“You can still love, and you’re still as vibrant as you were when you were twenty,” seventy-year-old Charlotte Rampling tells FilmInk at The Berlin Film Festival. “Your body might be a bit, you know,” she frowns, “and it’s the same with your skin and your face, but all the rest is so vibrant. That’s what growing old is about, and it’s lovely to be able to talk about it now. It’s great for younger people to see that – that you’re as passionate and as extraordinary as you were when you were young. And you can laugh at yourself now too, because you don’t have to try everything out as you do when you’re young. That’s the only difference; everything else is the same. That’s if you want it to be the same, but so many people just get old because they think that they’re getting old. There aren’t a lot of films about older people, but there can be. There’s not a lot of good films about anything,” Rampling laughs.
Renowned for her glacial bearing and on-screen impenetrability, Charlotte Rampling isn’t going gently into the night, still living daringly by her own words with a continuing string of bold and challenging roles. She is among the most unusual and enigmatic actresses to have emerged in England in the sixties. Though sharing cinematic roots with the similarly sexy Julie Christie, Sarah Miles, Samantha Eggar, Jacqueline Bisset and Jane Birkin, Rampling is a far more elusive actress. While iconic and supremely talented, she lacks a definitive role like Christie’s Darling or Miles’ Ryan’s Daughter, and occupies a more mercurial place in cinema history. Rampling is best known for her role in Liliana Cavani’s 1974 fetishistic cult film, The Night Porter, where she played a Holocaust survivor involved in a grim sadomasochistic affair with the Nazi who tortured her during the war. That unbridled lack of compromise and keen sense of perversity is a continuing strain through Rampling’s work. While there are several accessible films (Farewell, My Lovely, Stardust Memories, The Verdict, Angel Heart, Spy Game) on her resume, it’s the cult curios (Zardoz, Max Mon Amour) and French arthouse darlings (Under The Sand, Swimming Pool, Angel, Lemming, Heading South) that sit the most comfortably with her edgy image.
Rampling now teams with British writer/director, Andrew Haigh (the 2011 breakout arthouse fave, Weekend), for the drama, 45 Years, which tells of a longtime marriage threatened by the emergence of something ugly – a dead body frozen in The Swiss Alps, to be exact – from the past. Rampling is cast opposite Sir Tom Courtenay, whose roles in British classics like The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner and Billy Liar give him a cache equal to hers. Their on-screen chemistry is rich and nuanced, born out of a highly involved and unusual shoot. “The house was ours,” Rampling says of the real life abode that served as their principal location. “We kicked out the owners for three months, and we really concentrated on that cottage. We just tried things out. We did lots and lots of scenes that aren’t in the film. Andrew had an enormous amount of material in terms of detail and lead up, and all the necessary things that you need to do just to feel the closeness of two people. We didn’t just do one scene and then another scene; we did an awful lot of stuff. And that’s what did it; we got more and more close to each other, and into it, and it just became an experience.”
As is always the case with Rampling, that experience comes with a European film, with the actress only occasionally venturing into the decidedly more plastic world of American cinema. “We’re not so worried about whether you look beautiful,” Rampling says of European cinema. “Other things matter: character, style, story, psychology. I’m not American anyway, so I’m not going to work the American market. If I was American, I’d be in America, but I’m not American, and I have nothing to do with America, so I’m here…this is my world, Europe.” She relented recently, however, by appearing on the popular US serial killer TV series, Dexter. “It was really to reconcile with Hollywood,” explains Rampling, who first worked in America in the early seventies with Three, The Ski Bum, and Corky. “Working on Dexter was so quick, and it was instinctive. It proved absolutely fantastic, and it did me so much good. It jump-started all sorts of things for me. It was very personal. When I was much younger, I didn’t like Hollywood and I didn’t like what they did there…it was a stupid, juvenile thing. There were years of being bitterly unhappy and hating them all, and just being 23-years-old and saying, ‘Fuck you all! You’re ghastly and I’m never coming back to America.’ So I was reconciling all that.”
There’s something else, however, that Rampling would like from Hollywood, and 45 Years has got it for her. With her and Tom Courtenay picking up the Best Actor and Best Actress Awards at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, the mention of an Oscar nomination started to buzz immediately at Berlin, and when FilmInk brought up the subject, it brought a smile to the actress’ lips. “I would love that,” Rampling laughs. “Could you do something? I would love it…let’s go for it!” Your wish is granted, Ms. Rampling, though FilmInk can’t really take the credit for the eventual – and well deserved – nomination…
45 Years is released in cinemas on February 18.