Isabelle Huppert, an icon in Hollywood, European and U.s. arthouse cinema, talks about monsters, kids and Romy Schneider.
Madame Huppert, in your last film, Happy End, you broke your movie son’s finger, and in Greta, your latest, your character is even more violent. Do you love playing evil people?
This wasn’t my first time portraying a monster, but Greta is really evil. She is also lonely and depressed, but she loves music and her dog, details that render her more human and at the same time make her seem all the crazier. Greta should be locked up in a secure psychiatric unit, that’s for sure!
How do you go about becoming a monster?
While we were filming, I lived alone in a house in Dublin, which gave me a good sense of my character’s loneliness. Okay, I didn’t run through the streets murdering people, but I did feel very close to Greta.
Are you a loner at all in real life?
No, I’m not. I went out a lot when I was in Dublin, most of the time with my young colleague Chloë Grace Moretz. We would go to bars, have a few drinks and then get up and dance.
Are you a passionate traveler?
Yes, I totally am – I couldn’t survive without traveling. That’s also something I love about my job, that I’m on the move so much. I’ve just spent three months in New York again, doing theater work. If I ever left Paris for good – which I would never do! – I would move straight to New York. I like staying in different parts of Manhattan each time I go and exploring my new neighborhood on foot. This time, it was the West Village, really close to the theater.
Do you feel torn between making movies in Hollywood and in your native France?
Oh, I’m not crazy about speaking English in front of the camera. It’s more of a hindrance, like a mask that gets in the way a bit. But English is like the Esperanto of the world, so you have to speak it, especially if you enjoy filming abroad as much as I do.
Two years ago, you were in the running for an Academy Award for Best Actress for your role in Elle. Looking back, what did the prospect of winning an Oscar feel like?
I had a lot of fun. It was all very unexpected for me. Elle was an unconventional film, after all, very bold, not the kind of storyline that has people flocking to the movie theaters. But after winning many awards, it ended up doing quite decently at the box office.
There were “I love Isabelle Huppert” badges all over Paris at the time. Had you become a pop icon?
I haven’t got a clue, but it was flattering, simply fantastic!
You are known for being a hard worker. Are you able to sit back now and again and just enjoy your success?
I find that hard, very hard. Having work and earning so much recognition for what I do is not something I take for granted. I’ve had some lean spells in the past, so for me, every film I make is still a small miracle.
The eldest of your three children, Lolita Chammah, is also an actor, and you have appeared together in three movies so far. What’s it like having a daughter for a colleague?
It’s a pleasure to see how she has grown as an actor. Lolita knows every side there is to this business, the rough and the smooth. I have never given her advice or warned her about anything. She has drawn her own conclusions from what she’s seen.
Hollywood is currently experiencing a women’s revolution. Do you think the new awareness will lead to lasting change?
I don’t think that the prevailing mood in Hollywood is affecting the actual movies, but a great deal is changing for women in the film industry! They are finally getting fair pay, and that’s long been overdue.
Do you still often go to the movies yourself?
I love going to the movies. There’s an old cinema in Paris, the Christine 21. I bought it and Lorenzo, my son, puts the program together. It’s in the 6th Arrondissement, between Saint-Germain and the Latin Quarter, and very well known in Paris. We mostly show classics, like Charade, Doctor Zhivago and The Graduate, and we recently featured a John Ford retrospective.
You played alongside Romy Schneider in César and Rosalie back in 1972, when you were just starting out. What do you remember about her?
Romy took me under her wing, she was terribly kind to me. I was only 19, very inexperienced, and playing her little sister. Romy was a wonderful person and a great actor – that’s a rare combination.
What other talent do you wish you had?
I would love to be able to sing. I did have a song in the French comedy 8 Women and I sang Happy Birthday at the Cannes Film Festival anniversary celebrations, but that was all just a bit of fun.
In Greta, you’re so scary, you give us all goose bumps. Is there anything that really scares you?
I’m frightened of elevators, which is totally impractical in New York. I always book a hotel room on one of the lower floors, never higher than the fifth, and I always take the stairs.