Isabelle Huppert On Fashion, Film And Her Idea Of Beauty - The Gloss Magazine

Isabelle Huppert On Fashion, Film And Her Idea Of Beauty

On a phone call to Huppert’s Paris home, Edel Coffey asks her about film directors, fashion, and the masks people wear…

Fearless, unapologetic, intimidating, formidable … scary. These are adjectives that come up again and again to describe French actress Isabelle Huppert. Huppert is one of France’s finest actresses and – Catherine Deneuve aside – arguably its most iconic. From her controversial and fearless roles in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle and Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher to her self-satirising cameo in the hit Netflix comedy Call My Agent, she has amassed a versatile body of work – over 150 credits. She has won numerous awards, including three at Cannes Film Festival, three at Venice, a Golden Globe, a Bafta and an Oscar nomination, among others. She is a muse to some of the greatest directors in the world.

Despite a long career, and much fame and acclaim, Huppert remains an enigmatic figure to fans. When she answers her phone in Paris with a forthright “Oui! Bonjour! I am ready,” it’s hard not to fall under the spell of that deep and, yes, intimidating voice. Huppert’s latest film Sidonie au Japon was part of the Dublin International Film Festival, where she was honoured with the Volta Award for career achievement. How does she feel about adding the Volta to her bulging cabinet? “I’m very happy, I like Ireland. I did a good film [Greta] with one of your best directors, Neil Jordan.” She also spent time in Ireland as a girl: “It was great. I went riding horses all day!”

In Sidonie au Japon, Huppert stars as Sidonie, a widowed writer who has been unable to write since her beloved husband died. She travels to Japan for a book tour and when her late husband appears to her as a ghost, she is forced to accept that if she wants to live and work again, she will have to let her husband go. I wonder how Huppert feels about the film’s concept. “As far as I am concerned, I can’t say that I really believe in ghosts but of course I believe in people’s souls remaining and I believe in memories and thoughts – you could call that a ghost.”

She says she already knew Sidonie director Élise Girard’s work because Huppert’s daughter, Lolita Chammah, also an actress, had worked on Girard’s film Strange Birds. Here she pauses for an endearing proud mother moment, saying, “it was a wonderful film and my daughter was wonderful in it.” (Huppert has three children with her husband, filmmaker Ronald Chammah.)

“I know exactly what I want to do … that is for sure.”

The role of Sidonie is surprisingly gentle and tender when compared with some of Huppert’s more renowned characters, such as Haneke’s masochistic music teacher or Verhoeven’s sexual assault victim who embarks on a sexual relationship with her rapist. Does she like to deliberately subvert traditional ideas of what a woman is or what she should be?

“Obviously I like to do it but it’s not really intentional. When I start doing a film, I don’t have any plan to say certain things – the story takes me where it takes me and it happens as I do it. At the end of the day, it comes out more by intuition. It’s not a constant reflection. I never say to myself, I want the woman to say something specific or to behave a certain way, no. I think it’s always nice if you leave things existential, more like a question than an answer. That way each spectator can have their own understanding of the story or the character’s journey.” Huppert concedes that across her body of work, the women she tends to play are all “trying to be as free as possible”. I ask if she thinks about how some of her earlier films might not have been made in today’s morally sensitive cultural climate but she says she doesn’t see “that influence” so much in French film yet. She certainly has never felt constrained by it in her own work. “I always felt from the beginning, from the moment I started being an actress, that I had the freedom to say or portray the characters the way I wanted.”

Like many French actresses around the time of the #MeToo movement, Huppert appeared a little restrained in her comments, but in 2018 she clarified to The Hollywood Reporter that, “just because we have different opinions in France, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t in solidarity with the movement. But it’s important that all voices be heard, that there’s not too much overzealousness on either side.” Are there any directors she would still like to work with? “It’s more about working with particular directors again,” she says. “I love working with Neil (Jordan) for example, and of course I love to work with someone several times like I did with Michael Haneke. I would love to work with Paul Verhoeven again. There is a perfect example of freedom and a great sense of humour. Really he doesn’t care. I feel close to that.”

Last year Huppert caused a stir at Cannes, turning up on the red carpet in a pair of nude Balenciaga heels, moulded to look like a mannequin’s toes. It was classic Huppert, a way of commenting without commenting on the controversy about women being obliged to wear high heels on the red carpet, and yet it was a way of refusing to overtly join those women who chose to go barefoot rather than wear heels. One gets the sense that Huppert doesn’t want to be on anyone’s team, or part of any club, but prefers to stay apart. She became the face of the fashion house Balenciaga last year. How does she feel about this prestigious appointment? “I think the creative team at Balenciaga is very talented and I feel good in their clothes, so that’s nice. I’m happy. I like what they do and I like the clothes. Nothing more, nothing less. Well, maybe I should think more about it. There is a great sense of humour in Balenciaga’s clothes because they are classical but there is a twist and that’s interesting.”

I ask her about her idea of beauty: “I think you can’t disconnect beauty from emotion. It’s not only about perfection, especially for an actress. An actress is never perfectly beautiful. It needs something behind it.” Over the course of her career, Huppert has played many different types of woman. I wonder what kind of woman she would describe herself as? “Ooooohhh, I couldn’t! I think the definition of an actress is precisely not to be too sure of what she is – that creates the ability to be anyone, in a way. Sometimes I don’t even know what I think. I know exactly what I want to do, that is for sure. But I have to tell you who I am, and what I think? Ouf!” she says. “I think it’s very difficult for anyone to define themselves. I think you’re a different person in different circumstances with different people. That I believe. You are a social person, you are an intimate person, you are very different between private and public. You always have different masks according to different situations … but maybe I’m too complicated!”

She turns mischievous. “I could tell you I’m very real, I’m very simple, I’m very nice, that would be a better answer,” she laughs. Nice? Certainly. Real? Sure. But simple? Never. We wouldn’t have her any other way.

This piece originally appeared in the March issue of THE GLOSS.


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