Ter­ri­bly Bri­tish on the sur­face, re­mark­ably Euro­pean un­der­neath, Char­lotte Ram­pling is in The Sea,

Char­lotte Ram­pling has wan­dered the in­ter­na­tional cin­ema scene for a half a century, for­ever seek­ing chal­lenges and shrug­ging off con­tro­versy. She tells Tara Brady about her new Ir­ish film, as well as projects both fa­mous and no­to­ri­ous over the years

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

There’s a mo­ment in the new film adap­ta­tion of John Banville’s The Sea when suf­fer­ing, search­ing hero Ciarán Hinds awak­ens to find Char­lotte Ram­pling watch­ing, not over him, but across him, with a re­con­dite gaze that si­mul­ta­ne­ously al­lows for kind­ness and cru­elty, for ice and fire. Is she here to help or will she eat him for break­fast, we won­der?

“It was a very in­ter­est­ing screen­play, a very po­etic piece about mem­ory and re­call,” says Ram­pling. “He wrote beau­ti­fully, which is not al­ways the case when nov­el­ists adapt their own work.”

The word ram­pling, one feels, ought to be some kind of lofty verb. How else could one char­ac­terise the ad­ven­ture­some, mer­cu­rial oeu­vre of Char­lotte Ram­pling?

“I’m at­tracted to ex­tremes,” she says. “To psy­cho­log­i­cal com­plex­ity. Not ex­tremes in sex­ual or vi­o­lent be­hav­iour. Those ex­tremes don’t in­ter­est me. But brav­ery mat­ters. I seek out brav­ery. I need my char­ac­ters to be brave even when they’re com­pletely flawed and hope­less. Ha.”

The first thing one notes about Char­lotte Ram­pling is how of­ten she laughs. It’s quite dis­con­cert­ing in some­one who is rarely men­tioned in a sen­tence that doesn’t con­tain the ad­jec­tive “ice queen”.

“At least they’re notic­ing me,” she laughs again.

Ram­pling col­lab­o­rates with sim­i­larly ad­ven­ture­some di­rec­tors, ap­pear­ing in Me­lan­cho­lia for Lars von Trier and Life Dur­ing War­time for Todd Solondz. Over the years she propped up at the bar be­side Fred As­taire in The Pur­ple Taxi. She was Woody Allen’s crazy ex in Star­dust Mem­o­ries. She was slapped in the face by Paul New­man in The Ver­dict. She ro­manced a chim­panzee in Nag­isa Oshima’s play­ful satire, Max, Mon Amour.

What kind of con­ver­sa­tions did they have on that shoot of that last film, I won­der?

“Vir­tu­ally none! Ha! I had one din­ner with Oshima in Paris be­fore­hand. He was a very beau­ti­ful, proud man, who spoke very lit­tle French or English and he didn’t re­ally like hav­ing an in­ter­preter. What he wanted was for us to show him what we could do. He never said what he wanted. And we were only al­lowed one take, usu­ally. Which is quite of­ten the best.”

At 68, Ram­pling re­mains re­mark­ably con­tem­po­rary. Those un­mis­tak­able steely blue eyes and del­i­cate frame – “The Look” as Dirk Bog­a­rde had it – will soon be put to work as the face of Nars, the im­pos­si­bly hip cos­met­ics brand. Last year Ram­pling fea­tured through­out the fi­nal sea­son of Dex­ter as the tit­u­lar se­rial killer’s neuro-psy­chi­a­trist, and per­formed oral sex in the psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller I, Anna, di­rected by her son, Barnaby South­combe.

She’s never balked at sex or nu­dity. Why not?

“Oh, I don’t know. Ho ho! Story of my life. I’ve al­ways needed to find dif­fi­culty, so I could feel that I was evolv­ing. I need a level of chal­lenge. Why do people race cars? Any ex­treme be­hav­iour is a way of chal­leng­ing yourself. You need it. You have to put yourself in some dan­ger.”

Ram­pling has been Ram­pling for quite some time. Her ca­reer be­gan in earnest nearly 50 years ago as a happy ad­junct of the Swing- ing Lon­don scene with The Knack . . . and How to Get It and Ge­orgy Girl. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she es­tab­lished her­self as the most in­ter­est­ing blot on the Ital­ian cin­e­matic land­scape, ap­pear­ing in Ad­dio Fratello Crudele and Luchino Vis­conti’s The Damned. Was she daunted by the prospect of work­ing with the Ital­ian mas­ter?

“No. I was too young and ig­no­rant. I grew up in sub­urbs and provin­cial, bor­ing places where you couldn’t see in­ter­est­ing films. I cer­tainly didn’t know about the grand masters of cin­ema. So the bliss of ig­no­rance al­lowed me to sail through. I adored him. And he adored me. He lived like a prince and had his court around him. His house and his ser­vants and his cousins and this huge fam­ily.” It sounds like The Leop­ard. “Yes, ex­actly. That’s just how he lived. Ex­cept he was in mod­ern cos­tume.”

