Isabelle Huppert: I don't like to play victims
Isabelle Huppert talks about her acclaimed performance in Elle
For her brave and authentic performance as a rape victim in Paul Verhoeven's Elle, Isabelle Huppert won a Golden Globe for Best Actress, an award she tearfully accepted.
At our interview at the Four Seasons in Toronto where Elle had its North American premiere, Huppert, 63, is a somewhat shy and muted presence.
In near-perfect English, the French actress explained why she felt her performance was not brave, but her simply doing her job as an actor.
Said Huppert: "I think the work consists of bringing the audience to really step into someone's life like I do. And make them understand the process. That is my purpose when I do this kind of role."
She did not talk to rape victims to prepare for the role.
She said: "No, no. I mean, this is a fiction. I think acting is more about imagination. I never do this kind of research.
"I think the interest of it is just to let your own imagination go. It is all about having a good script, a good character, a good subject matter, and above everything, a good director. It is a chemistry that works or not with a director."
Huppert also does not see her character as either a victim or an avenger.
She said: "I never feel like I fall into any predictable caricature of a victim because I don't like to play victims, and I think the character mainly doesn't want to be a victim.
"But on the other hand, I don't think she can be defined as the opposite of a victim.
"I try to find something in between, which is for me closer to the truth. That is what I try to do as an actress, to be as true as possible to what I think is normal human behaviour."
For all the kudos she has received in her long career - she has been nominated for a Cesar 16 times, of which she has won once - Huppert is surprisingly modest about her achievements.
She said: "I don't think I'm proud. I can see some people being strong and proud of what they do, but it is not my attitude. I'm just happy to do something I know how to do, more or less. I think that is a huge privilege. And that gives me a lot of strength and confidence.
"But I don't feel like someone who conquers things easily."
On choosing roles, Huppert said: "Good roles in an actress' life are not numerous. The good roles, you know immediately that you should do them.
"When you read the script for certain roles, it is immediate. You feel like you want to find out how you're going to be able to put everything together.
"But I would say my main criterion would be the director above everything.
"I was so happy to work with Paul, whose work I have admired for such a long time. He is really a great director.
"Only because of this strange alchemy and chemistry between the director and the actress - from that comes a good experience."
As slender as a reed and stunning, she must have some beauty secrets.
Huppert laughed and said: "I'm not very good in exercise, I have to say. But I don't take lifts.
"I always walk up the stairs because I'm completely claustrophobic. I think, I'm doing something that I love all the time. So that keeps my spirit up, my energy. I really mean that."
And she eats whatever she wants.
Said Huppert: "Nobody forces me to eat anything. But I don't eat too much."
There is little rest for her. She is filming another movie and may have to spend more time in Los Angeles to do press now that she is in the running for the Best Actress Oscar on Feb 26.
Said Huppert: "I always know what I'm going to be doing next. I'm starting this new French picture with French director Serge Bozon. I like movement. I don't like to be still."
But there is a lot she does in her downtime too.
"I see a lot of movies. I'm a good spectator. And I like to go to theatre. We are privileged for that in Paris," said Huppert.
"I also run a cinema myself. My son is running it with me. It is one of those small repertoire cinemas and we run only old movies."
Hollywood actresses said no to role
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, best known for Showgirls, Basic Instinct and RoboCop, is back with psychological thriller Elle, which opens here tomorrow.
The 78-year-old has been relatively quiet since 2006, after his last feature film Black Book. Until the producers of Elle showed up with the script.
At first, they wanted to make it an American movie.
"The first thing we did was translate Philippe Djian's French book into English. Then I went to an American scriptwriter who Americanised the characters and culture.
"That was when we started to realise that neither from a financial point of view nor from the point of view of finding an actress, would it be possible to do this movie in the US.
"In fact, we got a no from every Hollywood actress..."
Those who reportedly said no include Sharon Stone and Julianne Moore.
"After two months, the producer called me and said, 'Why are we fighting to make the movie in the US? It's a French novel, Isabelle Huppert is keen - we're stupid!' He was right."
The rape scenes were all choreographed.
"I saw with the violence that it was necessary. There was a lot of slamming and throwing, so we choreographed that precisely and had the storyboards on set."
On his leading lady, Verhoeven said: "Her performance was so strong I forgot to say cut. And she was going on and on, sometimes extending her scene into the next scene, so you didn't have to shoot the next scene because she did it already.
"I think (she is) an actress of utmost audacity who is willing to follow her emotions to the end. I counted on her.
"I counted on the fact that she was a woman and would understand things better than I, and her intuition about how to do it would be better than mine." - MEHER TATNA