Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - By LIZ THOM­SON Who I Am by Char­lotte Ram­pling with Christophe Bataille (Allen & Un­win, $24.99) is out on March 29. Life­line: 13 11 14

Le­gendary ac­tor Char­lotte Ram­pling re­veals the shock­ing se­cret that nearly tore her fam­ily apart.

Char­lotte Ram­pling’s rep­u­ta­tion pre­cedes her. Cool, aloof, se­vere and in­tim­i­dat­ing are among the ad­jec­tives as­cribed to her, per­haps partly due to the roles that she’s in­hab­ited. Then again, hav­ing lived al­most half her life in Paris, it’s pos­si­ble she’s ac­quired a touch of that city’s renowned hau­teur. The French re­fer to her sim­ply as “la lé­gende”.

Es­sen­tially, Ram­pling is a pri­vate per­son who’s al­ways re­sisted full ex­po­sure be­cause, “It’s quite a beast, it’s quite de­vour­ing,” she has said. “You have to find a way that you’re not in­vaded all the time by lenses, by peo­ple look­ing.”

She’s pleas­antly for­mal as she wel­comes Stel­lar to her apart­ment. We shake hands and an un­ex­pected vis­i­tor helps break the ice: a red Maine Coon cat glides re­gally down the curved stair­case. We’re priv­i­leged – Joe usu­ally avoids strangers. He heads to­ward the sa­lon, then turns: like Ram­pling, he has high cheek­bones and star­tling bright eyes.

We fol­low, and Ram­pling ges­tures to a dis­tressed leather Ch­ester­field. Joe set­tles on the French bal­cony from where he can ob­serve us. The room is vast, its her­ring­bone par­quet floor dot­ted with

rugs. There are paint­ings ev­ery­where, hang­ing and lean­ing; a por­trait of her and an ab­stract by her are ex­iled to the mod­est study-cum-stu­dio next door. There is a gui­tar and pi­ano.

Ram­pling has lived here for 15 years, af­ter mov­ing from Croissy-sur-seine where she and her ex-hus­band, mu­si­cian Jean-michel Jarre, brought up their chil­dren. It was the home she shared with her fi­ancé, Jean-noël Tassez, who died just as she com­pleted the film 45 Years in 2015. “The funeral was an ex­tra­or­di­nary thing,” she says, re­flect­ing on the im­por­tance of rit­ual. “I came back here and I thought I’d want to leave im­me­di­ately – but on the con­trary. What I found out, which was very pos­i­tive, is that you’re ac­com­pa­nied for a very long time by your dead friends and your dead loves. It’s been the most amaz­ing com­pan­ion­ship. Then even­tu­ally you feel them go, be­cause they have to. Af­ter­wards, it’s about get­ting back to the land of the liv­ing. I do know, now, how to grieve.”

Which brings us to her mem­oir, Who I Am. Its ti­tle is em­phatic, the style im­pres­sion­is­tic – and it was surely cathar­tic. It’s some years now since her mother died and Ram­pling was able to re­veal the fam­ily se­cret she’d kept with her fa­ther: her beloved older sis­ter, Sarah, hadn’t, as they told ev­ery­one, died of a brain haem­or­rhage at 23 – she’d shot her­self. As chil­dren the sis­ters were in­sep­a­ra­ble, in­hab­it­ing their own lit­tle world – inevitably the soli­tary new kids on the block in their peri­patetic mil­i­tary fam­ily life.

As a 21st birth­day present, Sarah was given a trip abroad and she went first to Amer­ica and then to Aca­pulco, where she met an Ar­gen­tine cat­tle rancher. A week later they were mar­ried. Three years later, in 1967, she shot her­self, her pre­ma­ture son still in hos­pi­tal. At the mo­ment of her death, both Ram­pling, who’d awo­ken with a start, and her mother had weird pre­mo­ni­tions. When Ram­pling ar­rived home to be met at the gate by her fa­ther, she knew what was com­ing, though not yet how Sarah had died. That is when the lie took hold: the truth, her fa­ther de­cided, was too aw­ful; it would kill his wife. Ram­pling learnt it from her brother-in-law three years later, at which point she con­fronted her fa­ther.

