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Charlotte Rampling, 2002

WITH JUERGEN TELLER
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JUERGEN TELLER





From the masochistic concentration camp survivor in 1974's The Night Porter to the professor going quietly mad in last year's Under The Sand, Rampling is utterly convincing, compelling, and often disturbing. An officer of the British Empire who lives in Paris, an actress who keeps her distance from the bright lights of Hollywood – Rampling talks about life choices with her friend, the photographer Juergen Teller.







JUERGEN: Do you feel like you have to be careful when you do interviews?
CHARLOTTE: No. I decided a long time ago that it's easier to spontaneously say what you think. Quite often you can get to know yourself a bit. It's almost like you're with your therapist. [laughs] But you're not paying someone to listen to you.

JUERGEN: I was recently quoted out of context and it didn't make me very happy. You don't see that as a problem?
CHARLOTTE: It's part of the game. You have to accept it. Where is the truth anyway? I don't have the last word on anything.

JUERGEN: You seem to pick your projects quite carefully, mostly French films. Have you ever wanted to live in Hollywood and make American films?
CHARLOTTE: I've always understood that Hollywood doesn't have too much to do with me. I preferred acting in European films right from the start of my career. European films were what it was about for me — the sensations I needed, the depth, the storytelling, the characters, the directors, and the freedom that you can't really find in American films. Film is an extraordinary way for us to know each other. A film based on a jolly good John Grisham book is fine, but I like to get a bit under the skin. Like Almodóvar's Talk to Her this year, or Under the Sand, my last movie directed by François Ozon.

JUERGEN: Do you watch your own movies?
CHARLOTTE: I've never wanted to be diverted by the image that I give off. I don't want to get caught in a narcissistic trap.

JUERGEN: A lot of actors say that. But somehow you've got to be able to judge what you've done.
CHARLOTTE: You can never really judge your work because once it's done, it's done. Yeah, you could go to see the rushes after a certain shot. A lot of young actors will do a scene and then run off and look at themselves. I don't believe in that at all.

JUERGEN: What about the end product, the finished film?
CHARLOTTE: You can't even know much about that. Under the Sand, for example, is very beautiful. As usual, I only saw it once. Then it was released and people really liked it, so I asked François if I could have a tape. I watched it again, which I'd never done before. I just observed what actually happens. It was quite interesting.

JUERGEN: It's incredible how much work and energy you put into a project that you don't even watch.
CHARLOTTE: Doing cinema is not about watching yourself. There are lots of other films. [laughs] You don't have to watch your own.

JUERGEN: Not even in a non-narcissistic way?
CHARLOTTE: It can only be narcissistic. You cannot watch yourself dispassionately. I defy anybody to say differently. If you're very beautiful and also a very good actress, you're going to start to become very fond of yourself.

JUERGEN: So what drives you to act if you can never judge the results?
CHARLOTTE: Desperation, probably. I'm terrified that I can't do anything else.

JUERGEN: That surprises me.
CHARLOTTE: I think that most actors don't have very good opinions of themselves. I don't know anyone in this world who's particularly happy. I'm in my fifties now, and I've been in the business quite a long time. I've stopped many times because I just couldn't handle it.

JUERGEN: Actresses tend to get passed over once they turn a certain age. You've managed to do fantastic films throughout your life.
CHARLOTTE: Yeah, you don't realize what youth is until you don't have it. And in my pride I've sometimes said, "I'm going to stop before they stop me." I don't want anyone to have one over me – I prefer to have one over on them. [laughs]

JUERGEN: What do you do when you're not working?
CHARLOTTE: I can occupy myself quite easily with what's going on inside me. Even if I'm just morbid and depressed, that's fine. At least I'm doing that. [laughs] I mean, I've spent years without working. Working is not what it's about, living is what it's about. I am fascinated by the whole process of what it's like to be alive, whether it's unbelievably uncomfortable and horrible or whether it's quite nice.

JUERGEN: Do you ever feel pressure to earn money?
CHARLOTTE: I've always earned just about enough, and I've been with men who've helped me. I've always had helpers. And I know how to live with very, very little. I hardly need anything. If I can live in great houses, I will. But I've been prepared to lose everything for something that I know I have to do. I think if you are prepared to do that then another door will open.

JUERGEN: There are so many actors these days, especially in America, who are willing to be merchandised. I'm astonished by those Gap ads — they convinced so many actors and other notable people to be models and participate. Have you ever done anything like that?
CHARLOTTE: No. I've been asked many times. I've never wanted to be a product. Sometimes one thinks, "Well, maybe they really need the money," and that's another thing. Often I haven't been very well off and I've carried on. But I really, really couldn't hack selling my name like that.

JUERGEN: How do you decide which films you'll make?
CHARLOTTE: It's the director that counts. He is the person that you're going to have to answer to. He's the one that you're going to give your soul or your heart to, your talent, your smile, your tears, everything.

JUERGEN: I was surprised when I heard you were in Spy Games. How did that come about?
CHARLOTTE: I did that film just so I could kiss Robert Redford. He's a very kissable man, and I thought, "Maybe I'll never get another chance." It's really just a cameo, but it intrigued people. Now I can bill myself as having starred with Redford.

JUERGEN: I wonder how actors can take on a role and then discard it when the shoot is over. Do your characters stay with you?
CHARLOTTE: More and more so as I get older. When I was younger I didn't think too much about it — I did things with a gut instinct. Then, little by little the roles start to creep up on you. I can't just brush things off anymore.

JUERGEN: I've experienced that as well. It's kind of frightening.
CHARLOTTE: I've also found that I need a period of rest after a shoot. The film experience is quite devastating. Everything happens so quickly and so intensely. You don't have long rehearsals like you do in the theater — it's absolutely about being now. Only when it's over can you try to come to terms with what actually happened.

JUERGEN: For a lot of actors or anyone for that matter, it's easier to just keep on working. That way you don't have to deal with yourself. You take your time in between projects, and you have a rich life with your friends. How do you see yourself fitting in socially in France?
CHARLOTTE: I'm not connected to society because I have a job that is completely asocial. I'm just a vague thing that floats about somewhere and joins different groups when it suits me.

JUERGEN: Do you regret that?
CHARLOTTE: If you want be a renegade, you're not going to be part of a group. When you want to really express yourself, you have to leave the fold. I have spent an enormous part of my life trying to get back into the fold. But you can't have it all. You have to somehow believe that the place you come back to is your fold — the place where you feel safe.

JUERGEN: I think that's where family comes into it.
CHARLOTTE: I never had that feeling of safety and belonging with my family, my parents, or the families that I've been a part of. I've had two husbands, children. All that was really interesting, lovely, but I never felt in my heart that I was coming back to the place where I was safe.

JUERGEN: You have two kids, right?
CHARLOTTE: Yes. I brought up three but only two are my own. I never wanted to plan the future, or my career, or having children.

JUERGEN: Things just happened.
CHARLOTTE: Yeah. But taking life into my own hands is something I've thought about a lot. My mother used to tell me a story about how I crossed a stream when I was three. The whole family went across on these stepping stones holding hands. I was behind my mother and she said, "Come on Charlotte," and held out her hand. I said, "No, I can do it myself." So of course I fell in. "Well, now you'll learn," my mother said. The next day the same thing happened. I decided at an early age whose life it was going to be. I want to do it my way as much as possible. That could lead some people to become dictators, while others become quite reasonable human beings and citizens of the world, which I think I might be.

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Charlotte Rampling by Juergen Teller, 2002
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