'It was really about just being,' the French icon tells EW of Ira Sachs' new movie, also starring Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear, and Brendan Gleeson.

By Joey Nolfi
October 25, 2019 at 10:00 AM EDT

With an Oscar nomination, two Best Actress prizes from Cannes, and a staggering 16 César nods, Isabelle Huppert is one of the most celebrated actresses in the world — so good, in fact, that the craft sometimes becomes second nature. At least that’s how the Greta star felt while settling into the introspective rhythm of Ira Sachs’ new drama Frankie (now playing in select theaters).

“He has this delicate way of filming people and filming relationships. It’s very subtle,” the 66-year-old tells EW of cozying up to the Keep the Lights On helmer’s intimate vision for the ensemble drama, which follows the French icon in the titular role as an aging actress who beckons generations of her family and friends (including Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, and Marisa Tomei) to the sun-kissed beaches of Portugal to reveal a grim secret that could break the blood ties that bind.

“It’s sweet, but it’s not too sweet,” she continues. “On the surface, water is very smooth, but behind the surface, there’s a lot going on.”

And it all comes together like a quiet storm brewing beneath Huppert’s cool gaze as she skinny-dips under the European sun, struts gracefully through tree-lined pathways, and soaks up the radiance of her family’s presence in an impossibly gorgeous locale before her revelation casts a dark cloud over the whole experience. But, the grey matter between the blacks and whites of the heart is where Huppert — and her director — found the most tangible thematic beauty.

“There was so much not only being said in the film…. within this plot, you have to be true to yourself,” she says of connecting with the character’s placidity amid personal crisis. “It was really about just being. Sometimes it’s kind of weird, because you feel like you’re not even acting, and I think that’s where the emotions come from.”

She also credits Sachs’ location of choice for enhancing the film’s themes, noting that the cliffs, foliage, and awe-inspiring forces of nature at work around them almost became characters in their own right.

“That landscape was the perfect visual metaphor for everything that’s going on around us, because it’s so powerful, it’s so dramatic, and it’s also quite mysterious,” she observes. “We needed that strength and that power from nature, because we all come from different parts of the world: some come from America, some come from England, some come from France, and it was interesting to have all these people gathering on a foreign land [that was] foreign to all of us.”

Frankie is now playing in limited release. Watch EW’s interview with Huppert above.

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