Isabelle Huppert Is Busy. But There’s Always Time for Theater. | Modern Society of USA

Isabelle Huppert Is Busy. But There’s Always Time for Theater.

Isabelle Huppert Is Busy. But There’s Always Time for Theater.

Isabelle Huppert has five films coming out in 2019. The French actress is so notoriously busy that, when playing an exaggerated version of herself in an episode of the Netflix comedy “Call My Agent!” last year, she was depicted shooting two major films at once (and doctoring the script for one of them) while squeezing in an artsy Korean flick on the side and preparing to play Hamlet onstage.

The portrayal is gently satirical. But only just.

“I love what I do,” Ms. Huppert said in an interview, when asked why she keeps such a busy schedule. “It’s a great privilege in life, to love what you do.”

The actress, whose American profile got a big boost from earning an Oscar nomination for her 2016 no-holds-barred performance in “Elle,” is taking a brief break from film to star in “The Mother,” a play by Florian Zeller that begins performances Feb. 20 at the Atlantic Theater Company. (During the run, she will also have another movie release: Neil Jordan’s demented psycho-thriller “Greta,” in theaters March 1.)

The American theater producer Jeffrey Richards approached her with the project by Mr. Zeller — whose “The Father” was on Broadway in 2016 — and she immediately signed on.

“I thought the part was great,” Ms. Huppert said after a rehearsal. “It’s based on a theme that’s simultaneously specific and universal, that of a depressive woman who has a hard time dealing with her husband’s and her children’s absence. Sometimes she reminds me of Blanche in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ because she lives between reality and fantasy and dream.”

Anne, the titular mother, is opaque and elusive. Is she mad? Is she hopped up on too many pills? The character, and the play, do not provide answers. But Ms. Huppert, who has an uncanny gift for portraying women on the edge, should make the mystery compelling.

“When you don’t master a language as well, and English isn’t my mother tongue, it’s obviously more difficult,” Ms. Huppert said, seemingly unfazed.

The irony is that, like “The Maids,” “The Mother” was originally written in French. Ms. Huppert has not read the original, nor did she see the premiere in Paris 2012. She jumped straight into Christopher Hampton’s English translation.

“There is a phrasing, a rhythm to this language that you must respect,” she said of the play. “I try to remain vigilant about that, and that my partners do as well. There are pauses, there are beats — it’s like music, and it’s very important to respect that in a very precise manner.”

At the same time, Ms. Huppert knows a certain looseness is key when working on a project.

“The very first time we met,” Mr. Cullman, the director, recalled, “I asked her many questions about her process, how she’d like to explore her character. She simply said, ‘I’m free.’”

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