How do you approach a legend like Charlotte Rampling? She’s intimidating, not only for having worked with some of the most extraordinary filmmakers in the world, but for her iconic gaze, which is now the subject of Angelina Maccarone’s Charlotte Rampling: The Look, a documentary “self-portrait through others.” Part of what attracts me to her is her propensity for taking risks on screen, as in The Night Porter, in which she plays a concentration camp survivor in a sadomasochistic relationship with her torturer, and Max Mon Amour, where she plays a woman having an affair with a chimpanzee. She has fascinated me since I first saw her in The Verdict, but given that most of the roles she plays—such as her Queen Bee-type in Heading South and the truth-speaker who cuts through the bullshit in Melancholia—belie any warmth, will she have the patience to discuss her celebrity? Getting the opportunity to chat with her, I want to probe deeper, but will she think this is prying? Will she be cagey or inviting in her responses? Turns out Rampling is a little bit of both. Which is exactly what I expected—and admire about her.
I like that the characters you play on screen have an air of mystery about them—a “distance” as you describe in The Look. Did you agree to participate in this documentary to demystify your off-screen persona?
No, it wasn’t that. In the end, it was not something that I set about to do. It came from [someone] who wanted to make a film about me and he convinced me to do it—and in this particular way [through conversations with others]. I was not seeking to do something like this. I’m not necessarily someone who wants to put themselves out there.
Since The Look is divided into chapters, I’d like to ask one question about each topic you discuss in the film.
I like your approach. It is a good way around.
Exposure. You talk about your performances just “happening”—instinct you call it. How do you develop your “tricks of the trade” and “push yourself” as you explain in The Look? For example, what I recall about your work is how you use your mouth. In Swimming Pool, your expression as your character Sarah Morton eats, types, and even goes grocery shopping is so telling. Do you rely on body language, an emotion or memory—what is the secret to your craft?
It is as I say, it’s not about thinking or working anything out, but putting myself into a particular character who is close to myself. Otherwise I wouldn’t want to do it. Then it’s letting myself fly—let it go—be surprised where it goes. If you put yourself into the hands of your being rather than your intellect or knowing, then you will be taken places. I will be Charlotte, and also Sarah in Swimming Pool. The thing about performing for me is being, not about “pretending to be.”
Age. You talk about changing and evolving in The Look, but I think your career since 2000 has been better than ever. What accounts for you defying the idea of working past 40? What is your criteria for taking roles?
It’s something that turns me on, or interests me enough that I’m going to stick with them through thick and thin. I get bored very easily. I’m not ambitious about work. If I’m going to work, the character has to be enthralling, and give me some kind of excitement. That’s the way I work. I’m not a typical kind of actress. I do a little here, or bit here, or work with a director who fascinates me or who asks me [to work with him or her].
Beauty. You’re asked about the courage to appear without makeup. What is beautiful to you?
It’s load of crap what they are talking about. I don’t know.
I should confess that I had your photo on my locker in high school?
I like to hear that!
Resonance. Of your body of work, what do you want to be remembered for? What do you think you will be remembered for?
I wouldn’t dare answer that.
Taboo. What’s something you’re ashamed of?
I am ashamed of quite a few things about myself—the way I am. I think you need to be a little ashamed of certain things, and have a conscience about it.
Desire. What is something you always wanted but never achieved?
Umm…again, I can’t answer this question. I don’t wish to answer.
Demons. What scares you? What do you shy away from?
I fear what goes on inside me—not what goes on in the world, which is vile. The outside world, I’m quite brave. I’m not frightened of things like being mugged or robbed, or something—things that can happen to you. But I am frightened of things happening to other people and being stranded.
Death. How do you want to die? What do you imagine death to be like?
I hope I have fun dying. That’s all I can say. [laughs]
Love. What can you reveal about your relationships? You talk about being independent. Do you find safety in being alone?
I find more and more safety in being alone. Love takes time. Learning how to be with it, to nurture it, to actually mature with it. There are many different stages of loving, like there are of many different stages of life.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you? I was tickled to see you playing foosball in The Look.
That’s why I made this film. [Actresses] do a lot of stuff as people. I don’t know why people would be surprised seeing it? What kind of people do you think we are? Maybe we shouldn’t talk to [reporters], and remain godlike creatures.
You’re telling your story. I’m hearing it. This dynamic, which is mirrored in the film in your conversations, is realistic and truthful. We wouldn’t interact if I didn’t have this assignment…
I did it, which means that I consented in the end. I could have said no. What I’ve given is with complete—as far as I can see—generosity of spirit. I wasn’t forced; it wasn’t done under duress.