Isabelle Huppert

I Heart Huckabees

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

“It was enough for me to see 'meaninglessness and cruelty and manipulation' ”

French actress Isabelle Huppert has made over 80 films with just a handful of those in Hollywood. They include Michael Cimino's famous film debacle Heaven's Gate and Curtis Hanson's humdrum thriller The Bedroom Window. She's had far better success in Europe and more recently with director Michael Haneke in The Piano Teacher and Time Of The Wolf. However, David O Russell's existential comedy I Heart Huckabees takes her back to America to play a specialist in the field of "meaninglessness, cruelty and manipulation".

Did you get a feel for this script straight away or did David O Russell have to convince you into his vision?

He didn't have to convince me but I had to trust my instincts before I left my country to go to LA, because I couldn't rely on just reading the script 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 and I also knew David O Russell's previous work. So even if the script wasn't clear to me when I first read it - and even when I read it the second time - I had a good feeling about it. I don't think it's the type of script that you can 'get' right away - you just have to immerse yourself in the making of the film to really capture something of it.

So you made this film on faith alone?

Well, that's how I usually make films - just by having faith in the director. Since it's personal and very original, all you can do is have faith. If you are sceptical about what you are doing then it's hard to do it, but I think it's the same for any worthwhile experience. You go in blind many times as an actor and you just have to accept that, you know? But that's also the nice part of it. You go in blind but you know the director will lead you somewhere.

David has a very chaotic way of working. How did you adapt to that?

We all understood that chaos was a tool; part of a system to get the movie achieved. It was not a nice, quiet set, so 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. It was slightly disorganised sometimes, but there were so many people together so it had to be like this, with all the energy and craziness. It was a part of the project, like the special effects you see in the film with all the little squares on screen - piece-by-piece it begins to make sense.

How did you really feel about rolling around in the mud with Jason Schwartzman?

That was the only scene that was clear to me in the film. It was clearly written that he was going to plunge me into that mud so there was no surprise at all. I didn't expect it to be such a striking scene for people because that is what they talk most about to me. I don't know what images it takes people back to - probably some primitive image. Usually a love scene is primitive, but doing it in the mud makes it even more so. I think it plays on several levels - it's playful, childish and it's violent as well.

Did you have to research Eastern philosophy for this role?

I didn't research this role as I would for any other part. It was enough for me to see it written on her business card: "meaninglessness and cruelty and manipulation&quot - as opposed to Dustin Hoffman's character who carries another way of thinking. That was clear enough for me to understand vaguely what was going on and what I was supposed to carry in the film.

David said he cast you because you were French and he associates France with nihilism. Do you think that's fair?

Yes, I think that caricature relies on some truth. Roughly you think that the Europeans, and mostly the French, are more cerebral and pessimistic and a bit sceptical. Americans are more open and believers, you know? Of course these are caricatures, but sometimes caricatures help you to understand how people relate to each other.

Did making this film throw you into an existential crisis?

No, I just had questions about the meaning of the film, not about my life!

I Heart Huckabees is released in UK cinemas on Friday 26th November 2004.