Initially, director Jacques Audiard didn't want a professional actor to play Ali, so he started looking for possible candidates for the role at gyms and boxing clubs. After auditioning more than 200 candidates with no success, the casting director showed Rundskop (2011) to Audiard and he chose Matthias Schoenaerts based on that. Before that, Schoenaerts did a casting twice without Audiard, and then he wanted to meet the actor and he got the role.
Marion Cotillard stated that she hates filming sex scenes, which for her are usually the worst part of being an actress, but for the first time she enjoyed her sex scenes in a movie with Rust and Bone. She said: "I am shaking; I feel very bad and I want to cry most of the time because I hate it so much, but here it was totally different. I was so involved with my character that I was happy she would enjoy something like that. It's a movie about love, about flesh, about rust and bone and heart and sex, so without the sex scenes the movie would have missed something".
Within minutes of her arrival for the first day of rehearsal at the Marineland in Antibes, in the South of France, Marion Cotillard was required to watch the whales perform for a crowd. "I was jet-lagged and sensitive," she recalls. A female trainer assigned to work with her on her character asked what she thought. "I didn't want to be disrespectful, but I said, 'I'm sorry, but I have to be honest - I hate this situation. I hate to see animals doing clown things. I think it's horrible', she remembered.
Matthias Schoenaerts spent two months boxing, doing MMA training on a daily basis and also doing weightlifting and eating junk food like burgers, ice-cream and pizza in order to gain weight and a little belly, because Jacques Audiard wanted Ali to look strong but not fit, a bit unhealthy because the character is poor, so he doesn't have the means to feed himself properly.
The movie is based on the short stories "Rust and Bone" and "Rocket Ride" from the book "Rust and Bone" by Canadian author Craig Davidson. In the book, it's a man who loses his legs after a killer whale attack, but director Jacques Audiard decided to change the gender of the trainer for a woman because he thought that his previous movie A Prophet (2009) had enough men.
Marion Cotillard is an environmental activist and unabashed animal lover and has been a spokeswoman for Greenpeace. The idea of a movie where whales are kept captive in tanks for the amusement of the public was against everything she stood for. Cotillard said she forgot all about the conversation until she was cast in "Rust and Bone" - a job she accepted because of Jacques Audiard, and because Stéphanie was an intriguing mystery - and she had a scene with the orcas kept at Marineland Antibes, in the south of France. Then it came back to her. "It's me now in this sea land that I hate so much. But then I met the trainers and I met the animals and I finally considered them as animals and not as freaks, I mean as poor animals turned into freaks by human beings. So, yeah, I had to do the job, but I will never go back to a Marineland. I respect the trainers, but I don't understand how you put such an animal in a swimming pool. It's beyond understanding."
Marion Cotillard was shooting "Rust and Bone" in France and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) in USA at the same time and a few months after she gave birth to her son, Marcel. She was flying back and forth between USA and France to shoot both movies.
Cate Blanchett wrote an op-ed for Variety praising Marion Cotillard's performance in the film, describing it as "simply astonishing" and said that "Marion has created a character of nobility and candour, seamlessly melding herself into a world we could not have known without her". The two actresses competed for the The 80th Annual Academy Awards (2008) for Best Actress, Blanchett was nominated for her performance in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) and Cotillard for her performance in La Vie en Rose (2007). Cotillard won the Oscar.
Armand Verdure was chosen to play Sam after the casting agent saw him at the streets of a French ghetto. The casting agent started testing him out and told Jacques Audiard: "I know what you're thinking, but don't take him because it's going to be hell. The kid is a little nuts." and Audiard said: "He's the one" and gave the part to him. Then, Matthias Schoenaerts met the boy and was completely attached to him, and they spent months together as the boy adapted to the notion of being on a set and doing scenes more than once.
There's a scene where Cotillard's character stands in front of a glass tank as a whale swims up to her and moves from side to side at her direction, there's no big secret to it - "you give them fish and they do anything you want them to do" - but Cotillard said it was an amazing encounter nonetheless. She felt she had a special relationship with the orca during rehearsal, although that changed when the scene was actually filmed. "There were so many people behind me that the orca got scared and suddenly she screamed at me and she opened her mouth and even with the security glass I was totally shocked. And I cried that day", she said.
After watching the film at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012, author Craig Davidson stated that the film is better than his book, he even approved Jacques Audiard's decision to change the gender of the orca trainer to a woman.
