My Charlotte Rampling obsession was inherited along the matrilineal line. From the moment she appeared on the scene in Georgy Girl, as the glamorous and louche roommate Meredith, my mother was obsessed. At the time, my mom was 17 and living in the suburbs: what was she to make of this doe-eyed ingénue with the bite of an old Frenchman and the style of a true weirdo? When I let my mother know I would be meeting Ms. Rampling, she gasped and I could distinctly hear the adolescent in her leaving the movie theater, awe-struck. "It's impossible to understand what she meant to us," she said.
"Us" now means my mother and me, as my film education has taken me through Rampling's work in English, French, and German. She has made a career for herself playing complex, sexually experimental, and fully realized women. Her commitment to showing the thorniness of human interaction is unparalleled, and the bravery and audacity of her talent — whether as a concentration-camp survivor locked in a lusty power play in The Night Porter or as a woman seeking satisfaction through sexual tourism in Heading South — is evident in every choice she makes.
In her latest film, Andrew Haigh's bleakly romantic 45 Years, 69-year-old Rampling plays a woman whose decades-long marriage is unseated by new information about her seemingly fragile husband's past. As Kate, Rampling cuts a stoic yet youthful figure (in fact, I complimented her choice to dress her character in skinny jeans, one I was sure she was responsible for) as she tries to understand if it's ever too late for a change of course.
I met Rampling in the lobby of the Soho Grand hotel, where she was in the middle of an exhaustive (and exhausting) press cycle. She wore just what you'd want a Charlotte Rampling to wear: a smart blazer, a white shirt, black pants, and flats whose shape evoked neither ballerina nor hippie gardener. She talked just like you'd hope a Charlotte Rampling would, exclaiming "How clever!" when the waiter presented honey for her soy latte. And she faced the below questions with a mix of elegant guardedness and arresting candor; she was generous yet self-possessed, exposed but shy. Not just one thing but many all at once, like a lesson in how any great role for a woman should be written.
Lena Dunham: I'm so excited, I've come up with a bunch of nerdy questions. And you don't have to answer any of them. I have to say that getting dressed for you was the most I've thought about getting dressed in a long time, just because you are so iconic fashion-wise to the women who work at Lenny. I was texting them, saying, "OK, I'm going with the turtleneck, and I'm going to just hope it all works out." But you look as chic as I would have imagined.
Charlotte Rampling: [Assuming a French accent.] It's nothing, my dear. We just throw it on.
LD: Truly, the movie, 45 Years, is so beautiful. I loved it. It has beautiful things to say about aging but also just as many beautiful things to say about relationships and what it means to be authentic in a relationship. What was it that drew you to the part?
CR: All that. I thought there hadn't been a more interesting observation of a relationship, or I hadn't read one, really since I don't know when. These little jewels come up and sort of land on your table once every 20 years or something.