Charlotte Rampling, an icon of the Swinging Sixties, was born Tessa Charlotte Rampling on 5 May 1946 in Sturmer, a village of Essex in England to Isabel Anne, a painter, and Godfrey Rampling, an Olympic gold medalist and a British Army Officer, who later became a NATO Commander. Although the family had to move around Gibraltar, France, and Spain for the fulfillment of the official commitments of his father as an army officer, finally they settled in the UK. Charlotte spent the formative years of her life in Versailles in France, where she attended Jeanne d’Arc Académie pour Jeunes Filles, and then transferred to St. Hilda’s School, a boarding school in Bushey, Hertfordshire, in England.
Charlotte earned a few modeling assignments while she was still in school. After graduating high school, she attended the Royal Court in London to learn acting and at the same time appeared in several commercial advertisements as a model. In one of her early assignments, she appeared as a model for Cadbury, which became immensely popular among the mass and brought her to light. During that time, she accidentally attracted the notice of a casting agent, and that resulted in her first uncredited screen appearance in the role of a nightclub dancer in Richard Lester’s musical comedy A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and also as a water skier in another film of the director, The Knack… and How to get it (1965). Despite her insignificant and minute roles, she bagged the important role of Sara Campbell in John Boulting’s comedy Rotten to the Core (1965) and was also offered to play the second lead in Georgy Girl (1966), directed by Silvio Narizzano, which became a major hit, and Charlotte earned the attention of several filmmakers.
Charlotte Rampling played the first leading role in her career in The Long Duel (1967), set in British India in the 1920s, with Yul Brynner as her lover, and immediately after that, she marked a grand arrival in the European movie world with her appearance in the Italian crime thriller Sardinia Kidnapped (Sequestro di persona 1968), as Christiana dumped in the middle of nowhere, opposite superstar Franco Nero. However, she was profusely acclaimed and received great critical response for playing the role of a young Jewish woman deported to a Nazi concentration camp in Italian director Luchino Visconti’s controversial film The Damned (La Caduta degli dei 1969) and was showered with new offers.
Charlotte was again dragged into controversy when she appeared in the cult classic Vanishing Point (1971) as she appeared naked, but that mattered little as she received praises for being a gutsy actor. In the same year, she was also acclaimed for her performance for playing Annabella in the lavishly produced incestuous movie ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore (1971).
However, her performance in the Italian psychological erotic film The Night Porter (1974) made her famous, in which she played a former concentration camp survivor Lucia. After the Great War, she accidentally met a former camp guard, played by Dirk Bogarde, who tortured her throughout her captivity and had sadomasochistic relations with her, but finally became his mistress and victim once again.
In the same year, she created ripples as she posed nude for an issue of the men’s magazine Playboy and appeared opposite Sean Connery in the science-fiction film Zardoz (1974). Later, in an interview, she created a mild controversy when she clearly claimed that Sean Connery was a flirt and he had the habit of trying to seduce every pretty-young girl he met. Nevertheless, she won the hearts of the American people and became a household name when she appeared in a remake of Raymond Chandler’s detective story Farewell, My Lovely (1975). Apart from that, she appeared as Carol, a disturbed young woman imprisoned in a castle by her aunty for money, in The Flesh of the Orchid (1975), the directorial debut of Patrice Chéreau, based on a thriller by the British author James Hadley Chase. Her other films in the decade include The Far Side of Paradise (1976) with Peter O’Toole and Orca (1977) with Richard Harris.