Following a fatal accident involving a whale trainer at Florida's SeaWorld Orlando and another nonfatal incident at Marineland, Marion Cotillard was never allowed in the water with the orcas during the shooting, and the screenplay had to be altered as a result. At first, the accident was meant to happen with Stéphanie on the nose of the whale, now the whale erupts from the pool and striking her directly.
During an interview on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992), Marion Cotillard told that during the shoot in the sea, the camera had a problem and took a long time to fix, so she had to wait in the cold water and was stung by a jellyfish.
For Jacques Audiard, the hardest scene was the one where Ali hits his kid. He didn't like shooting it. He explained that it was difficult because even though they explained to the actor playing Sam, Armand Verdure, that Matthias Schoenaerts was going to scream at him, he started really crying because he built a relationship with Matthias. The most surprising scene for him was the one with Marion Cotillard in front of the aquarium mentioned above, because they didn't know what was going to happen.
Some scenes were shot in Belgium and Marion Cotillard was cast for Deux jours, une nuit (2014) after meeting directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne on the set of "Rust and Bone" in 2011; the Dardenne brothers were co-producers on this film. They met Cotillard by chance, coming out of an elevator holding her baby, and were won over immediately. They looked at each other and said, 'We would like to work with you'.
Marion Cotillard drew on people she knew to find Stephanie, from two girls she knew in high school to Matthias Schoenaerts. She told Indiewire: "When I create a character I am always inspired by people--people around me, people I don't know, lives that I've read."
The most emotional scene for Marion Cotillard was the scene after Stéphanie makes love to Ali for the first time. Cotillard explained that she felt something that she had never felt before, she felt very moved by her character because she was going to live something very special and she was very happy for her.
In one scene, Ali nicknames Stéphanie "RoboCop". In 2012, Matthias Schoenaerts was considered by director José Padilha for the lead role in the remake RoboCop (2014), but he dropped out because he thought that he wasn't prepared for a big movie like that yet. Schoenaerts also worked with Paul Verhoeven, the director of the original RoboCop, in Black Book (2006).
For Matthias Schoenaerts, the hardest scene was one they shot three times. It was a phone call his character had to make in the end of the film and he didn't manage to do it right. However, the most emotional scene for him was one in the hospital where he reveals a very genuine and profound emotion for the first time.
To bring to life the physical aspect of Stéphanie's disability, Marion Cotillard started watching video footage of amputees so that she could figure out how to move. But she quickly decided it wasn't necessary because her character is still getting used to living as an amputee, using a wheelchair and, eventually, prosthetics. "It would have been different if I would have had to play an amputee - someone who had lost the use of her legs 10 years before, for example," she says. "I would have done more research and a lot of work on the physicality. But that was not the case. My only research was on orcas, because I didn't know much about them." Cotillard said.
The script saw Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts' characters as more equal, but in the editing room, Ali and his son Sam became the beating heart of the film. Jacques Audiard told that the complicated thing was finding a balance on how to make time pass, in the writing and in the editing room, but also finding the balance between the two characters. Because for a while, both characters were equals, but now the main character is the man, he's the one who gives the complete arc to the film, because of the kid. Audiard had this idea that the kid was like a silent narrator, because you see him with his eyes closed at the beginning, and you see him wake up at the end. That story, with the incredible and monstrous images, with the orca and the fights and the woman with no legs, is like seeing through the eyes of a lost child.
Armand Verdure takes the most prominent role for a child in one of Jacques Audiard's films. It marked another new challenge for the director, but he cracked it eventually. "It was very difficult, very complicated" Audiard admitted to The Playlist in 2012. "Armand is a great kid, but it's very unstable on set. So I understood it shouldn't be several people talking to him, it should be just one. When he was acting with Matthias [Schoenaerts], it would be Matthias directing. When he was with Marion [Cotillard], it was Marion directing him."
According to Jacques Audiard, the songs and the score serve quite different purposes in the film. The score composed by Alexandre Desplat helped Audiard with the characters. The other music, was to let time pass, for the atmosphere, but mainly for the story. So the score was for the characters, and the additional music is more to tell the story. As for the actual song choices, none were planned from the script stage, falling into place either because they were inspirations for the film, or in the case of Katy Perry, happenstance. Audiard told that him and screenwriter Thomas Bidegain listened to Bon Iver a lot when they were writing the script.