Rampling through the ages: from ‘Georgy Girl’ to ‘The Night Porter’ to ‘The Sea’

Charlotte Rampling has wandered the international cinema scene for a half a century, forever seeking challenges and shrugging off controversy. She talks about her new Irish film, an adaptation of John Banville’s ‘The Sea’, as well as projects both famous and notorious over the years

Fri, Apr 11, 2014, 00:00

Rampling has been Rampling for quite some time. Her career began in earnest nearly 50 years ago as a happy adjunct of the Swinging 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 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?