French film star Isabelle Huppert, 64, has received a multitude of awards, including a Bafta for the Lacemaker and a Golden Globe for Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s controversial film about rape, for which she was also Oscar-nominated. She lives in Paris with her film director husband, Ronald Chammah, with whom she has three children.
I interviewed her in 1987 to include in my book Women. Here what she told me, listed under the various headings that were used in my book.
The Early Influences:
I was the youngest of my family, so I guess my older sisters and my brother and parents influenced me, because I was raised as the baby, and that lingered for quite a long time. From my father, I learnt integrity and a sense of certain values and morality, and from my mother, will and energy and lots of positiveness. I don’t know if we were brought up to be independent. We were brought up to be curious of everything very early; we travelled, we went to foreign countries when we were very young, and I never felt any big pressure on me. I always felt that I was going to be free to do whatever I wanted.
Advantages and Disadvantages:
America is a very hard country. I can imagine how much you have to fight, and it’s probably difficult to fight so much and be feminine at the same time. Probably the French are better at this little game. In America, I think a lot of women become threatening for men, although I think both sides are rather traumatized. There is much loneliness in the United States, and it’s so competitive you have to make money. Here, in the Old World, there is still more sensuality, and, you know, we let it go. In America, you can’t let it go.
I always wanted a baby, from the age of eighteen or twenty, but for several reasons I had to delay. I thought I was not ready: physically and psychologically unable to have a baby. But I always wanted one. And it’s very hard for me to figure out that it’s possible not to want one. From a moral point of view, I perfectly understand: it is not a necessity. But, for me, it was. It was an obsession.
Motherhood has changed me. It’s not that it changed, boom, in five seconds, right after the baby was born, but there was a mental change, and I can tell from how people view me now. It altered everything, my perception of life, my perception of being an actress. It’s not that it solved an issue, that’s not it. Before I had a child, I was very jealous of women who had children. Now that I have one, I am very jealous of all women who have another child; I am obsessed with having another child. There was an English film I loved, The Pumpkin Eater with Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch, directed by Jack Clayton, and made in 1964. It’s a wonderful picture, because it’s one of the only films I’ve seen dealing with that obsession. In the film, the woman keeps having children, one after another. She loves the children but it’s anguishing because it’s as if she constantly needs to be filled. The process of having a baby, certainly in my case, was the same process as doing a role. When you are an actress, you give life to a role; and when you are a woman, you give birth to a child. There are no words to describe how elated one feels when one gives birth. It’s the oldest thing in the world, yet it’s surreal. There are actually no words.
I don’t mind sometimes being an object woman; there is something passive in the way a woman has to be seductive and likeable, and if you are not like this, then you miss a lot. It is a pleasure for a man to see a woman like this, and it is a pleasure for a woman to behave like this. It doesn’t mean you have to be exploited. That’s something I feel very much, being an actress. Professionally, I behave like a big girl, but artistically I know that deep down between a director and an actress there must be that strange relationship of being passive, and being led by the director, and if you are not like this, there can’t be a relationship, you can’t be an actress. Being an actress depends on this.
In a recent interview withe The Times Magazine she says:
I feel French and I feel European. I think that when you feel both, the stronger and closer it makes you. England is already an island – Brexit closed the bridge for us. We were sad in France.
I totally share her feelings.