Camille Cottin is having quite a year. As more and more folks locked at home tuned into Call My Agent! (Dix pour cent), the Netflix series in which she stars, her profile has risen internationally. The comedy-drama about the trials and tribulations of a Parisian talent agency already had helped her score jobs in Hollywood films pre-pandemic, and now she’s definitely someone to keep an eye on as she continues to build an enviable cross-border résumé.
The Paris native, who spent ages 12 to 17 living in London when her family moved for her stepdad’s job, is appearing in two films in Cannes this year including Directors’ Fortnight closing title Our Men (Mon légionnaire) by Rachel Lang, and Tom McCarthy’s out-of competition drama Stillwater.
Both of those films tackle serious subject matter (more on that later), which may seem out of character for an actress who broke out locally in the Canal+ hidden-camera sketch series Connasse (literally translated: Bitch) in which she inserted herself into daily life situations and turned the tables on unsuspecting Parisians (one notorious episode featured her making penis shaped balloon animals at a children’s birthday party). Connasse spawned a feature film in 2015, The Parisian Bitch, Princess of Hearts, also a hidden-camera comedy, which saw her travel to London in an attempt to marry Prince Harry.
Cottin got her initial start in the theater, while also studying English, and did everything from the comedies of Feydeau to Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Though she also played the antagonist in Season 3 of BBC drama Killing Eve, many of her French film roles have been in comedies. Unsurprisingly, Cottin prefers not to be defined by genre. “I think comedy, like drama, can elicit emotion,” she says. “That’s what I’m looking for. For me, it’s about rhythm. I see comedy like accelerated drama. Chaplin is dramatic, but it goes so fast that we laugh at it.”
Call My Agent! straddles both worlds, just as Cottin is doing in her career. Her character, the tightly-wound Andrea, she says, “is not a funny person; it’s super rare that she laughs. She’s always concentrated, always stressed. She spends her life trying to solve problems. It’s really the situations that are funny and she’s always getting tripped up. I try to keep a small distance where we know we are playing, that’s also part of comedy, so it’s a miniscule bit of complicity with the audience. We fully embrace the situations which are sometimes dramatic, but it’s also the way they are treated that makes comedy.”
Cottin got the acting bug at a very young age. “It was the pleasure of playing, of dressing up,” she says. “This sort of imaginary parallel that was very present in me—I had a fair amount of imaginary friends. The pleasure to be transported into a universe other than the real one was something that was always present for me.”
Theater school was a great outlet, but studying English at university simultaneously was equally enjoyable. “I really liked university because there was an autonomy. I had been really unhappy at school because I don’t like to be constrained, I don’t like discipline, I don’t like people on my back. University was really a pleasant way of working; you didn’t have to go to class, you handed in your work and were present for exams—you were completely free to work how you wanted.” Studying a combination of American and English history and contemporary literature was a bonus. “I would recommend to anyone who wants to do artistic studies to do university at the same time.”
She was able to exercise her acting muscles just after school, playing “in tiny rooms in Paris that could fit 30 people” and doing fringe theater at the well-regarded Avignon Festival.
Living in London during her teens was especially beneficial to her future career and the trajectory that it’s currently taken. “I went to the Lycée Français in London, but there’s a whole environment that helps and the English classes are very high-level, so I got really familiar with the language, the accents.” She demurs, “It doesn’t mean I speak English very, very well—I’m often looking up words— but I love it. There’s something enjoyable in the learning.”
Cottin’s first big Hollywood movie was Robert Zemeckis’ 2016 war drama Allied opposite Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. She auditioned for that and got the role; she has recounted that Pitt didn’t remember having worked with her previously on a Wes Anderson-directed commercial for SoftBank. Allied came at a time before Call My Agent! had hit big, but the series has definitely helped her in picking up other work in studio movies. The show, which debuted on France 2 in 2015, “completely aided me,” Cottin says of her career path.
Getting the role on Killing Eve, she says, was serendipity. “The producer liked Call My Agent! and I met with British agents who asked, ‘What British series do you like?’ I cited Peaky Blinders and Killing Eve.” A meeting was set with a producer on the latter, who told her they liked to write for specific actors. “They called me back and had written me the role of Hélène.”
Sticking with the serious material, Cottin auditioned for Stillwater after McCarthy consulted with a former French casting director who suggested her name. A producer on the film had also seen Call My Agent! and spoken to McCarthy about her, but the director himself knew nothing about the show. “He met me at the audition, so he took what I gave at that instant without being polluted by a label. When you meet people who don’t know anything about you, or admit not knowing anything, it’s very freeing. There’s something special about meeting someone who doesn’t know anything about you and who accepts you as you are in the moment.”
In Stillwater she co-stars with Matt Damon, who plays Bill Baker, a father traveling from Oklahoma to France to be with his estranged daughter, who is in prison for a murder she claims she didn’t commit. Cottin’s character, Virginie, is a theater actress raising a daughter alone. “She is going to help this totally lost American try to advance the investigation to try to prove his daughter’s innocence.”
Cottin received the script for Stillwater, which she shot in Marseille from August through October of 2019, while she was on location in Corsica for her other Cannes title, Our Men. In Rachel Lang’s film, Cottin and Louis Garrel co-star in supporting roles as a married couple. Ina Marija Bartaité, a young Lithuanian actress and the daughter of director Šarūnas Bartas, is the film’s lead, playing a young woman who falls in love with a soldier but finds they’re unable to be married. It will be a bittersweet premiere in Cannes, sighs Cottin, because Bartaité lost her life at age 25. “It’s very sad,” she says, “because she died this year after being struck by a drunk driver while riding her bike.”
Lang is a real-life army reservist in France and has crafted a story about the condition of life for soldiers and the difficulties they face when returning home, notably PTSD. “They are too afraid to talk about it,” Cottin explains, “because it can have serious consequences on their careers. The film focuses on the women who are very controlled by the Légion and are confronted by an omnipresence of the army in their lives, and a very big absence of their men, even when they come back.”
Up next, Cottin will appear in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci playing Paola Franchi, the girlfriend of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). She shot the MGM movie in Italy earlier this year and says of Scott, “He has an incredible energy. He’s surprising, he shoots very fast and knows exactly what he wants, but at the same time he’s attentive to the smallest detail. He’s very open and he always welcomes propositions with a lot of enthusiasm. Even when we did a reading together, he wanted to know what I thought of the character, how I wanted to play it, and what I thought of the story.” Of Driver, she notes he was “very welcoming and there was a very strong artistic universe.”
Being around all of these major Hollywood actors in her recent forays, has she been starstruck in any way? Cottin laughs, “At the start we’re starstruck, and what’s funny is, once you’re in the work, then you’re talent-struck. At a certain point it’s like playing tennis with a better partner, you become better. It’s very enjoyable because, particularly with American actors, there’s something that’s very full in the way they get into their roles and explore situations.”
Cottin says there’s no new word on a potential fifth season of Call My Agent!, but suspects there could be a film. “I think if they have the material, they’ll do it. They won’t commit if they don’t have something.” Meanwhile, the UK version began shooting in May in London— “If they propose a cameo,” says Cottin. “I would obviously do it with great pleasure.”
And looking further ahead? “There are a lot of people that I admire and a lot of meetings that would make me very happy. Notably, there is something very interesting happening with female personalities who are actors, producers, directors who are creating their own work. There’s all this energy.” She cites Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emerald Fennell, Reese Witherspoon and Frances McDormand. Would Cottin attempt to go down the same path? “It’s all very inspiring, but I don’t know if I would be capable. Who knows? We’ll see.”