“I’ll never know whether it was right or wrong,” she says slowly. “We were all lost in our is­lands of grief. When I found out [the truth], I felt quite pleased in a way – I could be with [my fa­ther], we could help each other.” She agrees it was a ter­ri­ble se­cret and pon­ders the ef­fect of “sub­terfuge and dis­sim­i­la­tion” on their lives. Amid the dis­tress, her mother had a ma­jor stroke. “She was so trau­ma­tised and shocked, she lost con­trol of her body. That was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of grief.”

Her fa­ther, God­frey, de­voted his life to car­ing for his in­ca­pac­i­tated wife, telling his sur­viv­ing daugh­ter, “Go out and live your life.” Her star qual­ity had al­ready been spot­ted: she’d been a wa­ter skier in the film The Knack… And How To Get It and played a lead role in Rot­ten To The Core.

For her part, Ram­pling re­pressed her emo­tions: “I didn’t think about it.” In­stead, she worked. Ge­orgy Girl made her a star in Swing­ing Lon­don, “part of a group of young peo­ple who were all do­ing ex­actly what they wanted – dress­ing up in in­cred­i­ble gear, open­ing shops, tak­ing pho­tos, mak­ing in­cred­i­ble mu­sic”. She hung out with The Bea­tles and knew Jimi Hen­drix (“the sweet­est man, so kind, so frag­ile, so sen­si­tive”), but one trip showed her LSD wasn’t for her. “LSD was ex­haust­ing, eight hours of vom­it­ing… Some peo­ple were able to take it ev­ery day. Be­sides, I had my sur­vival trip!” she laughs grimly.

At the end of the ’60s, Ram­pling was in Italy and em­barked on a se­ries of films, in­clud­ing The Damned and The Night Porter, both with Dirk Bog­a­rde, who was mes­merised by her “jade gaze”. “My Ital­ian days were fan­tas­tic,” she tells Stel­lar. She moved to France at 30, com­bin­ing movies with moth­er­hood, but in her for­ties the “tsunami” of un­spo­ken grief hit in the form of se­vere de­pres­sion. “I couldn’t cope with hav­ing to cope. That’s what de­pres­sion is. You lose it. Lit­er­ally. Ev­ery­thing stops.”

For 10 years she kept a rel­a­tively low pro­file. Like many peo­ple with de­pres­sion, Ram­pling en­coun­tered in­com­pre­hen­sion and fear in friends and col­leagues, and lived “a non-life”. Re­cov­ery, she says, is “a slow, slow process. It’s say­ing to your­self, ‘I’ll come out of it.’ Be­cause if you’re not strong enough to say that, you’re not go­ing to come out of it.” She pauses. “Sarah gave me some­thing, in a sense, be­cause I wasn’t go­ing to do what she did. I wasn’t go­ing to put my par­ents through that.” She had to live for both of them? “I sup­pose there’s a bit of that.”

Af­ter her mother died in 2001, the bottled-up tragedy could be shared. Ram­pling spent time with her fa­ther, talk­ing about “psy­chol­ogy, phi­los­o­phy… about what we’d been through”.

The past 15 years have seen a re­birth. She was a muse to di­rec­tor François Ozon, with whom she made four movies, and in ad­di­tion to film work there have been TV se­ries, such as Dex­ter, and a tour­ing two-han­der show cel­e­brat­ing Sylvia Plath in words and mu­sic. She re­turns to cin­e­mas this month in an all-star ver­sion of The Sense Of An End­ing, based on the Ju­lian Barnes novel.

“I’m work­ing re­ally well now be­cause I can. Be­fore I couldn’t. If good stuff comes up and it cor­re­sponds with what I feel I want to do, that’s fan­tas­tic. There’s a lot that’s of in­ter­est.”

“You’re ac­com­pa­nied for a very long time by your dead friends and your dead loves”

CHAR­LOTTE’S WEB (from top) Char­lotte Ram­pling at the be­gin­ning of her ca­reer in the mid 1960s; as a young girl with her older sis­ter, Sarah.

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