Charlotte Rampling started the 1980s with a bang when the acclaimed director Woody Allen offered her the female lead in his romantic comedy Stardust Memories (1980), which paved her way to stardom. She also gave a brilliant and critically acclaimed performance as Laura Fischer in The Verdict (1982), directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet and starring Paul Newman and James Mason. It turned out to be one of the most successful films in the career of Charlotte, which earned the nomination for five Academy Awards. Her other important films during the decade also include the fascinating and successful French film Long Live Life (Viva La Vie 1984), and the French erotic noir thriller He Died with His Eyes Open (1985), for which she earned her first Caesar Award nomination. However, despite being an artist willing to accept a bold and meaningful role, Charlotte perhaps had her most off-beat role in Japanese director Nagisa Oshima’s cult French film Max My Love (Max mon amour 1986), in which she portrayed the role of Margaret, a woman in love with a chimpanzee. She received her first Fantasporto Award for Best Actress for her performance as the neurotic Gaby Hart in Patrick Conrad’s Mascara (1987).
Charlotte had bouts of depression several times in her life. Depression runs in her family, which is responsible for the death of her elder sister Sarah, who committed suicide at the age of 23 after giving premature birth to her child in 1966.The sisters had an extremely close relationship and had performed together in a cabaret act together during their teenage. Due to depression Charlotte Rampling remained withdrawn from the public eye for nearly a decade and eventually slowed down on the number of her films. Her films during this period include Time is Money (1994), in which she appeared as Irina Kaufman, the worried wife of a veteran novelist. She also appeared as Marion, a shy and sophisticated French madam in the Romanian comedy film Asphalt Tango (1996), as the wealthy Aunt Maude in The Wings of the Dove (1997), and as the vulnerable Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranyevskaya in The Cherry Orchard (1999), based on the 1904 play by Anton Chekhov of the same name.
In the 2000s, Charlotte Rampling became the muse of French director Francois Ozon and appeared in a number of his films. That was the period when she came to terms with the death of her elder sister Sarah, who committed suicide. In Under the Sand (Sous le sable 2000), her first film in the decade, directed by Ozon, she vividly expressed the struggle of Marie, a professor of English literature in a Paris University, whose husband had been miraculously vanished from a beach. She earned her second Caesar Award nomination for her performance in the film. After appearing in Tony Scott’s Spy Games (2001), along with Robert Bedford and Brad Pitt, and Michel Blanc’s comedy-drama Summer Things (2002), she played the role of Sarah Morton, a famous British mystery author in Swimming Pool (2003), the second collaboration between Francois Ozon and Charlotte Rampling, for which Charlotte earned the European Film Award for Best Actress and also earned another Caesar Award nomination. Among her other films of the decade, she presented the extremely rude Alice Pollock in Lemming (2005), Dr. Milena Gardosh in the sexually provocative Basic Instinct 2 (2006), Hermione Gilbright in Angel (2007), her third film under the direction of Francois Ozon, Countess Spencer in The Duchess (2008), the High Priestess in post-apocalyptic thriller Babylon AD (2008), and Jacqueline in Life During Wartime (2009).
Her later films include Danish film director Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), which was highly praised at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. She also featured in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years (2015), about a couple preparing to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary when new information regarding the husband's missing previous lover arises. For her performance in the film, Charlotte Rampling won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival and also won the European Film Award for Best Actress. Apart from that, she was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the BIFA Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a British Independent Film. After that, she won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the 74th Venice International Film Festival for portraying the life of a woman filled with rejection and loneliness in Hannah (2017).
For her contribution to arts, Charlotte Rampling was made an OBE, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, in 2000. In her career, she was nominated four times for Caesar Award and finally received an Honorary Caesar in 2001. She was awarded France’s Legion of Honour in 2002 and the Lifetime Achievement from the European Film Awards in 2015.
In her personal life, Charlotte Rampling married New Zealand actor and publicist Bryan Southcombe, with whom she had a son. But the marriage did not last long, and the couple divorced in 1976. After that, she married French composer Jean-Michel Jarre and gave birth to another son. But after 23 years of married life, they were divorced in 1997 when Charlotte came to know about the multiple affairs of her husband. In 1998, Charlotte got engaged to Jean-Noël Tassez, a French journalist and businessman, and the couple lived together until he died in 2015