Emmanuelle Riva, Best Actress Oscar Nominee for Amour: 5 Things You Don’t Know

Emmanuelle Riva
Emmanuelle Riva Darius Khondji/Films du Losange/Sony Pictures

In an Oscar season crowded with familiar Hollywood names like Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper, a relatively foreign one like Emmanuelle Riva's seems out of place.

But the 85-year-old veteran French actress, who has already set a record as the oldest Best Actress Academy Award nominee ever, is not a force to be ignored stateside.

In director Michael Hanneke's French film Amour (also up for several other Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director), Riva plays retired music teacher Anne, a spirited woman who suffers from a stroke that ultimately leaves her helpless and in the care of longtime husband Georges (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant). Her turn in the heartbreaking role has critics raving, but before she made her way onto the Academy's radar, Riva had a long and celebrated career.

Here, Us Weekly shares five things you might not know about the Academy Award nominee.

1. Best birthday ever! The Oscars, held this year on Sunday, Feb. 24, also marks Riva's 86th birthday. In other words, if she snags the award ahead of her much-younger counterparts, then she will have set an even higher threshold of cinematic greatness as the oldest person to ever win an Oscar, beating out Christopher Plummer, who was 82 when he won Best Supporting Actor for his role in 2010's Beginners.

2. Simple beginnings: Riva's first job was working as a seamstress in Remiremont, a rural part of the eastern French countryside, a far cry from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. She did a few "little theater productions" during grade school, she told The Hollywood Reporter, but it wasn't until she came across an ad for a theater school in Paris several years after high school graduation that she dared to take a stab at acting professionally.

3. A woman of many talents: In addition to being a revered actress in her native France, having tackled such notable French films as Gillo Pontecorvo's Kapo (1960), Jean-Pierre Melville's Leon Morin (1961) and Georges Franju's Therese (1962), Riva is also a published photographer. The actress' landmark first film, 1959's Hiroshima Mon Amour, was set in the famous Japanese city, and Riva took photos of Hiroshima that later went on to be part of a Japanese exhibit at the Nikon Salon (the images were also published in book form in France and Japan).

4. Parlez-vous anglais? Riva hasn't been campaigning for her Oscar the way her other competitors (Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Naomi Watts and Quvenzhane Wallis) may have been because the actress admittedly doesn't speak any English. "I'm sure you know that roles for older women in cinema are not that numerous," she told THR. "And when you're 84 years old? It's not very often that you find a role that matches you."

5. No retirement on the horizon: Despite her more advanced age, Riva isn't planning on quitting the industry anytime soon. The actress will next appear in French comedy A Greek Type of Problem, in the self-explanatory role of "Granny."

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