On The Damned, Ram­pling met Dirk Bog­a­rde, who talked her into ap­pear­ing in Lil­iana Ca­vani’s con­tro­ver­sial sado­masochis­tic drama, The Night Porter, in which a for­mer SS of­fi­cer hooks up with a con­cen­tra­tion camp sur­vivor, 13 years af­ter the war.

“I was aware of the sub­ject mat­ter. But I had Dirk. He selected me. He had read the screen­play four years be­fore. And he called Lil­iana and said, ‘I’ve found the girl. I want to do your film now.’ So I was very much un­der his wing. He was ex­tra­or­di­nary for me. As a friend, as a

men­tor. He said, ‘You come with me and we’ll be com­rades in arms mak­ing this into a love story.’ Lil­iana wanted to pull it more in an in­tel­lec­tual di­rec­tion. Try­ing to make sense of Nazism. It be­came for me a re­ally pow­er­ful les­son in how you can put across an im­pos­si­ble mes­sage, re­ally. How you can make a state­ment through vi­su­als and sto­ry­line.”

Ram­pling was born in Cam­bridge, the daugh­ter of a pain­ter and an army of­fi­cer who won gold on the track at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and sil­ver at the 1932 Los Angeles games. God­frey Ram­pling died aged 100 in 2009.

“He was a very mod­est man. We only knew be­cause mum had kept scrap­books. He was shy. He would never talk about him­self. A lot of

“I grew up in sub­urbs and provin­cial, bor­ing places where you couldn’t see in­ter­est­ing films. I cer­tainly didn’t know about the grand masters of cin­ema”

men didn’t then. Per­haps they still don’t. I don’t know. Like my dad with his run­ning, mum was quiet about her paint­ing. She would never feel pleased with her­self about it. My fa­ther was a re­lay run­ner. I think sub­con­sciously I’ve taken the ba­ton from my par­ents.”

Army life, says Ram­pling, would set the tone for her long ca­reer. Is that be­cause it in­stils a sense of tem­po­rari­ness or be­cause it gives one a talent for rein­ven­tion?

“Both those things. You’re tem­po­rary. And you’re ad­just­ing. You’re never re­ally part of a so­ci­ety. You’re not quite part of the lit­tle town or sub­urb you’re in. You learn to let go at an early age of the sense that you’re go­ing to see these people again. Vague. And you get on with an­other way of deal­ing with the world. And film is very close to that in a way. Ev­ery time you make a film you adopt a fam­ily around you. And you be­come very close. It’s a tem­po­rary fam­ily and a tem­po­rary so­ci­ety. The sto­ries that you’re telling. But why not? That’s won­der­ful.”

Army life also goes some way to ex­plain­ing Ram­pling’s ap­ti­tude for re­lo­ca­tion, a gift that has al­lowed her to be­come a star of French, Ital­ian and An­glo­phone cin­ema.

“I have searched that out too,” she says. “From very early on. I’ve sought out nov­elty and dif­fer­ent lan­guages. I have made that a pri­or­ity, to pen­e­trate as many cul­tures and ways of be­ing as pos­si­ble I can. I’m very much in­side my head any­way. I’m very up. I’m very down. I’m very hot. I’m very cold. I’m all that any­way. So then a char­ac­ter joins me. And I’m off the hook for a while. I’m pro­tected. I’m looked af­ter. I have words to speak. And I get to ab­sorb other ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Fol­low­ing Ram­pling’s Ital­ian pe­riod, she re­lo­cated to France with her sec­ond hus­band, com­poser Jean-Michel Jarre, in 1976. They di­vorced some 20 years later. Since then she has been in­volved with a Parisian busi­ness­man and be­come a muse for France’s younger au­teurs, work­ing with Lau­rent Can­tet on

Head­ing South, Do­minik Moll on Lem­ming and François Ozon on Swim­ming Pool, Sous le

Sable, An­gel and Young and Pretty. “When Ozon first phoned me for Swim­ming

Pool we had no money, but I knew that was what I needed to do. It turned out to be a very good move. Of course it could have been a bad move. And that’s how I’ve al­ways done things. The mind chat­ters end­lessly. It can do das­tardly things to you. So you need to be guided by in­stinct.

“Noth­ing has been a ca­reer move. That doesn’t mat­ter to me. That’s not what I’m do­ing. I’m not do­ing a ca­reer.”

Ram­pling through the ages: Char­lotte Ram­pling in The Sea. Be­low, from left: with Alan Bates in Ge­orgy Girl (1966); in The Night Porter (1974); with François Ozon on the set of Swim­ming Pool (2003)

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