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I Heart Huckabees - Isabelle Huppert Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. When you got the script, did you get a feel for it straight away, or did David O Russell have to convince you?
A.
Well he didn't have to convince me, but I did have to trust my instinct. I couldn't rely on just reading to really understand where I was going to land. But I decided I would do it anyway, because I already knew who was going to be in the picture. I knew, also, David O Russell's previous works, and so even if the script wasn't that clear to me when I first read it, and even when I read it the second time, I had a good feeling about it.
And I think it's the kind of script that you can't get right away, first reading, you know. You just have to emerge yourself in the making of the film to really capture something of it. So that's what I did.

Q. How do you research a role like this. It's a very ambiguous role, isn't it?
A
. I didn't do so much research. I wouldn't do for any other part, anyway, so you just... it was just enough for me to know that it was written on her little professional card, you know, minimalistness, cruelty and manipulation, as opposed to destinally characters' philosophy which carries some other thinking. That was clear enough for me to understand vaguely what was going on and what I was supposed to carry in the film.

Q. One of the reasons he said he cast you was because you are French and he liked that European nihilism thing, do you feel that the French are overly pessimistic?
A.
Yes! Well I think it's a bit of a caricature, but all caricature, as you know, sometimes relies on some true reasons. Roughly, you tend to think that Europeans and the French are more cerebral and pessimistic and a bit sceptical, and the Americans are more open and believers, you know.
Of course, it is a caricature, but sometimes caricature is good to help you to understand how people relate to each other.
And then you can always put some subtleties in that...

Q. Did you start to ask yourself existential questions about the meaning of life while making the film?
A.
No, no, I just start with questions about the meaning of the film, but not of my life [laughs]. I just felt we were emerged in David O Russell's own fantasy, you know? And I thought that the movie was quite personal and was more like a very individual and personal statement. And we had to more or less be part of that universe.
And we felt that he was going somewhere, even sometimes day by day we didn't exactly know where we were going, but we could feel that he knew where he was going and that was enough for us to be allied on the set.

Q. What did you take away from working with David O Russell? It seems like he does inhabit quite a unique universe? Some of the stories to have emerged from the set are quite bizarre?
A.
Well, I think that the set was quite chaotic, but one could understand why in a way, because it was a way of working for him, to create this chaos. It was not just unpurposeful chaos, it was meant to take the film somewhere.
The special effect of the little square images on screen in the film are the right metaphor for each scene. It was all these little pieces ultimately being put back together and making sense. Each day was like a different little piece and day by day it all came together like a puzzle.
When you do a movie, no matter what it is, you never know exactly what is going to be the final image, so you create one image by one image each day.

Q. So was it complete faith in David O Russell then?
A.
Well that's how you make films, you know. It's all about having faith in the director. And since it's personal and very original, yes, all you can do is have faith.
If you are sceptical, yourself, about what you do, then it's very difficult to do it. But I think it's the same for almost any worthwhile experience. You go blind most of the time when you are an actor, and you have to accept that.
But that's the nice part of it - you go blind but you know it will lead you somewhere.

Q. What about the love scene in the mud. How did you feel about that? And how long were you down there in the mud?
A.
That was the only scene that was really, really clear in the film. That was clearly written that he [Jason Schwartzman] was going to plunge me into that mud, so there was no surprise; I knew that I was going to do that.
But I didn't expect that scene to be so striking for people because that, of course, is the scene that people talk most about to me since I started interviews. I don't know what images it takes people back to; probably some very primitive images. Usually a love scene is primitive, you know, but doing it in the mud makes it even more primitive I guess, like you are back to what we are from.
It really strikes peoples' imagination, and it's nothing more than mud after all, you know. We could do it in the sand, but we did it in the mud, so I think it plays on several levels. It's playful, it's childish - it's a child's fantasy of some sort, to be emerged in mud or something that you're not supposed to be in. It's violent as well, of course, because it's not gentle. So, I don't know, I mean the question's in yourself....

