“You Either Are an Actor or You Aren’t an Actor:” An Interview with Isabelle Huppert

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MM: The relationship between her and her attacker is complex and difficult to decipher. Is it attraction on some incomprehensible level, or is more strategic? 

IH: Yes, you can’t deny that she has a plan but, without revealing the end of the film, in a way there is a morality to the film because it ends the way it ends. You can guess why she has this strange—it’s difficult to even describe what she has toward him—attraction, or a quest to understand something. Maybe she wants to understand something about her own father. She wants to have an answer to that event that marked the beginning of her life: the fact that her father was a serial killer. She had to carry that violence as a burden, even in the present time. You have this woman at the beginning of the film that spills the whole tray of food on her lap. That’s still very vivid for her, and she has had to carry that cross all the way through. She might also be, in a vicious or twisted way, attracted to that because she wants to understand where that violence comes from. Who knows?

MM: Have you ever had any desired or inclination to write or direct a film yourself? 

IH: No, I’m too lazy. It requires such energy and such endurance. I’m not sure I have the courage. Plus, I’m really fulfilled being an actress. The way I am an actress, I’m a little bit like my own director, when I take roles and manage to make my own little cooking and my own little stories. That’s enough for me to be happy as an actress.

MM: Is there a role you haven’t played yet that you would like to explore? Or is there perhaps one that you wouldn’t like to play? 

IH: Many roles, but I don’t have an idea of a role in particular. I was never really attracted to biopics or playing a real life character. Maybe one day I will, but I don’t have an attraction for it. I have to say that I almost feel a little reluctant to it, to play someone existent, I don’t know why. I’d rather play someone nonexistent. I don’t have the fantasy of playing anything in particular. I have fantasies of working with great directors. I want to work with people who want to work with me.

MM: Will you ever be willing to play a character in a science-fiction film or a fantasy film that would require a lot of physical transformation? How do you still make a role like that your own? 

IH: Sure. I just finished a film called Madame Hyde, by a French director named Serge Bozon, with whom I did a previous film called Tip Top. He is a really interesting director who has a whole universe of his own and he is a very smart person, so his films are very composed. But even when you compose something, which is obviously very far from you, then you still have to combine it with authenticity and a sense of truthfulness to it. So, whatever I have to play, the idea is always to keep a sense of truth to it. MM

Elle opens in theaters November 16, 2016, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

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