 pages of Polish dialogue in her Immigrant script. She had two months to learn the words and master the accent - not a lot of time, particularly since Polish is very distant from English or French in terms of shared words. She admits, though, she didn’t actually learn to speak the language, only to mimic Polish words with correct pronunciation. As she explained to Vulture: “I didn’t learn Polish. I really just learned phonetics. But I did need to know the meaning of every word. You cannot act if you don’t know exactly what you say. Even if you know what to emphasize and you learn the music, I still really needed to know the meaning. It’s very interesting when you learn a language, you get to learn a lot about the culture because the way they say things tells you a lot about the culture.”
Cotillard and Gray received a standing ovation after the Cannes Film Festival premiere in 2013, and her performance was lauded by critics, some of whom commented on her convincing Polish accent.