Q. You've worked with Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law and Lily Tomlin - all fantastic actors. How much of a draw was that to you?
A.
What was attractive to me, and to the audience, was that it was ensemble picture with very different people, from very different universes, from different countries. Even if Naomi [Watts], now, is clearly an American actress, she comes from Australia, and Jude is English, I am French, and some actors are more viewed as New York-ish actors, like Dustin, so it made it very cosmopolitan, which I thought was very intriguing and very interesting because most of the time American films are very American, and because I was there, and because Jude and Naomi and some different people, it makes it more unusual.

Q. You're quoted as saying that your French character is up against the American philosophy, and you're taking your revenge. Did you see some kind of French-American contradiction within those two opposites?
A.
Yes, well it's a nice and light way to set a clear position between two different cultures. And to try to understand... I don't think it tries to state that is what is best and what is worst, it just tries to understand what, as human beings, how much we are drawn by different ways of thinking. Obviously, there is this negative and pessimistic way of thinking which is viewed by him as being more European, but which is not far from being true, as we are more sceptical.
And it's just a way of trying to show how we are all built of these different influences, and how it reflects on our whole behaviour, and our beliefs, and how it affects our sense of being fair.
Obviously, the movie is very critical of his country, too, again in a nice and light way, but you can take it as a critical piece on capitalism or liberalism, and so it's a sort of melting pot - he puts all these contradictory and different ideas about life.
Jude Law's character, for instance, is interesting, because you think that he goes for a very good way of doing, pretending to care for the environment and things like this... but ultimately you find out that it's another tool for him to take his Huckabees liberal store into a bigger area. It makes you just think about peoples' motivation; and peoples' real motivations, you know, whether people are really true to themselves, or whether they are manipulative people.
For instance, when my character thinks that the world is manipulative, she's obviously right, because Jude's character obviously is a manipulative character because he pretends to be this open and caring guy for humanity. The film puts all these different ways of doing things in perspective, you know.

Q. You describe the set as being chaotic. Was it a fun atmosphere or a tense atmosphere? And what expectations or preconceptions did you have about working with Dustin Hoffman?
A.
Oh, I had no preconceptions and I had good expectations which were fulfilled, but I didn't have any preconceived ideas. We were just actors working together.
As for chaos, again, we understood that chaos was a tool, was part of the system to get the movie achieved. It was not a nice little quiet set. Whoever came from outside was a bit surprised by David's manners and things like this, but we were not because we were used to it.
Also, because it was slightly disorganised sometimes, and there were so many people together, so it had to be like this, it had to be with this energy and craziness, because it was part of the product.

Q. It's been nearly 25 years since your first American experience with Heaven's Gate. Since then, you've appeared occasionally in American films. Do you think Hollywood has changed in that time?
A.
Yes I think so because I'm not sure that a movie like Huckabees could easily have been done and shown in Hollywood at the time we did Heaven's Gate.
The reason why the Americans rejected Heaven's Gate so heavily when we did it, I'm not so sure it could happen now. And I'm not only talking about 9/11, or before 9/11, or after 9/11 - maybe it's part of it - but I think we have a whole stream of people in Hollywood right now like Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola and all these people who are independent film-makers like they were in New York, except now they are doing movies in the official system, because they are all studio movies; and you have these range of studios like Fox Searchlight, which is a branch of Fox, which does this very daring and creative movie. So in that sense, yes, I think Hollywood is much more complex right now; quite rightly, actually, because the industry renews itself.

Q. So in terms of your career, do you receive a lot of offers from Hollywood?
A.
No. I receive very, very few good offers. I like to follow the same kind of path that I follow in my own country when I make movies, meaning if I don't feel the film has a very original or individual potential, then I'm not interested, you know, because that's how I make movies in Europe.
So obviously the movies I did, from Heaven's Gate to Bedroom Window, which was directed by Curtis Hanson, who happens to be a very good director, and now David, obviously I can feel I'm part of a very specific universe. It's not one more film, each time they are specific movies.
But these kind of opportunities for me are quite rare for me, too.

