As the Cannes Film Festival prepares to kick off its 70th year, actresses Jessica Chastain and Isabelle Huppert reflect on the good – and bad – of their festival experiences.
Huppert and Chastain played mother and daughter in the 2014 Cannes film “The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby” and unsurprisingly discovered they had an instant rapport, even finishing one another’s sentences in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter. The women recall the first time they met which, naturally, was on the Croisette in 2011.
“When ‘Tree of Life’ went to Cannes, all the interviewers were asking me about my favourite actors and actresses because I was new to the industry, and they wanted to get to know me. I was always gushing about this little, unknown actress Isabelle Huppert,” Chastain says of the French actress. “Everyone kept saying, ‘She’s here.’ And so they were trying to get an introduction. We had dinner in Paris. And when I said to her: ‘Oh, I love you. You’re my favourite actress,’ she goes, ‘I know,'” says Chastain, laughing. “Because that’s how much I was talking about it.”
That 2011 festival was the first time Chastain, 40, attended the glitzy event, guided through the red carpet process by her co-stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
“The first time I was scared to death. I didn’t understand the audience. At the first red carpet for ‘Tree of Life’, I didn’t even know what to expect. I had never even seen pictures of that red carpet,” she explains. “So when I arrived, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn each grabbed a hand and we walked the carpet. They basically held me up. And the whole time they were saying things like, ‘OK, now we’re going to smile. Now we’re going to turn. OK, that’s it, Jessica.’ Like, they were really coaching me.”
“And you can see in the pictures where I’m going up the stairs, they never let go of my hands. It really was a scary, wonderful experience for me,” she says.
While Chastain is a relative newcomer to Cannes, Huppert has attended nearly half of the fests with more than 30 appearances under her belt, including two Best Actress wins in 1978 and 2001.
Huppert says the festival has grown over the years, but after getting over her nerves on her first few festivals, the event is nothing but a pleasurable experience for the 64-year-old actress.
“Once you’ve done it twice or three times, it’s only pleasure. The first time is a shock because all these people are shouting your name, and you feel like you have to stop for each camera, which is impossible,” she says. “I wouldn’t change anything.”
Though it hasn’t been all good experiences for Huppert, who learned in 1991 that her movies can divide audiences.
“Most difficult was when I was in ‘Malina’, by the great German director Werner Schroeter. It’s exactly the type of film [a downbeat relationship drama] that Cannes can be dangerous for. The reception wasn’t friendly at all,” she recalls. “People were walking out of the theater. But I didn’t care. We have to be prepared for these kinds of reactions. It doesn’t make a definitive statement on the quality of the film.”
The festival has brought a few surprises over the years for the actresses, including Huppert’s Best Actress wins.
“My two best actress awards. It’s a shock. No?” she says as Chastain raises an eyebrow. “Really?”
“It was a surprise. I remember clearly,” Huppert adds.
For Chastain, 2011 was a shocking year for the actress who had just burst onto the scene with her role in “The Help”, Terrence Malick’s “Tree Of Life” and the doomsday drama “Take Shelter”, with the latter two screening at Cannes.
“For me, I would say ‘Tree of Life’ winning the Palme d’Or. And then ‘Take Shelter’ won Critics’ Week. The festival is very emotional for me because my dream my whole life was to be an actress. And I was born at this festival as an actress,” she says. This year Chastain returns to the festival as a jury member.
Huppert, who served as the president of the Cannes jury in 2009, has nothing but praise for Chastain in “Tree Of Life”.
“When you think about ‘Tree of Life’ and what Jessica did in that film, it was so unique. It’s about how she moves. There was something that was beyond acting. And that’s really why it was so strong,” says Huppert.
Both actresses identify as feminists and are strong supporters of women’s rights. For them, there’s still much progress to be made in the entertainment industry when it comes to gender equality.
“93 per cent of filmmakers are men and only seven per cent are women, and 3 per cent of DPs are female. It clearly shows there is discrimination happening. Talk is cheap. But what are you actually doing to move the needle?” Chastain asks.
“There is still a lot to do,” adds Huppert.