Wrinkly can be ravishing: As Charlotte Rampling says she'll never go under the knife, Barry Norman celebrates the British actress
00:25 GMT, 24 March 2012
Known for her delicate cheekbones and cool green eyes that can turn quite icy if you ask the wrong question, the march of time has done nothing to blunt Charlotte Rampling’s fearsome sensuality.
The arched eyebrows and that imperious gaze still have the power to send shivers up a man’s spine.
Five years ago, when writing about her, I coined the verb ‘to rample’.
Over the years — most recently in an interview this month to publicise two new films — my word has been misinterpreted to mean: ‘Reducing a man to helplessness through a chilly, mysterious sexuality.’
Timeless allure: Charlotte Rampling in 1971 (left) and as she is today (right). She wears the lines and wrinkles of her age with pride, confident that they don't diminish her attractiveness
Though it’s well on the way to what I was getting at, my original definition was actually something saucier, as in: ‘Do you like rampling’
‘I don’t know, you naughty thing, I’ve never rampled.’
What I had in mind was that, even though she was then 61, numerous men of various ages would be more than happy to rample with Charlotte.
And even now this remains true, because she is still a beautiful woman who can put all kinds of thoughts into a man’s head.
Well, you might say, of course she’s beautiful — she’s a wealthy actress who has no doubt had a few cosmetic nips and tucks to stave off the signs of ageing. But you’d be wrong — and that’s my point.
Unlike so many in Hollywood, she chooses to eschew cosmetic surgery, Botox and collagen implants. And she is all the more alluring for this.
Not for her the frozen look of a china doll. She wears the lines and wrinkles of her age with pride, confident that they don’t diminish her attractiveness.
Rampling has never fallen under Hollywood's spell
She should be applauded for this, because she is wise enough to know that a suddenly flawless 35-year-old face on top of a 60-year-old neck and hands isn’t going to fool anyone for very long.
And also because she so amply demonstrates how women can retain their sex appeal — without a surgeon’s intervention.
It’s just a pity so many actresses don’t have the confidence to say: ‘This is how I am. I’m still a very attractive woman despite my age — so get used to it.’
Happily, there are others who share Rampling’s view. Most notably, three veteran British stars, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Like her, they seem to have chosen to grow older naturally and gracefully.
Mirren, 66, still exudes sexuality,
whether she wants to or not, while Dench and Smith, in their mid-70s,
seem to have decided sensibly that at their age such stuff is
unnecessary and talent is enough.
In none of these cases has it harmed
their careers and it certainly hasn’t harmed Rampling’s — who has two
films out this spring.
film industry, says Rampling, needs older women and older-looking
women, but because so many actresses are going under the knife, the
latter are hard to find these days.
advice is: ‘Don’t change your face and you can get really interesting
parts — not just granny parts; you can get sexy parts, too.’
In France, where she makes most of her films, she is known simply as ‘La Legende’.
she was 55 she appeared naked in Under The Sand, thereby inducing a
whole new set of ‘rampling’ fantasies in masculine minds.
What’s more, she will soon be seen playing a femme fatale in I, Anna.
Can you imagine a Hollywood movie with a 66-year-old femme fatale No way — and the actresses there know that only too well. In Hollywood, the second gravest sin is to be old. The first is to look old.
That’s why so many stars — men as well as women — are never more than a mobile call away from their plastic surgeons.
I once asked a friend in the film industry there how often a certain star (no, I’m not going to mention his name) had work done on his face.
'I don't generally make films to entertain people. I choose the parts that challenge me,' said Charlotte
‘Do you mean how often this month’ she replied.
Today, more than ever, the movies seem obsessed with the idea of perpetual youth, especially in women.
As Rampling puts it, we live in an ageist, sexist society, ‘so when we start looking a bit tired and old we’re put out to grass’.
As a result, cosmetic surgery is a growth industry in Beverly Hills —acceptable and even desirable. I was particularly sorry when even such notable beauties as Jane Fonda and Julie Christie admitted to having had a few things done to reverse the ageing process.
Christie said she was vying for roles with women who were older than herself, but who had so much surgery done that — though their faces might be practically immobile — they looked a lot younger.
In France, however, they tend to be rather more grown-up about female sexuality, whatever its date of birth.
They fancy a gorgeous dolly bird as much as the next man, but they can also appreciate the charms, elegance and mystique of the older woman.
Hence the continuing popularity there not only of Rampling, but of her fellow Paris-based and mature British ‘legendes’ Jane Birkin, 65, and Kristin Scott Thomas (a mere 51), neither of whom, as far as I know, has had any truck with the surgeon’s knife.
But then they, like Rampling, have never fallen under Hollywood’s spell and are mostly content to make their films in France — and Britain, which is still less superficial than the U.S. Rampling, indeed, has conducted her career very wisely.
Born in Sturmer, a village in Essex, she’s the daughter of Godfrey Rampling, an Army officer who won an Olympic gold medal in 1932, and started out as a model.
Charlotte’s stunning good looks soon landed her roles in films such as Rotten To The Core and Georgy Girl.
In the Sixties, she was a prominent part of Swinging London, along with The Beatles, Michael Caine, Terence Stamp and the photographer David Bailey.
And, inevitably, Hollywood swiftly came calling, but this, she decided, was not a place she wanted to be.
There was a time when Rampling became disenchanted with cinema and 'being looked at'
She has made movies in America — Farewell My Lovely, alongside Robert Mitchum, Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories and The Verdict with Paul Newman among them — but her most notable work has been in Europe, with films such as The Damned and The Night Porter, in which she co-starred with Dirk Bogarde.
These were not blockbusters or popcorn movies, but serious, not to mention, erotic, adult dramas.
She explains her choices thus: ‘I don’t generally make films to entertain people. I choose the parts that challenge me. It has to be something that makes me want to leave the house.’
Her decision to move to Paris 35 years ago (she was partly educated at a school in Versailles and so was already fluent in the language) turned out, career-wise, to be perhaps the smartest she has ever made, though it came about partly through necessity.
Her marriage to her agent and first husband Barnaby Southcombe, with whom she has a son, also called Barnaby, had broken up and in 1978 she married the French composer Jean Michel Jarre.
She and Jarre had both been married when they met at a party in Cannes and fell immediately in love.
Their marriage lasted until 1997, when she discovered that Jarre, by whom she has another son, the magician David Jarre, was playing away from home.
Since then she has been living with the communications tycoon Jean-Noel Tassez, who is ten years her junior.
Now, along with Scott Thomas and Birkin, she is something of a national treasure in France, admired for her Francophilia and her quintessential Englishness (she still has a home in London), which the French see as ‘chilly, mysterious sexuality’.
Even so, she once told me, there was a time when, even though she was continually working, she became disenchanted with cinema and ‘being looked at’.
It was the French director Francois Ozon who snapped her out of that when he offered her that infamous role in Under The Sand in 2000.
Since then, she has appeared in 39 films. Right now she can be seen in a British thriller, Cleanskin, in which she emulates Judi Dench in the Bond movies by playing a spymaster.
And still to come, of course, is I, Anna, directed by her son Barnaby, and destined to stir more wistful thoughts of ‘rampling’.
This is not bad for a 66-year-old granny who does nothing to disguise her age.
Perhaps now her frozen-faced contemporaries will take note.