TV & Radio
Charlotte Rampling has gone from "The Look" to "The Legend".
She received the moniker The Look when as a beautiful, carefree dollybird in swinging '60s London she made an early name for herself in Richard Lester's 1965 comedy The Knack and 1966's dark comedy Georgy Girl. A 2011 documentary on the actress was aptly titled Charlotte Rampling: The Look.
But in France, where's she lived since 1979, Rampling's been lovingly nicknamed The Legend because of memorable performances playing brave, daring and often difficult women in such acclaimed films as Luchino Visconti's 1969 epic The Damned, Liliana Cavani's controversial 1974 drama The Night Porter, Sidney Lumet's acclaimed 1982 drama The Verdict and Francois Ozon's Under the Sand (2001) and 2003's Swimming Pool.
So how does she choose her roles?
"I guess I seek out this great spirit in a character," explained the effusive actress, 67, during a recent phone conversation from her home in Paris.
Rampling made a real impression years ago on Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, when he saw Georgy Girl. "She wasn't just another pretty face," he said. "She plays this young thing who is just totally self-absorbed. She only cares about herself. It's interesting because she's strikingly beautiful, but there is an icy quality . . . She is always playing these roles that are either perverse or are nasty characters. There is always a real strong contrast to her physical beauty."
Rampling's bringing that icy, enigmatic quality with a touch of maternal concern to her latest role as Dr Evelyn Vogel on the final season of Dexter, currently playing on Sky TV's SoHo channel. The brilliant neuropsychiatrist encounters everyone's favourite serial killer, Dexter (Michael C Hall), a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department, when she becomes a consultant for the homicide division's case revolving around a serial killer called the Brain Surgeon. In the first two episodes it's revealed that years before, Vogel had consulted at Miami Metro and encountered Dexter's late father, Harry, who had expressed his concerns to her about young Dexter.
Despite her extraordinary career, Rampling initially didn't have acting aspirations. In fact, she didn't have any career plans until her father, Geoffrey Rampling, a British Army officer and three-time Olympic gold medal runner, decided his 17-year-old daughter needed to learn a skill.
"My dad said: ‘You have to be able to get a job, dear, so you better learn to be a secretary'." recalled the twice-married mother of two grown sons.
"So I was working in a boring old typing pool at an advertising agency. I was spotted by the executives on the floor above where all the chic people were working. That was that."
These executives liked her "look" and cast Rampling in a Cadbury chocolate commercial, which led to a role as a water skier in The Knack. Then came Georgy Girl in 1966.
She noted that Hollywood did beckon with Georgy Girl's success but that she wasn't interested in living there: "I think I did one or two films [in Hollywood] in 1969. It just didn't satisfy me. I thought I would never go anywhere. I preferred to go back to Europe and make the kind of films that were close to my heart."
Her sister's suicide when Rampling was 20 vastly changed her direction in life, she said.
"I was happy-go-lucky, pretty fun, pretty wild. I was forming. And then it happened, and you go: ‘Wait a minute. This is not funny'. You are not the same. Life has hit."
It was at this watershed moment when Visconti cast her as the wife of a German company's vice-president who is sent to Dachau in The Damned. "He opened up a world, a way of making films," she said. "He was a master. He talked to me all the time. He protected me very much."
Though she's done television movies in the US, Dexter marks Rampling's first series role there. "She was the first choice," said executive producer Sara Colleton.
"She had to have a certain kind of aloofness that comes from being a scientist yet also play maternal and be charming," Colleton said. "Most of her scenes are with Michael C Hall, and the two of them have these wonderful acting duets."
Though she had never seen Dexter before receiving the offer, Rampling was excited about the idea of creating a character in the last part of a popular series.
"I thought this was intriguing that you come in with a character who is going to reveal a lot of stuff about the main character and cause a lot of suspense and a lot of angst.
" I could really launch into areas I found very fun to play."
Dexter, Monday, 8.30pm, SoHo
- Sunday Star Times