Isabelle Huppert recently won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama) for her bold and fearless performance in Elle. She was celebrated for portraying the businesswoman, Michele Leblanc, who is raped by an unknown assailant and then seeks revenge.

The 63-year old French actress has appeared in over 100 films and television productions, and earned many awards over the span of decades in films like The Piano Teacher, 8 Women, and Things to Come. She is among the most prolific actresses who work internationally.

Huppert’s wide range of skills were on display while performing the emotional role of the mysterious Parisian heroine. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven intended the film to be part psychological thriller and part dark comedy, weaving lightness into the provocative and disturbing material. Adapting to the requirements of the scenes, Huppert likened playing the role to an “everyday experiment.”

Verhoeven, known for directing Basic Instinct, initially planned to make Elle in America. Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone, Julianne Moore, and Diane Lane were offered the lead, but they each turned it down. When Verhoeven was unable to garner enough interest, he returned to France to pursue the film. He came to believe Isabelle was the only actress in the world who could pull off the role, and he did not give her direction. Huppert said, “I had this whole piece of material just given to me as a gift, and I was allowed to fill it up the way I wanted.” 

Through her misfortune, Michele never behaves like a victim, nor does she feel guilty when she reacts in a way “that might seem amoral,” according to the actress. Huppert reveals that while shooting the rape scenes, “the process was very technical because we rehearsed a lot. We always knew that those scenes might be more difficult to watch for the spectator than to do for the actor.”

Huppert has been known to portray morally ambiguous characters over the years, and Michele represents the latest one. Isabelle reveals, “I just play them as normal persons. And so I don’t really–it’s not like I start a movie saying, ‘I’m going to play a morally ambiguous character,’…No, I take them more like most of the time as survivors. But, it’s true that I don’t really bother with the idea that characters should be sympathetic. I just want the character to be as true as possible.” She’s guided by intuition and likes to keep some things unexplained, and tries to maintain a sense of innocence in her characters.

During the backstage interview at the Golden Globes, Verhoeven and Huppert were asked what it was that helped them to surpass the craziness of the film’s plot and create something people responded to. Verhoeven answered, “After finishing the movie and looking at the result, I feel that what Isabelle did was so audacious and so authentic that basically it saves the movie.”

Isabelle added, “Well I think most of the time movie making is all about confidence and trust. There is nothing else actually. And if you trust someone, if you feel like you’re being watched and loved and understood it’s all very easy…Being adventurous in certain subject matters, not being scared of exploring, anything even if it is disturbing, even if it is sometimes difficult to listen or to understand, but exploring the human psyche–that’s what makes cinema most of the time valuable and worth being done.”

Huppert surprised Hollywood when she beat out Natalie Portman, Amy Adams, Ruth Negga, and Jessica Chastain in the competition for best performance as an actress.

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