Q. Did David call you?
A.
I think Scott Rudin, the producer, was partly responsible for that. I don't exactly know who originated my presence in the film, but I guess it was between David and Scott.

Q. You've played some very strong, independent characters, but you mention you don't get too many offers. Is that because there are too few of them at the moment?
A.
Well I do know that, for instance, a lot of American actresses would dream of doing some of the parts I was lucky enough to do in Europe, and in France, like The Piano Teacher, or The Story of Women, for instance. All the movies I did with Claude Chabrol, I mean, I've often heard that very good American actresses wish they could have such strong, independent and subtle parts in movies. I do think that they do have good roles, though. When you think of The Hours, for example, and films like this, but it's certainly not the majority.
I think that Huckbees is a nice bridge of what one expects from an American film, and from what one expects from a European film should be - a nice mixture of light comedy and yet with a certain substance.

Q. So are there better roles for women in French cinema?
A.
Well, for me there are good roles in French cinema, certainly. But let's say we have nothing to envy from American cinema, even though they do have very great directors and I love doing movies there when I can. It's always nice, also, when you can bring whatever comes with you being from a certain culture, or certain nationality - whether French, German, Spanish or Italian - you bring all that to a different culture and a different way of doing.
The more you take people from different perspectives, the better it is; the more richer it is for film.

Q. How do you think Huckabees will play in France?
A.
I don't know. I'm curious. But I don't know. I hope well.

Q. Has there been any reaction so far?
A.
Well nobody has seen the film. Or only two persons, and they really liked it, so hopefully it's a good sign.

Q. Was it quite a collaborative process making this film?
A.
It was not really improvised. It was chaotic. But we really followed the script. It's not that we were changing the text, it was chaotic but not in that sense. Also it depended on which scenes. Some were more chaotic than others.

Q. What about the chemistry between all the characters. Was it important to have a rehearsal process, or hang out with some of the actors before shooting?
A.
Well I have had a little rehearsal process before most of the American films that I do. In France, it's not that we are lazy or anything, but it's not in our manner, it's very rare and it's not part of the process.
But I always rehearse in America. I remember, for instance, for Amateur, we rehearsed for six weeks and then we shot in five weeks, because we knew we had very little time to do the movie so we rehearsed for a very, very long time before and explored every possibility, every potential of the scenes.
And on Huckabees, we rehearsed a little bit; a few days before we gathered together and talked, and tried the costumes.

Q. But did that help when it came to shooting, given the interaction between each character is quite quick-fire?
A.
No, for that I just had to know my lines quite well and certainly more than anybody else, because I'm not English and I had to really rely on my memory, because I can't improvise exactly the way an English actor can. I'm not saying I can't do it, just not as easily as if it was my mother language.

Q. The film has a mixture of philosophy, did you find that you had a lot of philosophical discussion to bring to that?
A.
No because again the movie doesn't rely on this depth. The movie is deep, definitely, but the characters are more silhouetted against it. I mean, for instance, you have the existential detectives which, to me, are like comic versions of shrinks; and then you have the philosopher, but very shortly after I come on-screen I don't really behave like a philosopher, or what you expect a philosopher to be, I'm not that serious, because I'm wearing all these sexy dresses.
And so all the characters are previously defined according to what they are; you have the fireman, you have what Naomi's character is, but very quickly they are off the track, you know. So they are not following a specific path, they are supposed to be the fireman, the philosopher, or whatever, but then they become more cartoonist, they are more like silhouettes. None of the parts are that serious.

Q. Does the film make sense to you now?
A.
I've seen it twice and I have to see it again. I mean, I speak good English and I understand good English but I have to say that especially what Jude says in the movie, all this corporate language at the Huckabees store, it's not easy to understand. I showed the film to certain friends of mine, but it tends to be very difficult to subtitle.
But you know what I like, the film is so verbal, and you don't tend to do such verbal things now; it's verbal like a Capra film was verbal, which is nice, because now films are much more about images. But this is very well-written and verbal; people talk all the time, which I thought was nice, because you do it less now.

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