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Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years"

Charlotte Rampling’s days of slithering across broken glass in nothing but tights and suspenders, like she did in 1974’s kinky “Night Porter,” are long gone, but she still looks pretty sensational in a tailored pantsuit.

The actress’s roles have always been quirky and edgy. Her repertoire doesn’t include girlfriends or dolly birds. Known for her high cheekbones and hooded green eyes, she looks slightly remote and chilly, especially if you say the wrong thing. Still pencil thin, her face was free of make up and she wore flats at a recent reception at an elegant midtown Manhattan hotel to celebrate her new film “45 Years,” written and directed by Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”).

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years"
Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years”

Rampling has not had plastic surgery. She told me a decade ago in a phone interview of being comfortable with aging. “I just feel that if you can allow yourself to go through each stage of your evolution, you know, from 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and on, and you can actually go with that and have some sense of pride in that as a woman, that you can perhaps become a wise woman, too,” she told me. “You can become a woman that actually has experience, has knowledge, has been through all the youthful experiences, and you are holding something that I think is quite precious and quite beautiful.”

“45 Years” stars Rampling and Tom Courtenay as a married couple about to celebrate a milestone anniversary. Before the celebration, the husband receives a letter informing him that the body of his long-dead girlfriend, who was in her twenties when she died on a hike with him in the Alps, has been found. Rampling’s character didn’t even know about this girlfriend, and it makes her question how well she knows her husband and her life choices after more than four decades of marriage.

Rampling is getting Oscar buzz, and both stars received best actor honors at the Berlin International Film Festival. The actress, who is British, lives in France and has long had a European following.

At the end of the reception, Robert Redford made a surprise visit to pose for photographs and chat with Rampling, who co-starred with him in the 2001 film, “Spy Game.”

Following are highlights from a conversation with Rampling and Haigh moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg:

How did the director, who is only 43, get into the mindset of much older people?

Haigh: You don’t suddenly stop having thoughts and fears, jealousies and doubts when you get past 40, so I kind of just threw myself into that and how would I respond in the moment.

Why did the director want to make the film?

Haigh: I’m kind of like borderline obsessed by relationships and how we live within relationships and how we understand our identity within relationships, how they change and grow and develop and the intimacy and importance of that kind of connection. I wanted to explore those issues within the context of people married for a long time.

Why did Rampling want to take on the role of the wife?

Rampling: You don’t often get the kind of roles you really want from my point of view. This was odd enough and strange enough to make me know that I had a sporting chance at making this film into something with Andrew that would make people feel something about the story and the characters.

On whether Rampling and Courtenay discussed the backstory of their characters and did they talk to people or know anyone that’s been married that long?

Rampling: They’re not dinosaurs! [Rampling laughed.] Forty-five years is not that long… There’s lots of people who have been in relationships longer than 45 years… We just discussed between us how much you want to put into it and how much you want to imagine.

Why did the director want to cast actors with a rich movie legacy:

Haigh: I want viewers to have these memories of their cinematic roles when they watch them onscreen.

On casting Rampling:

Haigh: I wanted Kate to feel like a strong woman. I cast Charlotte first because the story is told through the wife’s perspective. It’s the central protagonist of the story, so we didn’t give the script to any men until Charlotte said yes. Then it was finding that person who would be the right actor to play opposite her, and Tom was very quickly the person we sent the script to.

What enabled her and Courtenay to have such fascinating and great chemistry?

Rampling: First of all, because we’re very good at what we do and we can make people believe in absolutely anything. [She smiled.]

Everything in the film leads to the final scene where the camera lingers on Kate’s face after her husband has made the speech at the anniversary ceremony proclaiming he’d made the right choice of a wife. How challenging was that to shoot?

Haigh: If that final moment doesn’t work, then the film doesn’t work. I’m all about endings anyway. There was probably tension for all of us because we knew it had to work. It was the last day of the shoot and we were all tired. It’s a very long shot, that final shot. Personally, it’s a really fantastic final moment. It still answers some questions, but leaves a lot still kind of hidden and mysterious.

Rampling: We only did a few takes. But when Kate, myself, gets up, I had to be each time like I had no idea what was going to happen. Like I have no idea where my life is going to go or what’s going to happen. But each time that I did it again, my heart broke.

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