There are few actresses working today quite as fearless as Isabelle Huppert. The French superstar, recently rewarded with a Golden Globe for her turn in Elle (which also earned her an Oscar nomination) was on fine form when we had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with her in Paris in January this year.

She speaks about the collaborative process with Paul Verhoeven in this daring piece of contemporary cinema, and speaks candidly about her own career, her choices, her attitude towards the profession – and on some of the directors that have most inspired her. We also discuss the Globes success, and find out what she has coming up.

When you decide to take on a role, what is the most important thing for you, that makes you sign on to a project?

It’s the director, that’s really the key piece to the ensemble, the director. Of course you think about everything, the script, the role, but mainly the director.

So if somebody like Haneke calls, you don’t have to see the script?

Yes I do read the script, but suddenly not the same way I read the script of a first-time director, that’s for sure. Absolutely. Let’s take Elle for example, if it wasn’t for Paul Verhoeven, or someone as talented as Paul Verhoeven, well… Only he could make the movie the way he did, and I may not have done it otherwise. I definitely couldn’t have done it with such complicity and confidence and such trust. And doing movies, it’s about that. With a story like this, a movie like this, you have to go with someone that you trust completely.

Did you and Paul work together a lot on the role of Elle?

Yes we did, we worked completely together, but not the way people maybe expect or think we may work together, in a sense that we never really discussed the character, never, we didn’t say one word about the character. Because there was nothing to explain to something that is unexplainable. It was not really to be understood before I did it. Even while I was doing it I’m sure I really understood, but it’s precisely about this, she’s someone who does things pushed be a certain strength, which she herself is not always able to name, it’s all about that. The movie shows a series of facts and with a disconnection.

Let’s take the first scene for example, she’s being raped, and then the next scene she orders sushi or takes a bath and wipes the blood off, the continuity of these facts is what gives the meaning to the story. As an actress it was never psychological, I was never into the psychology of the character, something I rarely do anyway because psychology means to explain most of the time, and in films you get information, that’s for sure, but in a way the more information you get the more complex it is, because even with this information, they are not really explanations, and it’s difficult to really come to a definitive explanation. Also voluntarily, Paul Verhoeven leaves gaps in the story, and it’s open for everybody to fill in those gaps and give your own explanation.

What I really liked also about the film is that in one way the structure is completely classical because it’s a thriller with a revenge theme, but within that frame, that pattern, you get to see something a lot more complex and a lot more mysterious, because that’s exactly the way she accomplishes that revenge.

How did you feel when you saw the film for the first time, and watched the rape scene?

I didn’t feel anything, because I did it. I’ve done it, I don’t have an exterior point of view, it’s impossible because I lived it. I did it for five days.

How do you go home after shooting a scene like this, can it be hard to switch off and lose Michelle for an evening?

Well I go home by car, first of all. Neither do I lose the role nor do I not lose the role, it’s not an issue, she’s not in my way. I don’t approach what I do under those qualifications or terms, it’s not either having a character in the way or not having her in the way, it’s not an issue at all, I don’t even think about it.

Do you think, across your career, you’ve learnt certain things from certain characters, that you’ve changed as a person as a result of the characters you’ve embodied?

No, but until recently I thought I hadn’t learnt anything, I still think that, but having said that, Michelle is a woman if power, which means, to give her a certain credit because she’s a woman of power, the film is viewed in a certain way, it helps for people not to see her as a victim, not only because she doesn’t behave as one, but also because it gives her a certain credit, maybe because she’s a woman, I don’t know, but setting a woman in such a position, running a video game company where she deals with all these sexual fantasies and everything, it gives her immediately a certain credit, more than if she was something else.

Isabelle Huppert - ElleYou’re an actress who has always taken risks, on the stage and on screen – so what’s your motivation to keep going further, and taking these risks? Because you could have chosen easier projects.

But that would be a lot more risky, no? If I was doing quiet, little bad movies, that would be a real risk – I think it’s the contrary, and everything happens to me tends to prove to me that I am right, that’s it no risk because it’s being rewarded. So that I believe, the further you go the most you get back, not always, but most of the time.

So, what can we expect of the new Haneke?

Oh, you can expect the best.

A quick word on the Golden Globes, when you won you seemed so honestly surprised, like you were about 12 years old when you got up on stage. Were you actually, for once, nervous Ms. Huppert?

Yeah, it was a big surprise. Very few French actresses have got that award.

So what did it mean for you?

Well it was very important for the film, and we got another one before. So after we got the Globe for best foreign film I thought that was it, so it was a wonderful surprise. I enjoy the success for the film. Of course first I take it for myself, I’m not that generous, but also as Paul Verhoeven said when he received the Globe, not only did he say wonderful things about me, but before that he thanked people for being open-minded. I think it’s quite remarkable that this film in particular got this kind of recognition, especially there in America, it’s great.

Was there was a satisfaction, because this won the Globe after the film had not been named on the shortlist for the Oscars?

Absolutely. It couldn’t be anything else. Some films are easier than others, I think, and this is certainly not a feel-good movie.

Do you think it’s censorship in a way that the Oscars aren’t nominating it? That they’re too conservative?

I dunno. I don’t have any statement to say about that.

2017 has only really just begun, and you have a fair few films this year – do you ever have time to rest? Or at least a plan to rest?

I’ll rest tonight, but yes, I still have time. I rest when I work, so it’s no problem for me.

You’ve made some incredible films recently, Things to Come may even be my favourite of the lot – are you able to look back over the past year or so and acknowledge that it’s been a remarkable time? And each film has been brilliant? Or is that something that only we can really do.

Yes and no. I don’t take anything for granted, for one thing, neither awards nor recognition of my work and films, it’s always a little miracle for me when my work gets such attention, it’s wonderful. I still think it’s not evident, it happens but it could also not happen, so I’m still surprised.

Isabelle Huppert - ElleYou’re a very brave actress, but has there ever been a time you just thought, no, I can’t do that?

No, because I’m not brave working with people like Verhoeven, it’s nothing about bravery I don’t think. There are other things in life when you need qualities like risk and courage, and I don’t think I need them in acting, nor do I have them.

You haven’t worked in America for a while – would you like to again?

Why not? I’d like to work everywhere, not specifically America.

Have you been offered anything in America?

Yes, but nothing that stood out.

The way you speak about your career is quite pragmatic, like it’s very much a job. Is that something that’s been the case ever since you started?

I don’t think I speak about it like a job, I speak about it as being something very easy, which is different. A job might not be as easy actually, I think it’s the other way round, because it’s so much a part of my being, a part of me, I never felt the gap between being a person and acting. That’s why I like the films I’ve just been doing, because I never felt I was acting in them, I was just, I don’t know what, but it didn’t require much effort from me.

Has there been a director that is the most important for you?

Well, so many. All of the directors I’ve worked with are important to me. Obviously, the one I work with most is Haneke, Chabrol, for different reasons, Michael Cimino, Benoit Jacquot. I’m quoting them because I’ve worked with them many times, so it creates a special kind of relationship.

What was Chabrol like?

He was so great, so wonderful and so smart. He was so educated you could talk about anything, music, literature, movies, politics. He could speak about everything. I miss him all the time. We did so many different things together.

So what’s next?

I’m working again with Benoit Jacquot on a film called Eva, which is a remake of Joseph Losey’s Eva.

Elle is released on March 10th. You can read our review here.