Legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert has been acting on stage and screen for more than 40 years. Over her career she has reaped two Best Actress prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, two at the Venice Film Festival, and 16 nominations for the César Awards, France’s Oscars.
But for her performance as a rape-victim-turned-avenger in Elle, the provocative satire from director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Basic Instinct), has turned Huppert into an awards magnet thus far. Just in the last two weeks, she’s collected prizes from the Gotham Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. (The latter two also cited her performance in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come.)
And Monday, for the first time, Huppert is a Golden Globe nominee. The actress, 63, spoke to EW by telephone two hours after receiving word of her recognition.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations, Isabelle. Where are you calling from?
ISABELLE HUPPERT: I’m on the road, I’m in a car, heading from Liège in Belgium, where I acted in Phaedra(s), the play that I performed in BAM in Brooklyn last September. Now I’m on my way to Luxembourg, where I’m going to be onstage again. It’s just an amazing few weeks for me.
And how do you feel about this news, your first nomination?
Absolutely, yeah, it’s my first nomination for the Golden Globes. I can’t tell you how happy and thrilled and grateful I am to the Hollywood Foreign Press.
Have you been to the ceremony before?
I think I was. Well, actually I know I was for Story of Women, the film I made for Claude Chabrol in 1988. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. We didn’t win but I attended and I have a wonderful memory of that night. It was one of those once-in-your-life memories. But that was a long time ago.
Isn’t it great that a movie as challenging — and entertaining — as Elle is even getting all this attention.
It’s wonderful. It makes me believe in cinema. The film is complex — but that’s what we should always expect from films. Sometimes things can be very challenging and still work. And when it’s Paul Verhoeven directing, I think he makes people excited by the depth and multiple layers and everything he’s saying about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man. And when I hear that it’s playing well in America, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.
I saw you at the Gotham Awards and I’d never seen you so excited.
Oh, absolutely. How could I not?
This is also an extremely challenging female character for audiences to confront.
She’s not the victim nor the classical male avenger. That’s complex! The more I hear new interpretations of her, the more I’m fascinated. Someone told me the other day that when she buys the gun in the film, it’s like she’s buying a bottle of perfume. She’s doesn’t have the qualities of a man in any of the caricatured sense, but she lives by herself, she’s fearless, she ruthless, she rules so many people’s lives around her. But she’s never to reduced to the simplicity of anything. The movie blurs the definitions of male and female prototypes.
But we also feel like we clearly know who she is.
Of course. The film is not filled with all this ambiguity. By the end, we see what she has done. I love the character so much because she is very clear.
That’s true, and yet at the same time, people are going to be debating Elle for years.
Good! I hope so. Thank you for saying that.