The actor: Charlotte Rampling, a former model who made her name as an actor largely by taking on unconventional parts: a Holocaust survivor who has a sadomasochistic relationship with a Nazi in The Night Porter; a psychic in a futuristic utopia in Zardoz; a woman in love with a chimpanzee in Max Mon Amour; a mystery novelist who becomes fascinated by a young houseguest in Swimming Pool; and more. Rampling’s recent films include Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, in which she plays the cranky mother of a bride-to-be, and The Look, a documentary about her life, career, and outlook on aging.
Charlotte Rampling: The Look (2011)—Herself
The A.V. Club: It’s hard to interview you after watching The Look, because you answered just about any question a person might have about you in that movie.
Charlotte Rampling: Oh yeah? [Laughs.] So that means that I can be through with interviews forever, yeah?
AVC: Exactly. Just refer reporters back to the film.
CR: You may think that, but there are some people who’ve seen the film and say, “Oh, there’s not enough detail, there’s not enough of your personal life, or your relationships…” Well, you’re never going to please everybody.
AVC: Do you think of The Look as your film, or Angelina Maccarone’s film?
CR: I think of it as our film. It is Angelina’s take on me. I mean, I gave as much of myself as I could in each given conversation, in the given context. But the way it was edited—her choice of how I would be seen—that was all her. I didn’t want any kind of control over that.
AVC: Are there aspects of yourself that you wish had been included more in the film?
CR: I don’t sort of go there, really, because it’s too difficult. I mean, I’m not a film director, so I don’t go into that kind of choice-making. We’ll take a track, we’ll do that one, and that will be it. And also, when it’s about you… I didn’t really want to have that kind of take on myself. I just wanted someone else to have it.
AVC: Lars von Trier has a reputation as being a demanding director. Did you find that to be so?
CR: No, not at all. I think a lot depends on the time that you meet people, and what particular phase of their life they’re in. And I think that this particular phase, at this moment, he’s quite happy, quite serene. He wasn’t tormented. And I think he loved making the film. Certainly the people who had worked with him before, they were saying that about him on the set. He was very gentle and very easy to work with. He’d wanted me to be in a film of his called Europa [in 1991], but I couldn’t do it at the time. He’d always liked me, admired me, and wanted me to be in a film. So here I am playing his mother. The woman who ruined his life, you see. [Laughs.]
AVC: Were you actually impersonating her?
CR: No, not at all. But it was an aspect of his mother. She was that kind of woman, that kind of rather highly domineering, free-spirited, anti-conventional person. Y’know, she was probably quite interesting as a character, but not to have as a mother. [Laughs.]
Under The Sand (2000)—“Marie Drillon”
Swimming Pool (2003)—“Sarah Morton”
AVC: François Ozon makes very different kinds of movies from project to project. Does he convey to his actors the tone and look that he’s going for?
CR: Yes, absolutely. He’s very transparent. His vision is very easy to follow. He’s not at all a tormented character. There’s a dark part of him on the inside, but he’s very transparent to work with. He’s luminous. He laughs. He’s a very laughing character on the outside.
AVC: You seemed to work together so well. Have you talked about collaborating again?
CR: No, but you never know. It all has to do with the subject. When a subject pops into a director’s head, you either fit in there somewhere, or you don’t. An actor is only who he is. Especially as you get older, there’s not as much of a range of potentially feasible parts.
AVC: But you haven’t really fallen into that usual trap of being the glamorous ingénue when you’re young, and then transitioning into playing the doting wife, and then the mother. You’ve played a lot of roles that don’t fall into any of those categories. Has that been conscious choice? Do you get offered those more stereotypical roles?
CR: No, or if I have been, I’ve passed them by. [Laughs.] No, I sort of seek out a little bit more of the weird ones, that I would be interested in playing. I’m not as interested in playing everyday people.
Stardust Memories (1980)—“Dorrie”
CR: Woody Allen and I had a good time together, because he saw in me a great sense of humor that he hadn’t necessarily suspected. There was no reason for him to suspect it, I suppose. [Laughs.] I wasn’t exactly known for my comedic timing and all that. But I showed I could do it in the end, and I liked very much that he found that particular talent in me. We had a very good time, because he was in between two love relationships, so we had a nice, platonic friendship. It was a special time. As I said when I was talking about Lars von Trier, you meet people at certain times of their life, and they’re in a good phase. That was certainly true of Woody then.
AVC: In that film, your part is to be this great beauty. Do you think of yourself that way?
CR: No, I don’t think of myself that way at all. I don’t think one should. It’s about the way others look at you, y’know?
Orca (1977)—“Rachel Bedford”
CR: I actually really liked that film. In the end, it was a film that my kids could see. And it meant that I met and worked with Richard Harris. I took the part because I thought it was a good film—a potentially good film—and it would open up a new market for me, y’know, making a big spectacle. It was just after Jaws, and it was going to be a film about a big whale, but about conservation also. I liked the character I was playing, who was a scientist concerned with conserving the remaining beasts. And it was just something different. I hadn’t done a film like that. And it was opening perhaps another market, because a lot of people were able to see that film, and finally know who I was.
Max Mon Amour (1986)—“Margaret Jones”
AVC: That’s another animal film, sort of. What was it like to play that reality of having a relationship with this animal?
CR: It was like being with a human being. I mean, they are human beings. Okay, a bit different, but not much. It’s all about love, just with an animal. And then the husband’s very understanding, and brings him into the house. [Laughs.]
AVC: How was the actual co-star to work with?
CR: Who, the man who played my husband, or the animal?
AVC: [Laughs.] The animal.
CR: Well, I love animals. They’re so sweet in the certain way they do things.
AVC: There’s some debate over whether writer-director John Boorman meant the movie to be satirical, or serious. What was your take?
CR: I think it’s meant to be serious. To a certain degree. If you look at what it is… I mean, it is what it is. It can become quite cult-y, because it is so strange. There are a lot of oddities about it that make it hard to categorize. But it think it’s an extraordinary kind of fable, very much at the heart of who John Boorman is. John Boorman has this thing about the Holy Grail and mythology, actually. This is one of his manifestations of that.
The Night Porter (1974)—“Lucia Atherton”
AVC: Were you aware, going into the film, that this was going to be controversial?
CR: Yeah. Well, yes and no. I don’t really sort of think in that way when I do films. I don’t think, “What is the outcome going to be?” It’s just that this was a very profound story. Very compelling, very haunting, and very revealing, opening up the doors to what happened in this time and place. A door to the other side of history. And it was a very human story, a very human tragic story, and that appealed to me. What appealed also to me, mainly, was working with Dirk Bogarde on it. He pretty much only wanted me for it. He’d said no to the film years before because they hadn’t found the right girl, but we’d done The Damned together, so he knew I could do it.
AVC: What did The Night Porter do for your career? Did you find it was so controversial, it was hard to get parts after that?
CR: No. If I’d wanted to go more mainstream, I could’ve worked at it and probably gotten there, but I didn’t necessarily want to go mainstream. I’m not a mainstream kind of person. [Laughs.]