‘La Légende’ Charlotte Rampling on Her Past, Present and Future

‘La Légende’ Charlotte Rampling on Her Past, Present and Future

first time I met actress Charlotte Rampling was at the
Berlin Film Festival in 2012. Just 16 years old at the time, my
fascination with Charlotte was akin to that of child’s admiration
for a cool older cousin. At 66 years old Rampling’s haunting beauty
and intense, hooded gaze made obvious what led Dirk Bogarde, her
co-star in cult classic The Night Porter, to famously label her
‘the look’ decades earlier.

Rampling has proved herself unashamed to test boundaries in her
professional acting career. She has played challenging roles with
sensitivity and insight: from her early days in Georgy Girl (1966)
where she portrayed a woman completely lacking in maternal
instinct, to her role in the immortal nightmare Zardoz (1974); to
having an affair with a chimpanzee in Max Mon Amour (1986) and more
recently touching on the issue of sex tourism in Heading South

Unafraid to take on other industries in her stride, Rampling set
the fashion world ablaze in 1973 when she became the first woman
photographed naked by Helmut Newton. Later she would clutch Juergen
Teller to her breasts in a Marc Jacobs campaign and become the face
of Nars cosmetics at 68; all confirming Francois Nars’ summation of
the legend as an “endlessly watchable mystery”.

Earning best actress at both Berlin and Edinburgh festivals this
year for the film 45 Years (in cinemas this August) Rampling has
not finished challenging audiences worldwide. 45 Years explores the
long-term relationship of a married couple and the struggles they
endure in the run-up to their forty-fifth wedding anniversary.
Electra Simon talks to ‘La Légende’ about beauty, wisdom and
enacting your dreams.

ELECTRA SIMON: Your recent film 45 Years exposes the
complex structure of a marriage. What do you think is essential in
a relationship?

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: You need a lot of
ingredients: tolerance, endurance, the ability to hold the tension.
Not overreacting to things and trying to keep a distance are both
important. It is a kind of équilibre, like someone walking on a

ES: Balancing your own life with someone

CR: Yes, you have to keep your life balanced;
you can’t just give over to somebody else. That’s a real recipe for
disaster for both sides. Even though your partner might put you in
that position, they will not end up liking you for it.

People like to think they haven’t discovered everything about the other person all at once

ES: Right, keep your own interests.

CR: Yes, and keep a certain mystery. Keep
things slightly hidden, nothing serious, but keep your life partly
to yourself; don’t give over everything. That’s important, people
like that. People like to think they haven’t discovered everything
about the other person all at once.

ES: In Max Mon Amor, Margret and Max [the chimp] cannot
communicate by talking. Do you think a quiet, or even silent,
relationship can be more intimate?

CR: I advocate that actually, as I am not a
very chatty person. I’m not good socially because I don’t
understand chitchat. So I lead quite a silent life, and the man I
live with is silent too, it’s good that way.

ES: So you only really talk when you want to say
something meaningful?

CR: Yes, and then the other listens. There is a
lot of chitter chatter in our heads that we ought not to share – it
is just useless words. Sometimes in a conversation I just pause for
a minute and think, ‘who is actually listening to anybody?’ so I
just stop talking.

ES: You have a reputation not just for your
professional talents, but also for your unchanging beauty. Do you
feel that being physically beautiful gives people an advantage in

CR: It is a huge advantage, but it demands its
price. It’s a God-given gift because people are always attracted to
beauty; even as a child you’re going to be the one that stands out
from everyone else. That is the strange, almost ridiculous thing
about beauty; it opens all the doors. But only just; then you
really have to know what you are doing and surf this opening very
intelligently. Also, the glorious beauty of youth doesn’t last.
Even if you are a beautiful older women, eyes just aren’t looking
at you in the same way they did before. Not because you’re looking
horrible, but because you’re not that kind of beautiful anymore,
not that ‘it’ sort of beauty. You need to develop all the other
stuff as you grow up. I think that if you have done the interior
work inside yourself as you get older; developing as a person and
not as just an outside manifestation of yourself, then you have
really learnt how to live. Anyone can present themselves with
confidence, and that is really attractive.

I need to be really interested in the woman that I am going to be playing – it’s got to be worth investing in

ES: What is it that makes you choose particular

CR: The role has to call me in; I always need
the stories that are psychologically aware. I need to be really
interested in the woman that I am going to be playing – it’s got to
be worth investing in – otherwise I’d much rather do something
else. Even when I wasn’t earning much, I have always passed by
those ‘wishy-washy’ roles that are going to bore me. As for
choosing, I just get that feeling in my stomach, and I have to say
yes. That goes back to what we were saying about confidence: I
wasn’t confident as a youngster, (as youngsters aren’t) but I would
give the goddamn impression that I was. People thought I was so
sure of myself, which of course I wasn’t. But I thought, “If I am
carrying it off, it must be there somewhere there within me”, and I
started to believe that inner voice. Then when that inner voice
says, “Do it”, you believe it. You can ask others, but it is only
your voice inside that makes things move.

ES: If you are playing a character that interests you
psychologically, is acting almost cathartic for you?

CR: You could say it is therapeutic, because
what I wanted to do was to use film to illustrate the life I was
leading. It didn’t have to necessarily be my life, but a parallel
life; people that I could have been, that I might have wanted to
be, or were scared of becoming. Investigating these routes was
interesting. That is therapeutic, because you can project yourself
in to other people’s minds and imagine what it would be like to be
something to excess.

ES: That sounds just like what character Sarah Morten
in Swimming Pool does in her writing: live vicariously through her

CR: Exactly.

ES: What are you most afraid of?

CR: Fear, and what it does to you. We need fear
– it’s a fuel – but when it overwhelms you it’s paralysing. I have
been paralysed by fear; there was a moment in my life where I felt
like I was carrying the fear of the world on my shoulders.

ES: In The Night Porter, I was enraptured by the
infamous scene where you slink around in a pair of braces singing
‘Would I wish for trouble times, or purely blissful days? If I had
a wish to make – I don’t know what I’d say. A little touch of woe,
for if it were not part of my life, I’m sure I’d miss it so.’ What
do you think a life without melancholy and woe would be

CR: The thing is, we cannot live without the
contrast. We cannot love without hating, or know what satisfaction
means without dissatisfaction. We need melancholy to feel deep joy.
In films and literature we talk about how lovely it would be if we
were all at peace. But if everyone was peaceful the whole time,
they’d all be so bored [laughs]. We’d all be apathetic, like in
Zardoz; they had nothing to do and they were so bored out of their

ES: So our lives would become
purposeless and consequently intolerable. We wouldn’t be scared of
the world in the same way. But what would you say is the best cure
for emotional pain?

CR: To confront it head on. You can’t avoid it;
nothing will make it go away, tranquillisers will only prolong it.
Don’t try to work it out; you can’t, You just have to go through
it. Be your own best friend even if you have no confidence left.
Say to yourself “We can do this, it is just a matter of time.”

ES: Putting the power to make yourself happy back in
your own hands is quite a liberating idea.

CR: Well it is you that is going to have to do
it – it is only your attitude that is going to bring about what you
could become. But there is also help out there in the atmosphere.
Not necessarily God, but just help: you have to ask for it
sometimes, and I have done that so much.

ES: For me, asking for something means I have to
properly formulate in my head what I want. Just that act of
clarification makes my goal easier to obtain.

CR: Absolutely. It is almost scientific. You’re
telling your own brain; ‘If it isn’t clear, nothing will