We speak to Oscar-nominee and French icon Isabelle Huppert about her starring role in Elle, already one of the most acclaimed films of the year.
Huppert is Michèle LeBlanc, the founder and CEO of a successful video game company who is attacked in her own home. Taking what appears to be a desire to shrug off the terrifying incident, she locks the door after her attacker and refuses to tell the police. Upending our expectations, Michèle begins to track down her assailant, and soon they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game, one that at any moment may spiral out of control.
Culture Trip: We’ve just seen the film, and it certainly sticks with you. What was the thing that appealed to you most about the script?
Isabelle Huppert: Actually, I read the book first. It was long before the script came my way. That was my first connection to the project, but the script is quite close to it. There are a few changes like my character running a video game company in the film and in the book it was a TV production company. I liked the book and I like the mystery around her behaviour. She’s fearless, solitary, lonely and happy to be lonely. She never gives up and keeps moving. She never cries, and when we were filming I realised I cry a lot in my movies. I thought we would show the tears and the fragility but day by day I thought that was not her place. There is one moment, that you can’t see because I’m behind a glass screen, I thought it might be there, but in the end she doesn’t cry.
CT: Was it difficult to connect with the character then, given her qualities, or did you see something in her you could identify with?
IH: Oh no, I got her straight away. I accepted the strange, unpredictable reactions. If it was more conventional it wouldn’t have worked. She is hard to define, and that pleased me. It makes you free to do it how you want. It’s free in the sense it leaves a number of gaps. You can fill them in and hypothesise while watching it. What are her feelings towards the mother, the son and so on.
CT: Have you found audiences talking about the film more than they might for other movies – because audiences aren’t used to filling in those gaps?
IH: Yes. in a good sense. The movie plays on several levels. It can be funny at times and that gives distance and avoids sentimentalism. By the end, we explore her connections and we dig into her life quite a lot. It never falls into psychological explanations and I don’t think anyone will come away feeling frustrated at all.
CT: What was Paul Verhoeven’s [director] approach to this?
IH: We keep saying, at the risk of repetition, that we never spoke. Not once in the twelve weeks. It was all about the camera movement. He let me do it and he watched me do it. A role doesn’t mean much to me unless it is attached to a great director.
CT: We’ve seen you successfully work in Europe and America over your career. Are there big differences between the approaches of different filmmakers?
IH: Yes, big differences. Not just between America and Europe, but between America and Korea for example. People don’t live the same lives. We want to hear comparisons, but what is the big change is how you create a certain idea of privacy on the set.
‘Elle’ is out in cinemas now.