Charlotte Rampling
Photo by Terry O'Neill

Charlotte Rampling: “You have to be brave”

 Listen to Audio Excerpt Listen to Audio Excerpt
Short Profile

Name: Tessa Charlotte Rampling
DOB: 5 February 1946
Place of Birth: Sturmer, Essex, England
Occupation: Actress

Ms. Rampling, what does it take to be an actor?

I think you have to be brave. I think you have to think of being; I think you have to think of being someone. If you’re an actor, you’re going to incarnate a human being. If you are brave and if you want to actually experience what it is like, really, you have to be a developing actor and a developing human being at the same time, because the two things are always together. You can’t develop as a human being and not develop as an actor and vice-versa.

Can you separate your life from your work?

My work is integrated completely into my life and vice-versa – I’ve been working since I was sixteen and my work is my life and my life is my work. It made me who I am.

Do you have fond memories of your early career?

Yes, I wanted to leave England for personal reasons and I sort of found myself in Italy because there was an interesting film that was offered to me. I did three or four films in Italy and it went on and I did Italian films on and off for 10 years.

“We’re all vain, we’re all narcissistic, we don’t like to grow old. Who wants to grow old?”

How was it working in Italian cinema in the late ’60s and early ’70s?

It suited me. I didn’t want to be in England at that moment, so it suited me. And Italy is the most wonderful country to work in. They so love beauty and they so love what they’re doing, they so love the actual art of filmmaking. I don’t think Fellini’s films or Visconti’s films ever made any money. They just did it for the grand, operatic feeling. It was so different from the way the English and the Americans were working, there was such passion. And me coming from a rather cold Protestant family, I woke up! That was the beginning of things for me, really.

What do you wish you would have known at that age?

I think if I could be 18, now, it would be great! With the sum total of what I’ve taken on board, it would be fantastic to be a young woman of 18. Maybe, I don’t know. Or maybe not? Maybe that extraordinary knowing-unknowing of youth, when you feel you really know things. You have the youthful power and then you have to go through life to really know.

Do you give your kids advice?

No, because I never wanted advice at that age. I couldn’t be bothered with anybody telling me about anything so I don’t do that with my kids. I actually don’t advise them on anything. If they want to chat about something, that’s different. But I’ll never put my opinion forward to them, because I think that’s handicapping people. I really do. Because it’s not going to change anything, they’re going to resent it anyway. You usually want to go against whatever you’re told. At least my 18-year-old self would have done that. I always wanted to go against what I had been told.

What is it like getting older in a career where you are always in front of the camera?

We’re all vain, we’re all narcissistic, we don’t like to grow old. Who wants to grow old? Who wants to get lines? Who wants to not be young? But we can’t be. We’re going on. We are young at one stage and then we’re getting older as nature will have us. Those things should not even come into your horizon as an actor because if you sit back and say, “Oh I don’t want that role because I won’t look pretty,” then you’re not going to have much work coming your way. I think plastic surgery is the easy way out.

So you would never go under the knife?

I’d rather not tamper with nature. I think it’s more frightening to tamper with time and nature than to have plastic surgery. If you will allow yourself that luxury to be old – to be maybe ugly, to be more unattractive, to be less desirable, all that – if you allow yourself as an actor to be that at certain times, you’ll find that the rewards are extraordinary.

How so?

Well you go further than the surface and you go into who these characters actually are and, believe it or not, the characters that come out are actually speaking to you in human terms and they end up being human beings, who – whatever they look like and however they behave and however perhaps atrocious they are – are actually fundamentally like all of you. Because that’s what we do when we’re actors: We become all of you.

Do you look into the future much?

I hate even having projects in the future. Now is now! I have some projects lined up, but I sort of don’t really because maybe they won’t happen. I don’t know why it’s so scary, the future.