Revered French actor Isabelle Huppert raved about Hugh Jackman’s performance in “The Son,” Florian Zeller’s Oscar hopeful, during a private event for Academy voters hosted by the movie’s French distribution banner Orange Studio at the Royal Monceau in Paris.
Huppert, who previously collaborated with Zeller on his play “The Mother,” which played in New York in 2019, reacted to “The Son” minutes after watching the movie at the screening event.
“(Hugh Jackman) is really extraordinary. The film gives almost more of an insight into his inner journey than into his son’s,” said Huppert, who seemed moved.
“He’s all at the same time completely helpless and… In that extraordinary scene with Anthony Hopkins he embodies so well this link in the chain, both strong and weak, between the past, the present, and the future,” Huppert continued.
The Sony Pictures Classics movie revolves around Peter (Jackman) whose busy life with new partner Emma (Vanessa Kirby) and their baby is thrown into disarray when his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) turns up with their teenage son, Nicholas. The young man is going through a depressive episode and has been skipping school for months. Peter strives to be a better father, searching to help his son with those intimate and instinctive moments of family happiness, but the weight of Nicholas’ condition sets the family on a dangerous course. Hopkins has a small but meaningful part in “The Son,” playing another paternal figural.
Written in 2019, “The Son” marks Zeller’s most personal work. Dedicated to his own son, the film forms part of a trilogy of plays, including “The Mother” and “The Father,” that have been performed around the world. All three plays explore the resilient bonds that link families together with an emotional brutality that Zeller is able to capture through his close relationships with actors.
Zeller said he formed an intimate connection with Jackman from the very start of their work together. While he had not penned the role with Jackman in mind, as he did with Hopkins for “The Father,” Zeller felt compelled to offer the role to the Australian actor minutes after listening to him talk about what the project meant to him.
“Hugh created that intimacy in quite a unique way. He wrote me a letter, telling me that…he’d heard that I’d been working on adapting the play, ‘The Son’ (…) and said that if I was talking to another actor, I should forget his letter, but that if I wasn’t, he’d like ten minutes to explain why he should have that role.
“After a few minutes, I offered him the part, because I sensed something in him… who understood what it was about, who had those emotions. So I had the feeling that this was a chance, or an opportunity, for us to explore, together, something deep and buried and secret. Something true,” Zeller explained.
“It wasn’t the actor explaining to me why this part interested him. I felt it was more the man, as a father or a son, who felt a connection to this story,” added the filmmaker, who recently moved to Los Angeles with his family and launched a production company Blue Mornings Pictures with former CAA executive Federica Sainte-Rose and Mediawan (Plan B’s new parent company).
Along with John Patrick Shanley, Aaron Sorkin and Martin McDonagh, Zeller is the rare playwright who has succeeded in making the transition from stage to screen.
As in “The Father,” which earned Hopkins an Oscar, Zeller didn’t want actors to rehearse important scenes so that he could capture their rawness and intensity. Zeller said he tried to lead Jackman to a place where he was “prevented from manufacturing a character.”
Huppert, who earned an Oscar nomination with Paul Verhoeven’s thought-provoking “Elle,” said she could relate to Zeller’s directorial approach and ultimate quest for authenticity. “I think that’s the only way… It’s almost the most comfortable way, the surest way, to attain the greatest authenticity without worrying too much about it, without asking pointless questions, whereby you end up creating a character with all kinds of meanderings, which lead you away from the heart of the work, and the pleasure of acting.
“It gives you access to the person, not just the character. And that, obviously, is what every actor would like, to be able to connect in the most intimate way with a character. That’s what I see with Hugh Jackman,” Huppert continued.
Huppert said she had a blast playing “The Mother” in New York and praised Zeller’s body of work. “It really is extraordinarily written for the actors. It explores themes that are extremely precise, and very painful, hard to face in real life and in fiction,” she said. Huppert’s performance “The Mother” earned critical acclaim and marked one of her best reviewed stage performances.
“(Florian Zeller) always hands us these characters, and stories that everyone can relate to (…) Deep down, in family life, or just in life, there’s always the spectre of suffering, of the difficulties of life, of the efforts we all make so that the people we love are as happy as possible,” said Huppert, who is close to her daughter Lolita Chammah, a well-known actor herself. They’re starring together in Michele Placido’s latest film “L’ombra di Caravaggio,” a 17th century-set drama which just came out in French theaters.
Although she had already seen the play in Paris and knew the storyline, Huppert said the film adaptation was “deeply moving” but also “terrifying,” because it “gives you the possibility to reflect and analyze.”
Huppert said it was another “particularity of Florian’s writing, that we don’t get completely submerged by the drama,” at least not until the very end, and that “leaves us the possibility to reflect, analyze and understand, which makes it all the more terrifying.”
While it’s highly unlikely that Zeller will go on to adapt “The Mother” for the big screen, seeing the pair reunite for a film project in a near future is a plausible scenario.
“As I’ve said quite sincerely, I have so much admiration for Isabelle that I really hope we will work together,” Zeller said.
Hearing those words, Huppert looked at him with a large smile and said, quietly, with her legendary aplomb, “We will.”