Marie Gillain, famous since she was 16
"Marie Gillain is one of the most beautiful gifts that Belgium has given to global cinema."
(Bertrand Tavernier, JT RTBF, 23.2.1996)
Born on 18 June 1975 to a mother who wrote stories for children and to father who was a journalist, Marie Gillain grew up in the Belgian countryside, in a small village a few kilometres from Liège. She studied at the Collège Saint-Louis in Liège and took theatre courses at the local studio, “Le Vivier”.
In 1991, she took off to Mauritius for her first role and starred alongside Gérard Depardieu in Mon père, ce héros (My Father the Hero) by Gérard Lauzier. The film was a huge success. The young actress was introduced to the general public at just 16 years old, and she received a French César Awards nomination for Most Promising Actress. Four years later, she was blessed with the Bertrand Tavernier film L'Appât (Fresh Bait), which let her land the Prix Romy Schneider. At the same time, she had a successful debut on stage in Le journal d'Anne Frank (The Diary of Anne Frank), an introduction that earned her a nomination for the French Molière award for Best Female Newcomer. In cinema, she starred alongside Isabelle Huppert in Les Affinités électives (The Elective Affinities) by the Taviani brothers, but it was with another film in 1997, Le Bossu (On Guard), that she regained the favour of audiences. Graceful and daring, she wielded a sword side by side with Daniel Auteuil.
Her repertoire boasts highly varied roles in the following decade, including Laissons Lucie Faire!; Barnie et ses petites contrariétés; Ni pour ni contre (Not for, or Against); Pars vite et reviens tard (Have Mercy on Us All); and Les femmes de l'ombre (Female Agents). The actress has also been voicing one of the characters in Kung Fu Panda since 2007. She portrayed the sister of Coco Chanel in the Anne Fontaine film, Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel) in 2009. The actress hoped to play characters of more mature women and gave her reasoning in a long letter to film director Philippe Loiret, whom she convinced to let her take over the role of judge Claire Conti in Toutes nos envies (All Our Desires) (2011). In 2012, she was on the film poster for Landes by François-Xavier Vives. In 2014, she shot Mirage d'amour avec fanfare alongside Jean-François Stévenin, under Belgian film director Hubert Toint.
Marie is willing to do quite a bit to slide into the shoes of her characters: learn fencing (le Bossu (On Guard)), mar her beauty (Un air si pur (An Air So Pure)), overcome her reserve, and learn Turkish and Italian (Harem Suare (Last Harem)), etc.
All it took was for her to reveal herself in a few brilliant photos in the French magazine Lui for her image to change. She expressed in a mix of wonder and false innocence that, "It's funny how your image can change based off of what people remember about you. All of a sudden, I became some scandalous actress, even though I was widely described as sweet and innocent before."
We were able to applaud her talented performance in the Parisian Petit Saint-Martin Theatre for Constellations, a piece written by Nick Payne and produced by Marc Paquien.
Photo: © Wikipedia / Georges Biard