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Isabelle Huppert and the art of the difficult interview.

Isabelle Huppert and the art of the difficult interview. (photo)

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Last year I was lucky enough to see Isabelle Huppert live on stage, in Robert Wilson’s take on Heiner Müller’s “Quartett.” The play was an uber-modernist and somewhat intolerable take on “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” But it was all worth it to see the Ice Queen in person, as intimidating and terrifying as ever. When she came out for the post-play bow and looked in my general direction, it was all I could do not to run away screaming.

Many actresses can be deemed “brave” for things like uglifying themselves (Charlize Theron in “Monster”), getting naked for a monologue (Julianne Moore in “Short Cuts”) or being unlikable or actively despicable. For Huppert, those aren’t one-off stunts. Her whole career’s one long dare of formidable steeliness that makes Tilda Swinton looks downright cuddly. She’s fascinating and always technically perfect. She’s also someone you probably wouldn’t want to be in the same room with.

So it’s no surprise that she would give an absolutely terrific interview. Her tete-a-tete with Robert Chalmers in the Independent is a stand out in the frequent tepid world of Interviews With Actors. (Also recommended: Danny Trejo’s career overview at the AV Club.) Nothing of substance is uncovered: “my only vice is broccoli,” she announces towards the end, which pretty much sums her and the piece up.

07062010_ceremonie.jpgChalmers apparently read every single past session with her he could get his hands on to prepare for the interview, going back to early ’80s source material that directly contradicts what she’s saying now. They dispute the question of what’s public knowledge and what’s just chronology: Huppert refuses to say when her parents died (“That’s private”), but has no trouble saying that when she was a child, “because I had red hair, and a pale complexion, it felt like having no face at all.”

When you make a statement like that, you’re all but begging for people to confuse your private personality and your roles. That kind of background information could have fit into many of the parts she’s played (nor has she really done any of the blandly likable, or even just likable, roles to counter-balance her image — she just goes from gray to intensely dark).

This profile should serve as a “you go girl!” moment for the many actors who complain in their interviews about how their right to privacy has been stripped away from them, a common theme of late. Huppert, by contrast, is a sort of role model: like Jodie Foster (another steely actress who radiates self-contained strength on-screen and keeps very quiet about her life off-screen), she’s hardly cracked once in 30-plus years of interviews, giving no one anything to work with. The piece in the Independent is a compulsively readable document of a two-hour sparring session disguised as a mutually beneficial transaction. Rarely has any American thespian of recent times had the nerve to do anything quite like it.

Or maybe the lesson here is if you really want to be left alone, play the most frightening parts of all time, all the time. Here’s Huppert demonstrating that in “The Piano Teacher”:

[Photos: “Quartett” via Wikimedia Commons, taken by Pascal Victor, 2006; “La Ceremonie,” Home Vision Entertainment, 1995]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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