Isabelle Huppert: “I don’t know if I’m a good actress”

Isabelle Huppert at the Cannes Film Festival.Picture: EPA


The French actress told us about her role in The Syndicalista film presented at the Venice Film Festival in 2022.

11.06.2023, 16:2611.06.2023, 16:35

Matthias Lerf / ch media

A woman was assaulted. She is found tied up and injured in the cellar of her house. She does not want to let anything appear and resumes her professional life the next day. But it is without counting on the police who are investigating. And she goes from the status of victim to that of culprit.

The trailer of The Syndicalist:

The film The Syndicalist is based on the true story of trade unionist Maureen Kearney who defended workers’ rights within the French group Areva. It is a role of choice for the French star Isabelle Huppert. But beware, at the start of the feature film, she is almost unrecognizable: With her blonde wig and thick lipstick, she stands up to the men of the nuclear lobby.

We met the actress and we chatted with her about this very special role.

It’s amazing that this woman was turned into a culprit, isn’t it?
Isabelle Huppert: His mistake was being a bad victim. As a trade unionist, she was on the trail of a burning story. She didn’t want to let herself be arrested, even when she was attacked. She wanted to solve the problem in an original way, not as expected. It is a provocation. Even trivial things like her lipstick play a role…

…That she highlights.
Yes, she absolutely did not want to hide. This can be understood symbolically as a gesture of struggle. But of course it’s also a mask, no one knows what’s going on inside this woman.

You neither? After all, you have studied the character.
Not exhaustively, it is impossible. I read Caroline Michel-Aguirre’s book about it. What is special is that the story has unfolded in recent years, there have been articles in the newspapers and on television. But now, people tell me everywhere: what a crazy story, I’ve never heard of it!

We don’t believe her at first.
This is unfortunately still the case, just look at the statistics. It’s crazy. Today, the victims are certainly better listened to than a few years ago. But the sentences against rapists, for example, are still often much too light. And the suspicion of having invented everything or at least caused it in one way or another constantly hangs in the air.

How do you prepare for violent scenes?
It is the art of cinema. As an actress, scenes of violence neither excite me nor leave me particularly indifferent. It’s cinema. I know both sides: I don’t know if I’m a good actress, but I’m a good spectator. And I am happy to let myself be impressed by the staging or an editing sequence.

You’re being coquettish by saying you don’t know if you’re a good actress!
You find? I’m not always happy with myself. But you don’t need to ask me for an example, I won’t tell you.

THE New York Times published a list of the best actors and actresses of the 21st century. Denzel Washington occupies first place, Daniel Day-Lewis third. But in second place…
…it’s me, I know. That’s what I expected. (Laughs). It’s a great honor, but I also know that these lists are random. There are comments about each person and in my case there is a lot of talk about a movie called Greta which is usually a bit drowned out in my filmography. I play the role of a sadistic killer. I’m not afraid of this kind of subject, that’s what must have impressed the New York Times.

But we also mention movies like The Pianist by Michael Haneke or She by Paul Verhoeven.
These are two important works for me. The article says such roles are “daring,” but to me they are no more so than others. Nonetheless, I’m flattered. And I feel good about being the ham sandwiched between Denzel Washington and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Maybe not all of your roles are daring, but you still play multi-faceted characters that aren’t easily defined.
Movie characters have long tended to be either good or bad. I’m looking for ambiguity, that’s for sure. Otherwise, I’m bored. Simone de Beauvoir always comes to mind. The great feminist wrote an essay titled For a morality of ambiguity. And it’s true: there is always a moral in ambiguity.

That’s to say?
If a character is good or bad, everything quickly becomes clear. But the world is complicated. That’s where the moral lies, even for me as an actress.

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Isabelle Huppert: “I don’t know if I’m a good actress”