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Robert Zemeckis, Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt | © Helga Esteb /
Robert Zemeckis, Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt | © Helga Esteb /
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Robert Zemeckis On Capturing The "Movie Magic" Between Marion Cotillard And Brad Pitt

Picture of Cassam Looch
Film Editor
Updated: 22 November 2016
Allied director Robert Zemeckis told Culture Trip how the on-screen chemistry between stars Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt was essential in making his latest film work for the audience.

Speaking ahead of the UK premiere of the World War II drama, the Back To The Future director also revealed that it was the script by Steven Knight (Locke) that convinced him to take the project on.

“What appealed to me most was the story, as well as being someone who is an amateur World War II historian. The complicated narrative of intimate betrayal completely intrigued me. It was very suspenseful in the screenplay,” Zemeckis said.

“I don’t have any desire to recreate something that has been done before. It all came from the screenplay in how it should be designed,” he added.

Speaking of his stars, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, the Romancing The Stone filmmaker told us about the chemistry on screen.

“We have this thing, I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, ‘Movie Magic’. I think that on-screen chemistry between actors is one of those magical things that we don’t quite know what it is and we’re lucky when we have it. It’s so great and powerful that we assume it is by design. It happens when a lens becomes involved. When these two human actors are reduced to two dimensions.”

When Culture Trip asked Zemeckis if there is a risk of getting it wrong, even when the actors have been cast – he admits it is a fear he still has.

“You just don’t know. I was sitting there for three weeks with Brad and Marion at our rehearsal table, obviously not saying it to them, but without knowing. Nothing could tip me off until they were lit in the shot together and I could see them on the monitor and then it was boom – magic. I was cheering and jumping up and down inside thinking, ‘This is going to be great’.”

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.
Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

Allied tells the story of Max Vaten (Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), two undercover agents who fall in love during a mission in 1942 Casablanca. When they return to London, the pair move to Hampstead and start a family, only for Vaten to be told that his wife may be a German spy who has been sending covert messages to the enemy.

The film is dependent on not knowing if Marianne is guilty or innocent of the crime. We asked Zemeckis if he was worried about the secret getting out before audiences get to see the film.

“We’ll see what happens [in the next few days], whether social media destroy it for everyone. You probably couldn’t make Psycho today, or Diabolique, sadly, but that’s just the world we live in.”

The unavoidable topic of politics and the election of Donald Trump also came up during our chat. Zemeckis is practical about the outcome and prospects for the future of America as well as the film industry.

“I think the country is pretty resilient. Unless something completely insane happens, like someone launching nuclear weapons, and we pray that the economy doesn’t go down the toilet, then I look at it as a very interesting opportunity for growth in America. Growth comes from pain. We would never be having this dialogue had Hilary [Clinton] won. Never. We can look at this upheaval as a glass half empty or a glass half full. It will be a test of out constitutional democracy.

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied | © Paramount Pictures.
Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied | © Paramount Pictures.

“America is always going to be this cauldron of anxiety. We will have interesting times ahead. There will be fabulous movies, TV shows and comedy sketches out of this era. It will be fantastic! Think about Watergate back in the 1970s – it will be wild. I don’t know who I would cast as Trump, but there will be quite a few actors who will grow into it. It is really dramatic.”

We also asked about the challenges of filming the movie in London.

“I had a magnificent crew here. The most difficult thing is the traffic, I don’t know how you people live here! Los Angeles is bad, but London is REALLY bad. We shot at the Gillette Studios, converted from where they made the razors. It was really easy and civilised. It is difficult to find any part of London now that looks like 1940s London. It was too complicated to go elsewhere, so we designed what we could and used digital effects. It is difficult to get permission to film on the streets here.

Casablanca was a challenge, too. We went to Morocco, scouted it, but found locations in the Canary Islands which worked for the exteriors. It was easy at the time because Britain was still in the EU! It was like going to Spain. Today… maybe not.”

Allied is on general release from November 25