Born on March 16, 1955 in Paris, France, Isabelle Huppert went on to pursue acting as a teenager, making her big-screen debut in the early 1970s and later earning a BAFTA Award for The Lacemaker. A prolific, highly revered actress known for her mystery, directness and versatility, Huppert has starred in a wide range of films over the decades that include The Lacemaker, Madame Bovary, La cérémonie, The Piano Teacher and Amour. In 2017, she received the first Academy Award nomination of her career for her lead role in the highly controversial Elle, winning a Golden Globe for the part as well.
Isabelle Huppert was born on March 16, 1955 in Paris, France. She eventually attended the Conservatoire National Supérieur d'Art Dramatique during her early teens. After having appeared on television, Huppert launched her movie career at age 16 portraying a student in Faustine et le bel été (1971).
During the 1970s, Huppert continued to appear in both big and small screen work, including the TV films Histoire vraie (1973) and Madame Baptiste (1974) as well as the theatrical releases Serious as Pleasure (1975) and Aloïse (1975), receiving her first César Award nomination for the latter. For her lead role in 1977’s The Lacemaker, Huppert received a BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer. Then in 1978, she received a best actress award at Cannes for her work in Violette Nozière, the first of several collaborations with filmmaker Claude Chabrol.
During the ‘80s, Huppert starred in films including Coup de torchon (1981), Entre Nous (1983) and the WWII drama Story of Women (1988), working again with Chabrol. Another career milestone came with her lead role in the 1991 film adaptation of the novel Madame Bovary, and she continued to explore a range of parts from depicting a former nun who writes about sex in Amateur (1994) to playing an ambitious con artist in another Chabrol work, The Swindle (1997). She won her first César for her role in 1995’s La cérémonie.
The new millennium saw Huppert star in the unnerving The Piano Teacher (2001), portraying the repressed, self-harming title character who enters into a relationship with a tyrannical young musician. Huppert again won a best actress award at Cannes for the work. Lighter fare followed with the musical comedy 8 Women (2002), co-starring Catherine Deneuve.
A revered acting force in France, Huppert has been featured in screen projects every year of her career and has been nominated for a record-setting 16 César Awards as of 2017, more than any other actress. Reviewers have taken note of Huppert’s disarming “inscrutability,” which has nonetheless managed to convey a rich, compelling interior world that has transfixed audiences.
American Films and Stage Work
Huppert has also appeared in a few U.S. movies, notably the poorly reviewed/financially disastrous western Heaven’s Gate (1980) as well as the existential comedy I Heart Huckabees (2004) and the trilogy of films grouped under the title The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2013-14). The actress is a remarkable stage force as well, having more recently appeared in a 2005 Brooklyn Academy of Music production of 4.48 Psychosis, a 2010 Parisian revival of A Streetcar Named Desire and a 2013 Lincoln Center staging of The Maids, co-starring Cate Blanchett, among other productions.
Accolades and Controversy Over 'Elle'
In autumn 2016, Huppert starred as video game executive Michelle Leblanc in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. Leblanc is raped in the beginning of the story, and, as viewers come to understand the dimensions of her world, the character goes on to pursue vengeance on her own terms once her attacker is revealed. The film generated controversy and raised a host of concerns related to the handling of sexual assault onscreen and misogyny, although critics have nearly unanimously praised Huppert’s performance.
“The film never treats rape as lighthearted. It never minimizes the crime,” Huppert said in a 2017 Guardian interview about Elle, who also said she was given full autonomy to depict the character however she saw fit. “It is not made as a realistic comment on rape, but there is still a sense of integrity, punishment, how it touches the woman.”
For Elle, Huppert has received her first Academy Award nomination and won a Golden Globe in January 2017. The visibly surprised actress celebrated global diversity in her Golden Globe acceptance speech: “There are people from all over the world, here in this room, from China to the Arabic World, from America to Europe. Do not expect cinema to set up walls and borders. Thank you . . .”
Huppert has been married to filmmaker Ronald Chammah since 1982. The couple worked together on the film Milan Noir (1988). They have three children.
(Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
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