When I meet Charlotte Rampling, I don’t get “the look” — that sharp-eyed, freezing gaze that is every bit as iconic as those wielded by Garbo or Dietrich. I'm slightly surprised to find the noted screen ice queen friendly, gabby and prone to full-bodied laughter, even if she’s not exactly upfront with personal details. Rampling doesn’t mention, for instance, that she lost her longtime partner, Jean-Noel Tassez, only two months prior.
We’re speaking about a brutally honest and very human film about a possibly crumbling relationship. In “45 Years,” she and Tom Courtenay play a couple who discover a shocking secret soon before their 45th anniversary. We wonder how she’ll react to the news that he’s still pining for a girlfriend who died 50 years prior, in a performance that has netted the acclaimed actress, now 69, several accolades and counting.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is one of the most vulnerable roles you’ve played.
The vulnerability has always been there, but people have just used me on other registers. This has always been there, even if I come across as a bit scary sometimes. [Laughs] Underneath there’s a good quivering mass that can be used.
Writer-director Andrew Haigh is in his 40s writing about characters in their 60s and 70s. What is it like working with someone making a film about characters older than he is?
I find with creative people they’re not wrong. Somehow they know. They know things they have no right to know because they haven’t actually lived. But the creative gift is there.
This feels like a very intimately made film, with shots that really allow you and Tom Courtenay the space to create your characters. The final scene, where you’re dancing with Courtenay and we’re not sure what you’ll do, in particularly seems like you found it on the spot.
That was always the last scene in the film; that didn’t change. But I didn’t know how I was going to feel doing it, or what I was going to do. I knew I was going to pull my hand down from him at some stage, but that was it. It really was a lived-in experience every time. It was that he gets up from the table and he’s just done his wonderful speech and you have no idea what you’re going to do next.