By • May 10th, 2001 •

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Many of the characters Charlotte Rampling has played over the years are a bundle of contradictions: direct yet mysterious, steely yet vulnerable, sexily available yet somehow withdrawn. As Marie Drillon in Under the Sand, she anchors the film with her portrayal of a woman grieving over the loss of her husband but also tentatively exploring the possibilities of life alone. Rampling spoke with Films In Review’s Adam Blair:

Q: This was a wonderful role for you. Did you have a good time doing it?

RAMPLING: Yes, quite an amazing time. It’s not about enjoyment, but it’s about fulfillment.

Q: What attracted you to the part?

RAMPLING: I thought it could be an extraordinary portrayal of a woman in this particular state of mind that she’s in, which is very fragile. I’d like people who watch this film to feel that if they’d been there, that Marie could take them a bit further. Even if they hadn’t been there, there’s a memory of that form of loss that I think we all have, since we’re children.

Q: You could have played this with your eyes bugging out, and yet this is very subtle¼

RAMPLING: Eyes bugging out!

Q: You know what I’m saying, the standard movie crazy person.

RAMPLING: Well, she’s not crazy, she’s just a bit at a loss. This woman’s not crazy. She’s not unhinged at all, she’s just going through a process that you go through. When something dreadful happens to you, you don’t necessarily immediately accept it. I don’t know if you’ve been through these kinds of things, but that is what happens.

The fact that we cinematographically invent that [the husband] comes back, that we see him on the screen, OK, that’s cinema, but actually that’s what you do. You don’t allow somebody to go, you say “no, they haven’t gone.”

Q: Do you know exactly what happens at the end? It’s a mystery for all of us.

RAMPLING: I’m sure I have an interpretation, I’m sure you have an interpretation, but I’m not prepared to give you mine.

Q: Because yours might be closer to the truth?

RAMPLING: No, there’s no “truth,” there’s an interpretation, that’s all. Truth doesn’t exist in that moment.

Q: Is she getting closer to health?

RAMPLING: Yeah. (laughs). I’ve answered, OK?

Q: When you do such an intense role as this, is this something you’re able to turn off when the cameras aren’t running, or are you the type of actress who lives the part when you’re not working as well?

RAMPLING: Well, you think you turn off, but you don’t really turn off. You have a mechanism where you seem to turn off. You’ll do the scene, then laugh about it and get a bit absurd to erase the tension, but you don’t actually come out of it-that happens much later.

We had a lot of time to rehearse this-we had five months of really finding out who this character was, and what she’s going to do. We filmed this in two segments-first until the husband is killed-and then we stopped filming and François Ozon wrote the next part. When you’re actually shooting, you know so well what it’s all about that you just do it, and it’s a mechanism that happens. Your conscious functions are mechanical.

The mechanicals have to be there because you have to function within a system, filmmaking, which is very laborious, difficult, tiring, and quite often very uninspiring. So you have to make sure that what’s going to come through is the untouchable part of you, which is your unconscious. You know who this woman is, you know what the part is and you know where you’re going, and you just let that come through. Then when you finish the film, you come to terms with it.

Q: Do you like this character?

RAMPLING: Yes, I certainly do. I think she’s a very humane creature-I think that she does what she has to do.

You do a lot of things in this film that people don’t see much in films-just living and behaving and generally going about your life. In movies people are always making grand declarations and punching each other-and you’re just kind of stirring coffee and looking away. Is it hard to do?

RAMPLING: No, it’s very easy. You just have to be completely unselfconscious about all that. You’re not behaving, you’re just being. This film is actually about being-this film is more of an experience than a film about telling a story.

Q: What was it like working with the director?

François Ozon is somebody who doesn’t like agendas, he doesn’t like actually analyzing things. He sort of has an instinct of how things should be. How things should be in his world is unique to his world, and that’s fine. So if you follow him in his world, then you just follow him, you don’t actually have to talk much. Because he knows, and you know that he knows. He has an extraordinarily lucid vision about how things should be, but it’s not in any way conceived-it’s just as it is. It’s quite disarming, actually.

Q: Is there any difference between acting in French and acting in English?

RAMPLING: You sort of feel more French. (laughs).

Q: And how does that feel?

RAMPLING: Naughty, naughty! But you’re going to say I’m not French, that I’m English. I’ve spoken French forever. My father was in the Army and when I was 9, he was posted to NATO in Fontainebleau, so he put me, with my sister, in a French school until I was 12. Nobody else in the school spoke English, we had to speak French. After a while I came back to England and lived there.

Q: Did you always want to be an actress?

No, I never wanted to be.

Q: What did you want to be?

RAMPLING: I wanted to be a singer. I thought I was really clever at singing-I was doing smoking concert shows in North London, where I lived, and I thought I was terrific. But I never wanted to be an actor, it just happened like that.

Q: Have you ever done a musical?


Q: You belong to an extraordinary generation of accomplishment. Have you ever thought about why your generation of people in England grew up to be so extraordinary?

RAMPLING: I don’t think there are that many that have grown up to be that extraordinary. I think in the normal category of generations growing up, the 60s was like any generation.

Q: What films do you have that are out or about to be released?

RAMPLING: There’s Aberdeen, which is sort of an alcoholic road movie and I’m dying of cancer. It’s actually quite funny, and it’s with Stellan Skarsgård. Before that there was Signs and Wonders, a film with Jonathan Nossiter and also Stellan Skarsgård. And then I’m doing The Fourth Angel with Jeremy Irons.

Q: How do you make a decision to do the roles you do?

RAMPLING: There the only kinds of roles I can do, really. They’re good roles, you seek them out.

Q: Do you follow the media, or entertainment journalism?

No I don’t read that at all. I feel terribly sad after I’ve read it. I always wondered why I felt sad. I thought, is it because I want to be part of it? And I said ‘You are part of it, you make films and such.’ The fact that I don’t want to be part of it means that I’m going to be excluded from it. I don’t want to be in it and I know that I actually have no relationship with what it’s about, but it still makes you feel excluded, because you’re not going to be joining the party, you’re always going to be a wallflower. You’re not a wallflower because you make films, but you don’t do the rest of the stuff.

Q: Some people don’t want to have “entertainment business friends.”

RAMPLING: I don’t want to hang out with actors. I think actors are great and I love them when I’m working with them, but that’s enough for me. I like to hang out with all sorts of people who don’t have anything to do with show business, if I’m not working. If I’m going to see films and plays to see someone’s work, I won’t go to the premiere, I’ll go three days later because I just want to see the play or film quietly.

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