Ten minutes into Brooklyn convinced me that Sairose Ronan had a lock on this year’s best actress Oscar. That was before I saw Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years. Hot on the heels of taking home best actress wins from the Los Angeles and Boston film critics and the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, she now stands poised to walk off with Oscar gold.
Scott Marks: I’ve never been good at paying compliments, so I apologize upfront if the following attempt flops. I interviewed John Crowley, the director of Brooklyn, and the subject of Sairose Ronan’s face came up and he likened it to watching an actress in a silent movie. What you do with your face in this movie is nothing short of a work of art.
Charlotte Rampling (Laughing): Are you kidding me? Wow. Compliment accepted! Thank you.
SM: At what point in your career, what performance did you realize not only how much you enjoy acting, but also that you’re damn good at it?
CR: I don’t know. It sort of came in waves, bits and pieces. Some of the films that I did sometimes allowed me to actually get a little bit close to where I wanted to be, because where I wanted to be (laughing) was just where you said. I knew I had that potential, but I wasn’t often given the chance to get there, to use my face as...well, you said it. I wouldn’t say it because it would sound very pretentious coming from the person. (Laughing.) I’m not saying it. You can’t put it in my words! I also wanted to be able to use my emotional world in a way that would give depth and human value. I was able to do that in certain films along the way, in Europe. And then this one came up. This is just so satisfying. People get not who I am, but what I’m doing.
SM: Too many contemporary films that deal with older characters usually do so in terms of cute nostalgia or illness. What was your first reaction after reading Andrew Haigh’s script?
CR: It was all about the things that I find interesting, things that can be worth exploring on screen in a very small story. It wasn’t a story that we’re telling, it’s actually what’s happening when a tsunami of emotions comes out. Not that they’re bottled up, those emotions. Not that anyone lied or anything. They just emerged. They were there, and everyone knew it, but they emerge in this fantastic way, which is through the ice. You can imagine this girl lying there, looking as young as she did when she died. And then all of the questioning comes from there. It’s very subtle and it speaks a lot to people. A lot of people have an extraordinary connection to what’s going on.
SM: You once told an interviewer, “I generally don’t make films to entertain people. I choose the parts that challenge me to break through my own barriers.” What barriers did Kate challenge you to break through?
CR: If I was to go on a trip like Kate was going on — which I have been, in different ways and for different reasons — those are the kind of barriers I go through. When those kinds of emotions hit you, they hit you head on. There’s nothing you can do, other than try and find a way to actually live through them. Trying to resist them won’t work. Everyone knows when they have panic attacks. They’re suddenly in a situation so frightening that they fear how they’re going to cope with it and actually get out the door. I joined Kate on that. I joined and revisited all that. And that’s what I love to do. It’s not as if I don’t know the people that I play. I know these women. That’s why I do this. I’m not playing to discover who these women are. I know.
SM: I think the greatest compliment I can pay you and Tom Courtenay is that your performances are like watching a long-married couple: the two of you become one. How much time did you spend rehearsing?
CR: Very little. We started shooting and that’s when it happened. We had the house for quite a long time, so we just explored. We got to know each other like kids having a romp. Getting that time and space...nothing can make you feel that except if you really do believe you’ve been married that long and you really love this person. You need to make that felt very quickly in order to make this film credible from the beginning.
SM: You have worked with so many directors whose films have contributed a great deal to this critic’s health and well-being. I was wondering if you’d play a little word-association game of sorts where I name a director and you tell me the one bit of life-altering wisdom he imparted. How about Luchino Visconti, John Boorman, Woody Allen, Nagisa Ôshima, and Francois Ozon. Anything you’d care to impart on behalf of any of these gentlemen?
CR: Well, you have exceptional taste. They are all my favorites! Luchino Visconti was my Master, my first director. He wasn’t my first-first director, but he was the first director that showed me what real quality cinema was and how it can happen. He showed me another way of making movies and I’ve tried to adhere to that forever after. Who else did you say?
SM: Woody Allen.
CR: Woody, too, is a Master. He actually said that I was a great comedienne. He compared me to Joyce Grenfell, I don’t know whether you remember her.
SM (Laughing): Joyce Grenfell?! You don’t have the overbite!
CR (Laughing): I know! You might all laugh, but I am a very accomplished comedienne. I started out in Georgy Girl, which underneath was a real sort of dark comedy. I’m a dark, comedic talent. (Laughing.)
SM: I’ve seen you do comedy. I love Max, Mon Amour! But let’s be honest: Dory is the least funny character in Stardust Memories.