Charlotte Rampling defines personal life as "what goes on at home." She gets up to open the door for a puppy crying to come inside. The puppy decides to play hard to get and stays put despite her coaxing. She closes the door and shrugs: "See how I spend my time?"
It is a spacious home in Croissy, an elegant suburb with houses set back behind big trees and lawns along the Seine west of Paris. The opulence of her home is balanced with just the right amount of funk to make it homey -- toys, records and unused chairs piled in corners, for example. There are three children, three dogs and three cars parked outside under a shed next to the low-slung modern recording studio designed by Rampling's husband-musician Jean-Michel Jarre, who is working on his third synthesizer album (after "Oxygene" and "Equinoxe") in there at the moment.
Home is for work as well as personal life, an impression reinforced by the constantly ringing telephone: people requesting interviews in connection with her part in the new Woody Allen film, "Stardust Memories," which got a savage reception from some critics in the United States (The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael likened her role as one of Woody's three girlfriends to a ship's figurehead that suggested a "decaying goddess").
She describes her role: "Woody wanted to show the ideal woman, but as the ideal woman did not exist she was only ideal three days out of 28. The rest of the time she was a basket case. She had great extremes from total depression to being overjoyed and from tender emotion to fits of temper." t
The role came "out of the blue. He came to France to see me. He had been thinking about me for a long time, and as a matter of fact I had been thinking of him since" -- she laughts -- "from the beginning of Woody Allen." While in New York for the shooting, she was stuck in traffic with him in a tunnel. He freaked out, or seemed to. "I think Woody likes to create phobias," she says. "He's afraid of pigeons. 'They're rats with wings,'" he says. "He plays at being out of control, to create excitement in his life. Most of it is a game. I think.
"I don't think anybody has ever heard Woody raise his voice on the set, however. He has an extraordinary calm when he is directing. His basic way of communicating is to ask questions. He wants to find out what makes you tick. I don't meet a lot of people like that. He's a charmingly entertaining personality. My sense of humor developed enormously while working with him. He said I had a gift for humor; he compared me to Joyce Grenfell."
She has managed her career with care, avoiding type-casting, accepting roles she can identify with, trying to keep work from being drudgery. She makes only a movie a year because "I don't want to be only in the incestuous world of film. I am not specifically writing, taking photographs or making music, but these are all things I like to do. The work of an actor is to absorb life, live different experiences. Otherwise, you are going to repeat yourself. You are not going to create something new each time. An actor does not have an instrument -- a piano, pen or brush. Of course, there is makeup, but I'm not into character roles. I'm into using me, what I am. I've tried creating characters, but it hasn't worked for me."
Some years ago she played a housewife in a film called "Corky," in which her racing-driver husband was always away doing naughty things and she had to bear all the domestic burdens. Balancing her youngest child, 4-year-old David, on her knee, Rampling leans forward: "I couldn't take that person very far. I could identify with her pain, but she was too down-trodden, she was a victim. Losers are not attractive."
She is quick to point out she does not define "loser" the American way: "Everything is defined by the dollar in America. That's why people are so spiritually empty there. I would be a mess if I lived in Hollywood, where your worth is judged by how much money you make, or your last film made. The losers are the ones who can't make money.
"I love living in France. I'm very happy here. I love all the faults of the French. They are arrogant and proud because they don't want to be bought and sold, they want to keep their individuality, and that's a wonderful ambiance for an artist. New York is creative, but the energy level is too tiring. I need some recul . . ."
She laughs at the Franglais. Her French is excellent. She went to school in France for three years, while her father was a British colonel assigned to NATO at Fountainebleu. After De Gaulle kicked the United States and British forces out, she went back to England and began working as a model. She hung out in the Arts Lab and was known as Charlie in Swinging London. She acted in her first film, "Georgy Girl"; then, in 1972, she made news by marrying her manager on the understanding that his best man would continue living with them. The marriage eventually broke up because of "incompatibility," she says, dismissing the subject.
She takes chances, and likes to work with directors who take changes. Her most provoking role was in Liliana Cavani's "The Night Porter," in which, despite her dislike for them, she played a larger-than-life victim, an ex-inmate of a concentration camp who enjoyed being persecuted by Dirk Bogarde, an ex-guard. Once more she is on the edge of her chair: "She was not a passive victim.She was a victim that won. She was taken over mentally and physically by something totally corrupt, and the corruption turned her on. Even though it was a bizarre love, it was the only love she had known, and she decided to live her destiny to the very end. She chose, in fact, not to be a victim by deciding to accept whatever happens.
"You wouldn't believe all the offers for victim roles I got after 'The Night Porter.' But I've changed so much since then. That sort of person does not interest me anymore. If you change, the world thinks of you as being somehow unreliable, in a void or something. Woody Allen has the same problem. People ask why he can't just go on making funny films, though I think 'Stardust Memories' is very funny. But he wants to provoke, now, to grow as an artist. He doesn't want to repeat himself. I hate repeating myself. I want to go down different streets."
She piles two children and one of the dogs into the Jaguar to drive to the train station. Reaching the iron gate at the end of the grounds, she pushes the remote-control button to open it. The gate refuses to budge. She backs up 50 yards to the house at about 30 miles an hour to get a spare remote control. Won't the gate open manually?
"No," she says sheepishly.
"Aren't you afraid of getting locked inside?"
She roars out into the street: "It hasn't happened yet."