Hup­pert breaks through with fear­less au­dac­ity

Elec­tri­fy­ing per­for­mance in “Elle” earns French ac­tress first Os­car nod, af­ter Golden Globes win

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - MARK OLSEN

Is­abelle Hup­pert has long had a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most fear­some and fear­less ac­tresses in the world.

There has al­ways been some­thing both steely and vul­ner­a­ble about her screen pres­ence, an ice queen will­ing to show her cracks.

Her elec­tri­fy­ing per­for­mance in “Elle” has now earned Hup­pert her first Os­car nom­i­na­tion, fol­low­ing her re­cent win at the Golden Globes. Di­rected by the Dutch-born Hol­ly­wood vet­eran Paul Ver­ho­even, mak­ing his French-lan­guage de­but with the film, “Elle” is an adap­ta­tion of Philippe Djian’s 2012 novel, “Oh ...,” about a woman who be­comes in­volved in a twisted se­ries of power-plays on the man who raped her in her home.

New York Times critic A.O. Scott called the film “a mas­ter­piece of suave per­ver­sity” while L.A. Times critic Justin Chang called Hup­pert’s work “mas­ter­ful,” and this should come as lit­tle sur­prise re­gard­ing a project from the di­rec­tor of “Ba­sic In­stinct” and star of the sex­u­ally provoca­tive “The Piano Teacher.”

For her part, Hup­pert says she never pur­posely seeks out roles for the con­tro­versy.

“I don’t like think­ing of them as provoca­tive roles be­cause I don’t take them as provoca­tive roles,” Hup­pert said dur­ing a re­cent phone call from Paris. “Of course, truth is provoca­tive most of the time, it’s provoca­tive to say what’s in your mind and in your heart. To live in so­ci­ety most of the time means to com­pro­mise. So when cin­ema al­lows a char­ac­ter to take you past where a per­son would nor­mally com­pro­mise, I think it’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing. It’s not a provo­ca­tion for me.

“I think that what I take from be­ing an ac­tress is to learn some­thing about my­self and to say some­thing about who­ever I play,” she added. “And to make a per­sonal state­ment out of this, this is what draws me to be­ing an ac­tress.”

When Ver­ho­even was putting the project to­gether, he was ini­tially look­ing to set it in the United States and cast an Amer­i­can ac­tress in the lead role.

When he could not find any­one will­ing to take on the part, it even­tu­ally found its way to Hup­pert and be­ing set in Paris. Now, of course, it is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine any­one else in the part.

“First of all it’s tal­ent. Let’s just take the short­cut. This is an ex­tremely tal­ented ac­tress,” Ver­ho­even said. “And in her head there is no fear. There is au­dac­ity about ev­ery­thing. If she feels she can con­nect with the char­ac­ter, she doesn’t care about any moral in­hi­bi­tions and cer­tainly doesn’t care what peo­ple will think about it.

“It is the per­for­mance of Is­abelle Hup­pert, who makes this char­ac­ter, this kind of strange char­ac­ter, au­then­tic,” he con­tin­ued. “Even if you don’t fol­low her pre­cisely in her ac­tions, if you might dis­agree with the steps she takes in her life, you al­ways feel in the movie that this char­ac­ter could do that. And I think that’s what Is­abelle brought to the movie, that you be­lieve it even when you dis­agree.”

Lit­tle more than a day af­ter her Os­car nom­i­na­tion, Hup­pert was also nom­i­nated for the role at France’s César awards, where she is al­ready the most nom­i­nated ac­tress of all time. (The film re­ceived a lead­ing 11 nom­i­na­tions over­all in France, in­clud­ing best pic­ture and di­rec­tor.)

Hup­pert also ac­knowl­edges that her com­mand­ing per­for­mance in “Elle” feels in some ways like a sum­ma­tion of her ca­reer, allowing her to be strong and frag­ile, sen­sual and cere­bral.

“The role is so com­plete. In one role I’m play­ing many of the roles I’ve done be­fore, ex­cept maybe some­thing (new) that be­longs to that role that wasn’t in pre­vi­ous films,” said Hup­pert. “The role is so com­plex, so many lay­ers, so many sit­u­a­tions. She is de­fined not only by her sex­ual life, which is of course very present in the film be­cause of her de­sire and this very pe­cu­liar at­trac­tion to this man. But she is also de­fined as a mother, a daugh­ter, as an ex-wife and as a woman of power be­cause she runs this video game com­pany.

“So there are mul­ti­ple facets to the char­ac­ter, which makes it so you can turn her around, over and over and over and at the end of the day you still have a mys­tery,” she added. “And the mys­tery she has is the mys­tery that be­longs to any­body in life, ev­ery­body has some­thing that you can’t re­ally ex­plain or that you might not want to ex­plain.”


Is­abelle Hup­pert as Michele in a scene from the movie “Elle.” The role has earned her an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for best ac­tress.

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