With the Oscars just five weeks away, here's Anthony Mason with "The Envelope, Please ...":
In a half-century on screen, Charlotte Rampling has played opposite Paul Newman (in "The Verdict"), Robert Redford ("Spy Game"), and Woody Allen, who cast her as his ideal beauty in "Stardust Memories."
In Paris, where Rampling has lived for most of her adult life, she's known as "La Legende." A British actress at home in France, she's never courted Hollywood, preferring the parts to come to her:
"It's like a strange form of pride maybe," she told Mason. "I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm just an old-fashioned girl and I like to be asked to dance, you know? Somebody is going to ask me to dance, always."
"And you're still dancing."
"And I'm still dancing!"
This year, in the film "45 Years," about a marriage suddenly destabilized as the couple approach a landmark anniversary, her nuanced performance as the wife has earned Rampling her first Academy Award nomination. "That pleases me," she laughed.
She is one of 20 acting nominees this year, all white. The exclusion of black actors has prompted some to threaten an Oscar boycott. When Rampling called that "racist to whites" in comments on France's Radio 1 last week, the backlash was swift.
"I regret that my comments could have been misinterpreted," she said later in a statement to "Sunday Morning." "I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration."
Rampling has courted controversy before, most notoriously in the 1974 film, "The Night Porter," when she played a concentration camp survivor who, after the war, resumes a sado-masochistic relationship with the Nazi officer who abused her.
"You yourself have said 'Night Porter' was a 'dangerous' role," said Mason.
"Yeah. I realized it could be very explosive. But then at the same time, it was extremely exciting to feel that you could touch that."
"And when you got the critical reaction you did?"
"I was really blasted."
Many critics were disgusted. Pauline Kael called it "an insult to the people caught in the Holocaust." But the film became an art house hit.
"For a long time, and perhaps maybe even still to this day, that's the image a lot of people still associate with you," said Mason. "How do you feel about that?"
"That means it's a very strong image. If that's what identifies me, then that's fine by me."
"You're proud of it?"
"Yeah, I am."
It led to higher-profile films in the '80s. She played an attorney who double-crosses her lover, Paul Newman, in "The Verdict."
Her character is actually punched by Newman. Mason asked about her "really interesting" reaction.
"Yeah, there is actually. I love that moment actually. It's a very good moment."
"Do you know what is, that's there?
"It's the shame, the humiliation, and the acceptance."
She also played a neurotic actress in "Stardust Memories":
"You're always searching for the perfect woman. You wound up falling in love with me. I can't be alone. But I can't be too close."
But Rampling was battling her own demons. By the end of the decade she would suffer a nervous breakdown.
"Depression is about stuff that you've just pushed down and down and down," she said. "Or not even pushed down. It's just sitting there but it hasn't been dealt with."
"Did you reach a point where you felt just paralyzed?"
"Yeah. And you just can't get out the door anymore."
What Rampling hadn't dealt with was the death of her older sister, Sarah, who'd committed suicide in 1967.
"That was a big trigger," Rampling said. "But you have to push that down. I was 20. You know. my Mum was so devastated by grief she sort of was almost gone. So there I was, but you have to keep going."
Rampling and her father kept the cause of Sarah's death secret from her mother. "And I always wondered if Mom was protected by that pact or poisoned by the lie," Rampling writes in "Qui je suis," ("Who I Am") published in French last year. "It took me long spells in the wilderness before I shed my first tear, so as to finally become a woman relieved by pain, which had been too much contained."
"We were very close," Rampling said of her sister. "She was, you know, my closest friend. We were incredibly bonded."
"You kind of had a singing group together."
"We did! And we got up and did this singing act where we sang these cute French songs, you know, we had the tights and the beret and the mac. You know, very French. And we were all the rage!"
As she was wrestling with depression, Rampling's 20-year marriage to composer Jean-Michel Jarre was unraveling. She continued to work mostly in France, but otherwise stayed out of the public eye.
Mason asked, "How long would you say that period lasted for you?
"I would say getting on ten years."
Rampling re-emerged in 2000, in the French film "Under the Sand," about a woman whose husband goes for a swim on vacation and vanishes. The wife can't bear to confront her loss.
When Rampling saw the final cut of the film, she had a revelation: "A whole bell crashed in my head. I said, 'But this is Sarah. This film is about Sarah, this is all about her!' I'm a bit slow probably, with all these feelings coming up."
"That wasn't really your comeback film."
"Well, it was a comeback in the sense of me coming through what we just talked about. That's the time I really realized I was ready to go out again."
The next year, she accepted a part in a Hollywood film, called "Spy Game."
"You took a film with Robert Redford because you saw there was something in the script you'd be able to do?" asked Mason.
"Yes! Just give him a kiss," she laughed. "Which shows that I'm a fun lady! It was worth it. We did it actually twice, 'cause there was a little problem. So I was called back to do it, not quite sure whether there really was a technical problem, or whether my presence had been demanded a second time!" she laughed.
She's worked steadily since.
In "45 Years," as Kate Mercer, she confronts her husband about an old lover who haunts their marriage.
"When I'm doing a scene, it's the real feeling that I'm feeling," Rampling said. "It's not me playing at being Kate feeling that. It's absolutely me feeling that in the instant, because I know what that feeling is like. I know what Kate's feeling."
Now two weeks shy of 70, Charlotte Rampling is resurgent.
"You don't seem to be having problems getting parts," Mason said.
"I think older people now are really quite interesting," she replied. "If '45 Years' makes a bit of money, that will help, won't it? They'll say, 'Oh, older people can make money.'"
"You haven't been asked to be in any superhero movies yet, have you?"
"I was asked to be Superman's mother once," Rampling laughed. "And I thought, 'No!'"
"No? You didn't wanna be Superman's ...?"
"No! You could have been Superman. But not Superman's mum!"
To watch a trailer for "45 Years" click on the player below.
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