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Isabelle Huppert Brings Masterful Control to ‘Elle’: Awards Spotlight

The international screen icon discusses one of her greatest roles yet and the delicate balance behind pulling it off.

Isabelle Huppert

Daniel Bergeron

Isabelle Huppert has won nine Best Actress prizes this awards season, more than any other actress in the race. There’s a reason why.

Her turn in Paul Verhoeven’s controversial thriller “Elle” is a complete high-wire act of emotion, with Huppert in control at every turn. Her character may be impossible to figure out, but watching Huppert master that ambiguity is one of the year’s most unpredictable and fearless viewing experiences.

Huppert has made a career out of giving polarizing characters the complex edge they deserve, and Michèle Leblanc is no exception. You don’t need to like her or agree with her, but trying to understand her is impossible to resist. Michèle’s reaction to her assault at the start of the film launched dozens of think pieces about whether the film normalizes rape culture. But the answer is all in Huppert’s career-crowning performance. She turns Michèle into a survivor we’ve yet to see on the big screen. Being the victim isn’t in the cards for Michèle, and Huppert relishes the opportunity to seize her character’s slow-boiling path to revenge.

In a year full of astonishing roles for women, Huppert’s might just be the very best. Still, she’s quick to share much of the acclaim with director Paul Verhoeven, another master provocateur who fires on all cylinders in “Elle.”

The duo mix great humor into the proceedings, which is one reason the film has attracted so much controversy. Should a movie about a rape survivor result in so much laughter? “Elle” is certainly not a comedy, but the way Huppert and Verhoeven play with the character’s wicked side creates some of the darkest humor you’ll see on screen this Oscar season.

It’s that startling juxtaposition between character and subject matter that attracted Huppert to the project and made the novel’s transition to the big screen such a passion project. Michèle is a character we rarely get a chance to see at the movies, and Huppert makes it all the more powerful.

This year’s Awards Spotlight series is produced with help from our partners at Movies On Demand, who shot and produced the video interviews, and from Hollywood Proper, who provided location services for our Los Angeles shoots.

You can find all Contender Conversations at our Awards Spotlight homepage.

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