French actress Isabelle Huppert on her character in 'Greta': She is a monster

Isabelle Huppert in a scene from 'Greta.' (Photo supplied: Film Finity)
Isabelle Huppert in a scene from 'Greta.' (Photo supplied: Film Finity)

Cape Town - When Isabelle Huppert first read the screenplay for Neil Jordan’s psychological thriller Greta her immediate reaction was that she was being asked to play a "monster."

She recalls that moment with a smile and adds, too, that she liked the character – as any actress would like a role that they can sink their creative teeth into. And Isabelle does just that – and some.

In Isabelle’s capable hands Greta is not only supremely menacing but, at times, funny and tragically lonely, too. Greta draws Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) – and the audience – into her web and then it’s too late to escape.

In the following Q&A Isabelle talks about transforming into a 'monster', why the audience still enjoys this type of character and her memorable dance sequence scene. 

What was your reaction when you first saw this script?

Well, I read the screenplay and I thought, 'Wow! This is a real monster.' Contrary to other people that I’m known for having played, which were supposedly seen as monsters, but I never thought they were real monsters. But this one, she’s an evil character. There is not really an attempt to explain or justify her, but of course there is a whole kind of Romanesque landscape around her: the music, the childhood. But at the end of the day, undoubtedly she is a monster. She is a killer, she is really an evil person, but she also is a very lonely person. So being lonely and also rootless, it’s very inspiring for the viewer and for myself, because you can really imagine so many stories behind her.

Was part of the appeal the idea that this kind of character is usually male?

Yes, that also, you’re right. It was a female only environment, apart from the character played by Stephen Rea, which I love. He’s such a good actor and I really enjoyed those scenes very much. He’s so great. He’s a wonderful man. But yeah, you’re right, maybe this kind of a person would be more likely usually figured as a man than a woman. That loneliness can be touching, but also it gives you a sense of power, of strength, because she has her own life. I liked the character immediately. She’s likeable as a character. (Laughs).

It’s kind of remarkable that the audience still likes the character…

Yes! I mean, that’s the problem. (Laughs). I love the bag scene, where Chloë [Grace Moretz] understands that she should get away, but there are so many things that make us willing to stay with her, that’s for sure. I think that Chloë’s character understands that something is wrong, but of course she has no idea that it’s to the point that it’s completely terrifying. Not only that she kills, but the way she keeps the victims. She kills slowly. It’s really terrible. So, I’m sorry (laughs).

Isabelle Huppert in a scene from 'Greta.'

It looks like you had some fun with the part, despite all the darkness. Is that fair to say?

We filmed in Dublin and when I was there, I took it as a sign because in one of the cinemas in Dublin, on one afternoon, there was just one screening of Misery, and I enjoyed so much watching the movie again. I hadn’t seen it for years, and I thought there were some kinds of similarities in the character – being evil and also funny sometimes. Kathy Bates of course is beyond compliments, she’s so amazing in that film. But it was really interesting watching the movie as I was doing Greta.

What’s your relationship to New York? Do you feel comfortable there?

I do actually, yes, but it’s interesting to come at with this, because Greta’s a lonely character in New York, where maybe the sense of rootless people is stronger than anywhere else – with people coming from all over the world. Well, we have the same sense in Paris now, but not with the same kind of feeling. It took me some time. I remember, when I came to New York for the first time, I was more like Greta. I felt really lonely. But now I like it.

Do you remember the first time you went?

Yes, I remember very clearly. I remember the first time I came to the States. That was not New York; that was in Virginia, because I was doing a theatre tour that took me first to a university in Virginia, in a city called Richmond. Eventually on that same trip I came to New York for the first time, which I clearly remember.

You’re doing movies all over the world. What does that bring to you at this stage in your career?

Well there is such versatility in my work – not in my work, but in the people I work with. And that makes it always new and fresh. I enjoyed working with Neil (Jordan) and Chloë on Greta. My next movie will be a Chinese movie being shot in Paris, with a Chinese filmmaker called Flora Lau. She had a movie in Cannes 2013 called Bends, in Un Certain Regard. And then my next movie after that will be with Ira Sachs, who did ‘Love Is Strange’, and that’s being shot in Portugal. And then it’s another French film and then a play in New York.

Do you still enjoy the travel?

Yes, I do, I love travelling. I think, in a way, doing movies is always a kind of – mostly it’s kind of an interior journey, but if it is also a journey somewhere in the world, I love it. It’s always very inspiring.

How did the dance sequence come about in Greta?

I don’t even know how it happened actually. I think maybe I must have done it in a rehearsal, just a little crazy movement for the rehearsal, and then I think Neil said, ‘Oh! That’s nice, you should do it again.’ I don’t know. And then I followed the proposal, which was quite adventurous.

Isabelle Huppert in a scene from 'Greta.'

The film also explores some issues around social media. Do you ignore that stuff in real life?

No, you cannot ignore it because it’s there. It’s part of our world. I have mixed feelings about it. I have Instagram myself, but I use it very little. It’s not really my thing, I have to say. But I like to post, I don’t know, a text or something like this. When it is just about yourself, it’s not my cup of tea.

You’re often described as fearless. Is there a role you’d be scared of at this point?

No. I don’t think it’s very dangerous. Sometimes you try things and even if it is rejected, so what? It’s not so important. I can understand why people think that – because I’m not scared of certain subjects, that’s for sure. I wasn’t scared doing Elle, and I wasn’t scared doing The Piano Teacher. I mean, I did not even see the negative point of it, so I must be very naïve. (Laughs). Movie making allows you to explore these kinds of complexities and ambiguities, and theatre is also exploring new forms – that’s why I like working with people like (theatre director) Bob Wilson.

Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz in a scene

People talk about how rapidly film is changing. Is the same true of theatre?

Yeah, in a way. I think that what changed a lot in the theatre is that, more and more, the audience is a movie audience that goes to a theatre. So that’s why in theatres we have all these videos now. But I think more and more you also have a television audience, so that’s why theatre sometimes comes in sequences. It reflects a certain reality of different media.

Has the idea of a stage actor changed too?

Yes, but that started long ago. For instance I’ve been working with Bob Wilson for so many years now, and Bob was probably one of the first using microphones. That drastically changed the relationship between the actor and the audience, because the main difference was the way you had to project your voice and to speak very loud and be theatrical, and so by reducing that problem, it completely frees you.


Greta releases in SA cinemas on Friday, 5 July.

(Photos supplied: Film Finity)