Charlotte Rampling Lets Us In

Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello

The iconic actress divulges what makes her tick.

Q: In your new movie, Eye of the Storm, you play a dying matriarch with two dysfunctional middle-aged children. Have you ever played someone so old?

A: Once, when I played Livia opposite Peter O’Toole’s Augustus and had to end up an old lady. But this role was very challenging: She’s old, she’s ill, she’s grumpy and a lot of the time she’s not there. To make it not look over the top, that’s not easy—there’s a danger of overacting.

Q: Still, for someone known for what Dirk Bogarde called “The Look,” it must have felt disconcerting to look like that.

A: Well, one of my conditions for making the film was no prosthetics. I wanted my face painted like a canvas, with all my own lines drawn deeper, so it looks exactly like my face—just older.

Q: With unforgettable downers like The Damned and The Night Porter among your early credits, you certainly haven’t worked the sunny side of the street.

A: After I did Georgy Girl in 1966, John Cleese said, “You know, you’re a born comedienne.” But I just don’t want to do it. I have a good sense of humor, but the things that I need to express come from the shadowy side of life.

Q: You make it sound a lot more like therapy than show business.

A: I’m not in it to make a career. I’m in it to change things for myself. Filmmaking, for me, has been a kind of initiatic quest, if that’s not too pompous.

Q: Is that why you’ve mostly steered clear of Hollywood?

A: Hollywood turned me off. You’ve got to knock everybody out of the way to get to the top there. You’ve got to crumple them all. I’m not a crumpler, so I stayed in Europe.

Q: You just finished shooting I, Anna, written and directed by your son, Barnaby Southcombe. I gather it’s not exactly a laugh riot.

A: It’s very melancholy. Why would a boy want his mother in a film? But he says there’s only one woman who could do the role and that’s me. After reading it, I agreed.

Q: I hate to sound American about this, but has this initiatic quest of yours produced any results?

A: That’s a terrible way to put it, but I do feel now that I don’t have to be on the edge anymore. It happened very slowly, but you can get there. I was determined to come through, to survive. I think of myself as a good-humored survivor.

Q: And what about love? You’ve been living with the businessman Jean-Noël Tassez in Paris for some 15 years in what appears to be a permanent state of engagement.

A: Here’s a scoop. I even think I might be getting married! I never wanted to get married again—me, free woman. But it’s so we can protect each other—well, him protecting me more, with my meager earnings.

Q: So Charlotte, happy at last?

A: It is like paradise. In the end you realize, it’s all okay now. Wow!

The U.S. release of Eye of the Storm is on September 7; I, Anna, opens in the UK in October.

Rampling’s Roles of a Lifetime

Georgy Girl (1966): Had her first hit, as the libertine friend of Lynn Redgrave’s titular naïf.
The Night Porter
(1974):
Played a woman in an S&M relationship with the Nazi who had tormented her.
The Verdict
(1982):
Made her biggest splash stateside as Paul Newman’s deceitful girlfriend.
Swimming Pool
(2003):
Earned great reviews as a mystery novelist seeking a cure for writer’s block.