MARION COTILLARD has been working as an actress since she was a teenager, but it was her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose" that brought her to the attention of American audiences - and Hollywood filmmakers.

Since then she's worked with directors such as Michael Mann ("Public Enemies"), Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"), Steven Soderbergh ("Contagion") and Christopher Nolan ("Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises").

In "Rust and Bone," she returns to France for an intimate relationship movie about a whale trainer and the fighter who sort of nurses her back to health after an accident at the Sea World-like water show where she works.

The Daily News spoke with Cotillard at the Intercontinental Hotel in September during the Toronto International Film Festival.

She said her shooting schedule was so tight when "Rust and Bone" was filmed that she didn't have time for her usual amount of preparation.

"I had like three or four days of training," she said, "learning the choreography and approaching the orcas and feeding them. It was kind of easy for me, but I don't have a reference.

"I love wild animals," she added, "but it was hard to consider the whales as wild when they're in a swimming pool. But that's another subject."

After a few big movies, Cotillard was attracted to the intimacy and rawness of the "Rust and Bone" script.

"I was very moved," she said. "I thought it was a very unusual love story - a beautiful one. And I was very excited by the subject and the vision that [director] Jacques Audiard ["A Prophet"] would have of it. Because I saw all his movies, and he had never given his vision of a love story before.

"Normally, I hate to do love scenes. I don't know who loves doing them. But in this movie," Cotillard said, "it was not so hard because the flesh, the blood, the body, the love, is the subject of the movie. And it's what my character needs too. So it was actually kind of easy to do.

"I love the first love scene - it's a mix of drama and comedy and it's very moving, and at the same time you want to laugh because of the situation. And also, Matthias [Schoenaerts] is an amazing actor to work with. In a way I was so happy for my character. I know it's a little weird to talk that way about a character, but I was."

Cotillard has two more films completed and awaiting release, including "Blood Ties" with director Guillaume Canet, her longtime boyfriend and the father of her son, Marcel. At the moment, though, there are no new projects on the horizon.

After completing 11 features since 2010, Cotillard is on holiday, grateful that her career has gone so well that she has the opportunity to unwind.

"I decided to take some time off without having to think about what's next," she said, "because otherwise it's not really time off. . . . Now I'm really looking forward to finding something that will give me the desire to go back to work."