Isabelle Huppert discusses her "crowning achievement"

(CNN)Isabelle Huppert is an Oscar nominee -- an accomplishment the French actress has been working toward for a long time.

Nominated for her leading role in Paul Verhoeven's "Elle," Huppert described the honor as "a crowning achievement" for which she's "very, very grateful," in a recent interview with CNN.
As one of European cinema's enduring stars, there's very little Huppert hasn't done in the realm of film. Regularly prefaced as "the Meryl Streep of France," she's starred in more than 100 features over five decades, worked with an exhaustive list of auteurs and even served as jury president of the Cannes Film Festival. But the Academy Awards, the largest stage of them all, had eluded the actress until now.
With a Golden Globe already in the bag for her performance as a rape survivor, Huppert is jostling with Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Ruth Negga and Meryl Streep for a best actress Oscar statuette. The current odds position her as the dark horse, behind Portman's grieving First Lady in "Jackie" and frontrunner Stone's all-singing, all-dancing turn as Mia in "La La Land."
    "It means a lot (to be nominated) for that film in particular," Huppert said. "With that director, that subject, that role, it makes the whole journey quite exceptional."
    "Elle" tells the story of Michele Leblanc, a Parisian businesswoman raped by a stranger in her home. Stalked by her attacker, the film follows Leblanc's unconventional and sometimes unsettling revenge.
    Huppert embraced her complex character.
    "I hardly felt that I was playing a character," the actress reflected. "I felt like I was playing a prototype of a person who does not exist... she's so multiple: she's strong and weak, she's sometimes like a man, sometimes like a woman."
    "The film raises a lot of questions about so many things," Huppert said, "about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be desired, what it means to have a sexuality, what it means to be attracted by violence (and) where violence comes from."
    "Elle," Huppert added, leaves space for interpretation.
    "You should always believe in what you do, and trust people's capacity to be smart as a spectator, and to be ready to understand things that are not really lined up and ready to be understood."
    But can Huppert win with such a film?
    As a beguiling but frequently unsympathetic lead, an Oscar win and Huppert would join the likes of Charlize Theron ("Monster"), Kathy Bates ("Misery") and Faye Dunaway ("Bonnie and Clyde").
    Any resemblance to past winners will likely play less of a part than the language barrier, however. Oscars for foreign language performances are a rare thing. Just seven have succeeded across all four acting categories, with only Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose"), Sophia Loren ("Two Women") and Roberto Benigni ("Life is Beautiful") winning for leading roles.
    The odds appear to be stacked against the veteran actress. But during a campaign period typically steeped in polite, self-effacing competition, Huppert is refreshingly forthright in her desire for the Oscar.
    "Of course I care about it," she told The Hollywood Reporter last month.
    If the Academy were to factor in career achievements -- which they have been ready to do in the past -- it may be Huppert's year.
    But if it's not to be, there's always plenty more opportunities. The prolific actress is listed to appear in seven films in 2017.
    Whatever happens on February 26, Huppert's best could be yet to come.