Charlotte's Web (II)
(Telegraph, Aug. 16 2003)
By John Hiscock
Now in her fifties and enjoying a renaissance, actress Charlotte Rampling is ready to strip off and embrace the wild life again, she tells John Hiscock
For Charlotte Rampling, life has come full circle. The actress who scorched her way through the Swinging Sixties proclaims herself ready to do it all again. But differently, this time.
Rampling: 'I don't mind nudity'
"A really good period of my life was when I was 18 until 21," she explains. "It was a time when I dared to do so much. And then life came down very heavily and I just knew that it would never be the same again. Now I have got to the stage where I have paid a lot of dues and I possibly can dare to do all those things again."
All of them? The wild living, provocative comments and film roles that caused her to be called the kinky sex film queen of Europe? "I'm a woman in my fifties, so I do those things with much more humility and humanity than I would have then. But it's the same feeling." She smiles.
The durable, green-eyed beauty is currently enjoying both a cinematic and personal renaissance. Swimming Pool, the second film she has made with director François Ozon, following Under the Sand, will have its UK premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival tomorrow and opens in cinemas on Friday. In the film, Rampling plays a repressed English crime novelist with writer's block who holes up at her publisher's home in France, where she is joined by his wild, free-loving teenage daughter.
At the age of 57, Rampling has not lost her ability to shock. Although the young French actress Ludivine Sagnier has most of the sex scenes, Rampling has a startling nude scene that requires her to seduce an elderly gardener. "I don't mind nudity," she says. "I've never really been shy of that. It's a form of expression and it depends how far you want to go with that expression.
"In the Swimming Pool scenes I said to François, 'Hey, I think it would be really ugly to show me bouncing around, because Ludivine's going to be doing a lot of that and she has a lovely, sexy young body. And even though I have got a reasonable body, I don't think it is going to be that interesting for spectators.' I said, 'You can do everything, but I will not move'." She laughs at the recollection.
Rampling now spends most of her time in Paris, where she first went to live more than 20 years ago with her second husband, composer Jean-Michel Jarre. They divorced recently and she is now in a relationship with Jean-Noel Tassez, a business consultant some years her junior.
We talk as she sips tea at London's Dorchester Hotel. Although she is courteous and forthcoming, her appearance and air of reserve make her seem slightly daunting. Ludivine Sagnier obviously felt the same, because after they finished filming Swimming Pool she confessed to Rampling that she had felt intimidated by her. "I know I intimidate quite a lot of people because I get quite fierce and I look impenetrable, which is obviously not the case," she says. "It's a form of protection."
The daughter of a British Army colonel, Rampling and her sister grew up in Gibraltar, France and Spain. When she was 17, she briefly teamed up with her sister in a bilingual singing act and then became a model, moving into a flat in Chelsea and throwing herself into the Swinging Sixties lifestyle.
"Our parents hadn't lived those kind of lives at all," she recalls. "I was from a middle-class family, but suddenly class wasn't important any more and we could explore creative fields that we'd never been able to before. It was a very intense few years for people living in London at that time. And I was very much a part of it."
She made her film debut in 1965 with a small role in Richard Lester's The Knack, then came to audience's attention with her scene-stealing as Lynn Redgrave's bitchy roommate in 1966's Georgy Girl.
At 21, however, her life was transformed by a double tragedy when her sister died of a brain haemorrhage in Argentina and her mother suffered a stroke. Rampling's father spent three years nursing his wife back to health, while Rampling sold her London home and her car and fled abroad. She spent some time in the Middle East, went to Afghanistan, studied mysticism and Oriental religion and entered a Tibetan monastery in Scotland for a year.
"My sister's death really pulled me up. How can you go on being frivolous after a death in your family? That's why, probably from that moment on, I went deep down, searching for the whys and wherefores of life, rather than wanting to be in films for entertainment, or just having fun, or just looking pretty and being a dolly bird."
After a series of unsuccessful films, her career revived when she co-starred in Luchino Visconti's The Damned in 1970. Then she delivered what is perhaps her best-remembered performance as a concentration camp survivor involved in a sado-masochistic relationship with a former guard in The Night Porter.
Rampling made films such as Farewell My Lovely and Angel Heart in America, but soon decided the Hollywood life was not for her. "It just didn't suit me," she recalls. "I'm not a very ambitious person and Hollywood is about ambition and career moves and getting your name around. So if you're not prepared to play that game, there's not much point in staying. There were all these American actresses my age doing it, so I would have had to fight doubly hard, and I just didn't want to do it."
She and Jarre married and had a son, David, now 24, to join Barnaby, Rampling's son by her first marriage to Brian Southcombe, and Jarre's daughter Emilie. Shortly afterwards, Rampling suffered a nervous breakdown, followed by bouts of depression, for which she underwent treatment in 1991. "I think it happens in everyone's lives, she said. "We're all going to be depressed at one time or another, and some longer than others."
Now confident and at ease with herself, Rampling looks back with no regrets. "I have a code of living that I stand by very strongly and there are a lot of things I wouldn't do," she says. "The things that I've done I've always done for reasons and felt justified in doing, so I haven't had any bad surprises.