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Rampling revels in the darker side; Robert Elliott talks to the quintessentially British actress Charlotte Rampling.

Charlotte Rampling has never courted celebrity during her 36 years of disturbing screen roles, but the sylph-like actress has had little problem attracting it.

Unconvinced by the ordinary and drawn by darker themes, the British expatriate has waited for film makers offering pithy art house fare to come her way since she was plucked from a typing pool nearly four decades ago.

'I like to be desired. I like people to think of me first rather than me think of them,' said Rampling.

The latest was French director Francois Ozon, who tracked her down to star in his recent release Sous le Sable (Under the Sand). Ozon wrote his storyline based on how the actress played her part in the first 20 minutes of shooting.

Rampling's edgy portrayal of a woman who pathologically denies her husband's seaside disappearance is one of a handful of fresh roles that have brought the feline screen seductress back into the fold after five years of sporadic appearances.

'There's a definite feeling now that I want to work again, that I'm here again after keeping a low profile for a little while,' Rampling said in her distinctive low tones.

Her re-emergence coincides with a lifetime achievement award at last month's Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars.

Rampling, 55, first gained notoriety in two quintessential 1960s films, Georgy Girl and The Knack And How To Get It, but she is forever associated with a perverse 1973 piece called The Night Porter co-starring British leading man Dirk Bogarde.

The dark-hued Italian production tells of a concentration camp survivor who runs across her former Nazi lover in a Viennese hotel and rekindles their sado-masochistic relationship. Controversial and scandalous when first shown, the picture remains a cult favourite.

'Each generation never seems to forget that film. It had to do with very hidden fantasies and the darker side of the soul - things that people quite often dream about and don't dare tell anybody,' Rampling said.

Filming The Night Porter was a 'fantastic yet agonising' experience that, along with other movies, led to Rampling's image as an elegant, hood-eyed femme fatale. She says her reality is different.

'Actually, I'm very shy,' she said half-mockingly.

'While I'm working I'm very open, that's what I do. But you don't know what it takes out of me to do it, do you?'

Like others of her generation, Rampling has a fastidious view of Hollywood, her tastes veering towards 'more daring' independent and European productions.

Her only stab at living in Los Angeles was in 1970, when she collared a few small parts including a cameo as the Angel of Death in the underground favourite Vanishing Point, which she 'vanished out of' despite being kept in the credits.

Later she went on to play the dragon lady wooing Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely, Woody Allen's twisted girlfriend in Stardust Memories, the creepy tarot card reader in Angel Heart with Mickey Rourke, and the hard-bitten legal aide alongside Paul Newman in The Verdict. But the L A studio system does her no favours.

'The way they work in America is really efficient and well run, but they just don't go deep enough for me into their subjects,' Rampling said.

'They like to appeal to larger audiences, so they don't get down into the character's inside, where I want to go.'

While more than a few actors take lesser roles to bankroll their high-flying lifestyles, Rampling admits help from the men in her life has afforded her the chance to choose tasteful, lower-paying parts that maintain her 'integrity'.

Her discriminating choice of roles has produced a relatively modest output.

'It (a role) has got to fascinate me, to smell right. I'm going to be with this person for quite a while . . . she's sort of a sister, or shadow-self,' she said.

Rampling watches the finished product only once, fearing superstitiously that 'if I look at it, it'll take something away'.

Rampling is well preserved in a seemingly non-deserving way. Exercise is limited to yoga, and although she watches her diet she smokes pricey Cuban whiffs and drinks Bordeaux.

Her pastimes of frequenting cafes, taking strolls and shooting photography fall neatly into the daily fabric of Paris, the city she adopted in the 1970s after living in London, Rome, New York and Milan. Her flat is in the handsome, bourgeois sixth arrondissement, where her cat Blackie - a big Persian-abby mix - pokes around.

'Paris is a city that likes me and I like it. I feel creative here, inspired,' Rampling said.

This summer she will be involved in a French film featuring an ensemble cast called Voyez Comme On Danse (See How We Dance) directed by Michel Blanc.

Another project with British director Mike Hodges has been delayed for ten months until November as it winds through the writing stage.

'I'll discover what I want to do as people offer me things,' said Rampling.

'I'm not about to find projects myself. That's not the way I like to work.'

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Charlotte Rampling, who prefers 'more daring' European films to the brash Hollywood movies
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 16, 2001
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