If Charlotte Rampling, 69, gets her first-ever Oscar nomination for the British drama “45 Years” — which has already won her best-acting awards at the Berlin and Edinburgh film fests and from the Los Angeles and Boston film critics — her famously hooded eyes will finally go wide with surprise.
“They say, ‘Oh, maybe she’ll get an Oscar,’ and I’m saying, ‘What? This never could happen!'” said Tom Courtenay’s costar in Andrew Haigh‘s intensely sensitive film about a fissioning marriage. “I’ve had an odd career. I’ve done all sorts of things, and I haven’t really conformed to a system. I tend to shy away from them. I take long breaks and don’t work, and something brings me back.”
Indeed, Rampling is the queen of comebacks. After fleeing Swinging London for Italy after her first fame in 1966’s “Georgy Girl,” she became a darling of the art house in the Nazi-haunted “The Damned” and “The Night Porter.”
She was Woody Allen‘s irritable muse in “Stardust Memories” and helped propel “The Verdict” to five Oscar nominations for everyone but her (including Best Picture for Sidney Lumet and Best Actor for Paul Newman). Rampling won Best Actress at the European Film Awards for Francois Ozon’s “Swimming Pool” in 2003.
“I didn’t go the Hollywood trail,” she said. “I sought out other types of films; cinema d’auteur, experimental films. I didn’t want to go the big route. Whether I could’ve done it or not I don’t know — I’m not saying that. But I didn’t feel it was my place.”
Instead of a big route followed by a long crash, like many great actresses, Rampling went AWOL in her beautiful youth, and has been getting bigger ever since. “45 Years” may be her deepest dive yet as an actor, offering far more complexity than even her most iconic roles as a babe. “Very true,” she said. In youth, she added, “I felt a bit out of place for some reason. I don’t know quite why. And I’m feeling quite in my place now.”
She felt entirely in place opposite Courtenay, another ’60s English beauty who fled Hollywood stardom and returned, older and wiser. Their melancholy chemistry was so great, Haigh kept cutting dialogue and letting the faces tell the tale. Not for nothing is the 2011 documentary about Rampling called “The Look,” and Courtenay is one of the few who can meet it.
“The screenplay had many more chatting scenes,” said Rampling, “but Andrew kept pulling these scenes out because actually what was more interesting was the silence, and what was happening in between the lines, in a way that did not need words. He [Courtenay’s character] is off in this fantasy land, reliving the youth he had with his dead girlfriend, and I’m trying to keep everything on an even keel, and not understanding what’s going on. Or not wanting to understand.”
If she does score at the Oscars, Rampling has no plans to do a Hollywood victory lap. “I think I’m going to go sit in a big field in the country and think about life.”