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Charlotte Rampling on Getting Her Start in Film With Jacqueline Bisset, Jane Birkin

Charlotte Rampling stars with Tom Courtenay in “45 Years,” which Sundance Selects is distributing in the U.S. She spoke with Variety about her early days, including her second film, “Rotten to the Corps,” in 1965.

How did you start?
I’d done cabaret, singing with my sister from the age of 14. I thought, “I’d like to carry on doing something in the entertainment business.” I was literally spotted on the street to do a film, “The Knack,” a Richard Lester film. They were looking for lots of girls to be the fantasies of the main character, Michael Crawford. Among the group they hired were Jacqueline Bisset, Jane Birkin and myself, all making our film debuts. I thought, “This is fun! But I better get an agent.”

So did you?
I took some photos to a big agent, Brian Maller, who got me a screen test. The Boulting brothers liked the look of this girl but they had no idea I had no experience, so they said, “You must come down to Shepperton (Studios) for a screen test.” They had about nine girls testing for this, which happened to be the main role. The Boulting brothers were a very big deal, they were well-known for very good comedies. When I did the test, it all came naturally and they were surprised. Even I was surprised because you don’t know until you do it. And I got the part, which was a lead.

What a great start!
It was a beautiful beginning, but I saw how hard people were working yet never got roles. And here I was, unknown, and things were falling into my lap. I thought, “I better be careful. I better learn what I’m doing.” So I went to acting classes at the Royal Court Theatre, which had great directors and was doing great avant-garde work.

A line in “45 Years” says that “decisions you make when you’re young are bloody important.”
We are all guided by a form of — your own path, or your destiny, whatever you want to call it. If you’re lucky enough to have choices in life, why do we make that one choice? When we’re younger, we just make a decision. And when we’re older, we think back, “How did I make that choice? I didn’t even think about it.” It’s only when you have experienced it that you think, “Oh my God, that choice changed my life. I didn’t know it was going to, but it did.”

Anybody give you great advice?
Dirk Bogarde. We worked together in Visconti’s “The Damned,” and later Liliana Cavani’s “Night Porter.” He guided me beautifully with little tips about screen performance, how to keep up your energy on long days, and about lenses: Don’t give it your all if it’s a long shot.

You’ve gotten even better over the years.
It’s about the life you lead, how rich you make your own life. That’s what you bring to performances. And also it’s about not fearing aging. Just go with it.

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