The word “legend” is among the most abused in the movie business – who isn’t a legend, it seems?
Well, if you want a real legend, then consider the British actress Charlotte Rampling. For four decades, Rampling as bewitched and challenged audiences with an extraordinary range of performances in films that continue to provoke deep conversations and hit powerful emotional chords: “Georgy Girl,” “The Damned,” “The Night Porter,” “Farewell My Lovely,” “Stardust Memories,” “The Verdict,” “Angel Heart,” “Max mon Amour,” and “Swimming Pool.”
Rampling’s latest film is Laurent Cantet’s “Heading South,” and she is utterly brilliant in the difficult and demanding role of a bitter Boston teacher who seeks summertime escape at a Haitian beach resort. Her character is not above paying the local muscular men for their company and attention – and if it is difficult to imagine a woman of Charlotte Rampling’s beauty and intelligence to be in such a situation, then it is a triumph to her acting that she makes this character so vibrant and painfully real.
Rampling recently spoke with Film Threat in New York about “Heading South” and her life in motion pictures.
Q: What attracted you to “Heading South”?
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: Laurent Cantent. I like his work a lot; he is a very compelling director. The script was difficult, but very powerful. It connected with the type of films I like to make.
Q: The film deals with issues that are often ignored in American movies: racism, sexism, class differences. How do you feel American audiences will react to this film?
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: You need to make a bit of an effort see films that are not just big mass entertainment films. Many people do make that effort – in New York and in major cities you have an art house circuit – with different types of films that come out. If you enjoy those types of films, this one is worth a try. It doesn’t ask you to be entertained by it – it asks you to watch and to look.
Q: You have an extraordinary monologue in the film where your character details the emptiness and futility of her life as a French teacher in Boston, and how her Haitian summers are in stark contrast to that life. Yet you deliver the monologue in French, not English. Why was it shot this way?
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: We did it in both languages. I think it was better in English. What we were going to do was for the English speaking market to have the English speaking version. But they didn’t do it; they kept the French version. (Editors note: “Heading South” is a French production that alternates in French and English.)
Q: What was it like shooting in Haiti?
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: I didn’t go to Haiti – I wasn’t allowed in. My shots were in the Dominican Republic, which is on the same island of Haiti. But for political and safety reasons, we couldn’t film my scenes in Haiti.
Q: How has the reaction been to this film in Europe?
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: It opened in Paris and it opened in Italy. It has been very well-sold. It is a film that has been very well received critically, and when people do go they are very intrigued by it.
Q: I understand there is going to be the first-ever Charlotte Rampling retrospective coming up this summer.
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: They have a retrospective of my work at the Cinematheque in Denmark. They are showing 16 of my films. How does it feel? It’s pretty amazing, actually. They just wrote to me and said: We are organizing this retrospective and we’re showing 16 of your films. We are just hoping you would be able to maybe come and see this. And I though that was so sweet. Out of the blue, this was all set up and they contacted me two months before.
Q: Do you watch your films on TV or DVD?
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: No, I get a bit worried about that and I don’t like doing that. One that I did see recently while I was just zapping and fell on was Visconti’s “The Damned.” It was the beginning of the film, at the dinner party, and I hadn’t seen the film since it came out. So I watched it and that was actually a fantastic experience. It was an amazing film and I hadn’t quite taken on board how great it was.
Q: If you don’t watch yourself at home, I take it you don’t like going to premieres of your films.
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: I don’t like anything to do with watching, especially with people. I find it really embarrassing. Telluride gave me an homage – they showed, for an hour, clips of 16 films. That was interesting to see – you didn’t see the whole film, you just saw the clips of them.
Q: Most of your recent films are either European or independent productions. Do you get any calls from Hollywood for films?
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: No. Sometimes, something comes for me. But I don’t have an agent there anymore. Unless you work out of there, there’s not much chance there’s going to think of you for a role. My roles mostly come out of New York – “The Verdict” and Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories.” There’s no reason why anyone would think of me for a Hollywood picture. Although they did for “Basic Instinct 2” – that was my big blockbuster for the last 10 years!