For more than three decades she’s been known as the Meryl Streep of France. Now, as of this morning, she’s competing for best actress — against Streep, in fact — at the Academy Awards for her daring performance as an assault victim-turned-avenger in Paul Verhoeven’s super provocative Elle.

But who is Isabelle Huppert? First of all, speaking of who, her last name is pronounced “Who-pair.” And the quality of fearlessness, for those who are perhaps seeing her for the first time in Elle, is nothing new. She first gained major attention in the 1977 drama La Dentellière as a shy young woman experience her sexual awakening — and followed that with non-stop work on stage and in movies, including an appearance in the infamous 1980 flop Heaven’s Gate, which has since been reevaluated, especially for her contribution.

Huppert, 63, has been nominated for the César, France’s equivalent of the Oscar, 15 times. She’s won only once, for 1995’s mystery La Cérémonie, one of many collaborations with director Claude Chabrol. She’s also appeared in multiple films of Michael Haneke, including his Oscar-winner Amour.

But it was a 2001 drama by Haneke which was arguably Huppert’s most famous film — until now. That starts us off with this quick cheat sheet in getting to know this brave force of French nature.

1. The Piano Teacher

Huppert won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of a lonely, masochistic pianist. Many scenes — including one with a razor blade — are not for the faint of heart. But the movie has a brutal power and Huppert’s performance stays with you.

2. 8 Women

Not as well-known for lightness or comedy, Huppert proved to be a sparkling delight in this 2002 farce by director François Ozon (Swimming Pool). Huppert sings!

3. I Heart Huckabees

Not as many remember this rare English-language performance by the actress in David O. Russell’s 2004 comedy — as much as her presence (with full poker face intact) in this notoriously leaked behind the scene video of Lily Tomlin having a bad day.

4. Madame Bovary

Huppert is extraordinary as the title character in this adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s novel — a sumptuous drama directed by her mentor Claude Chabrol.

5. Law & Order: SVU

Huh? Yes, indeed. In this promo for the season finale of SVU in 2010, Huppert plays the villain, seen here holding a gun to Sharon Stone’s head. The deep-voiced announcer gravely teases the appearance of “Academy Award nominee Sharon Stone” in this 30-second teaser. That should be updated the next time the episode airs on TNT… probably tomorrow.

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