Charlotte Rampling - 'My sister's death taught me so much'

Charlotte Rampling - 'My sister's death taught me so much'

Charlotte Rampling is talking about growing older. “We can’t stop it,” she says briskly. “We can’t stop it through plastic surgery, we can’t stop it through anything.

“We’re always changing from the moment we’re born ’til the moment we die, and we might as well get used to it. I’ve always thought that if I can show this change in myself through cinema – not just by showing myself changing physically, but also as developing what I have to give as a human being – then that would be quite interesting.”

She makes an excellent case for this when we meet for a chat in Beverly Hills. She’s tall and slender, and has a perfect bone structure and intense blue eyes. Back in the Sixties, her combination of smouldering sensuality and controversial choice of film roles made her one of the hottest young stars in European film.

This year, we’re all talking about her for a different reason, her latest film, 45 Years, in which her performance as Kate, a nice middle-class British woman who discovers a shocking truth about her husband (played by Tom Courtenay), has reduced many of us to tears – and gained her an Oscar nomination in the process.

“It’s about one woman’s journey,” she says now, approvingly, of the film. “She has been confronted with things about her husband that she doesn’t understand and is struggling to make sense of. By the end of the film, it’s not even about her husband any more – it’s about trying to understand why she herself is in such turmoil all of a sudden. It’s about a life crisis – we all have them – and you can say, “It’s about this or about that,” but actually it’s nothing to do with what you think it is, it’s a whole lot of things in your life that you haven’t resolved.”

The Oscar nomination? She’s polite, but makes it plain that she doesn’t take it too seriously. “I never felt I fit in in Hollywood,” she says. “I did decide to go and try to live there in 1970 just to see what it was like. But it was all about career moves and staying power and getting your name around; I just couldn’t hack it. Anyway – I’m English, not American, and there’s a difference!”

Charlotte was born in Essex in 1946 (she’s 70 on Feb 5), the daughter of army officer and former Olympic athlete Godfrey Rampling and his wife, Isabel, and brought up in Gibraltar, France and Spain.
She began acting in her teens, and when she was only 20 was cast as Lynn Redgrave’s beautiful but heartless flatmate in the Sixties’ film Georgy Girl.  “I loved that time!’ she says. “The Sixties were so interesting for all of us who were around because suddenly class became not so important any more. This was very freeing and meant we could explore creative fields we’d never been able to before.

“We had kitchen-sink drama films, fashion and photography depicting reality as it hadn’t been depicted before. It was a very intense few years for people living in London at that time and I was very much part of it – I dared to do a lot of things in those days.”

In the Sixties, class became not so important anymore

Reality hit in 1967, when Charlotte’s beloved sister, Sarah, tragically killed herself at the age of just 23. “Life came down very heavily,” she says now, sadly, of that time. “And when there’s a death in the family it really pulls you up and makes you think about things. You ask yourself, ‘How can I go on being frivolous after this has happened?’

“I was 21 and from then on I went much more deeply into searching out the whys and wherefores of life, rather than just wanting to have fun or look pretty or be a dolly bird – all of that went right out of the window.

“And it’s strange, but it’s only now I’m older that I feel as daring as I did back when I was 21 – I think I have more humility and humanity than I did then, but it is the same feeling.”

Her personal life has been something of a rollercoaster. In the Sixties, she lived with actor and publicist Bryan Southcombe, with whom she has a son, Barnaby, now 43. They married in 1972 but divorced in 1976. In 1978 she married French composer Jean-Michel Jarre and moved to Paris, where they had a son, David, now 38. In 1997, she reputedly learned through tabloid reports of Jean-Michel’s affairs with other women, which reputedly caused her a nervous breakdown – the marriage was dissolved.

A year later, she began a relationship with French journalist Jean-Noel Tassez which lasted until, sadly, he died last October. Ask her now what she has learned about relationships, and she only shrugs.  “You never know, do you?” she says, more than a little wistfully. “I’ve only learned that you never know what’s round the corner – anything might happen tomorrow that can change anything. That’s what my character Kate learned in 45 Years.”

Charlotte lives in Paris – “a lovely city to live in” – and is close to both her sons and stepdaughter Emily Jarre, the product of an earlier marriage of Jean-Michel’s. She’s also very happy to be a grandmother. “It’s lovely watching children grow up and you don’t have to do everything to care for them. Children are just wonderful but when you have to care for them all the time it’s not so wonderful – although necessary!”

In fact, she says, her life is not so very much different from yours or mine. “When people ask me about my life, I often wonder, ‘Why do people think that film stars are different from everyone else?’

“Do they think we lounge around all day in silk pyjamas eating chocolates and being offered things? We don’t! We’re just ordinary people.”

  • 45 Years is out now on DVD
  • The Oscars are on Feb 28
  • There's more celeb chat in every issue of Yours.