At 69, Charlotte Rampling Knows What ‘You Look Amazing’ Really Means


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Charlotte Rampling and Sir Ian McKellen at Ladurée in SoHo for a party after the opening of her film “45 Years.”

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An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Old age was the subject on many minds at a screening Dec. 3 for “45 Years,” a movie starring the ’60s “It” girl, Charlotte Rampling.

At 69, Ms. Rampling may no longer be the ravishing sex symbol who posed nude on a table for Helmut Newton, inspiring a million fantasies. But she still has that hooded gaze, and her face wears the years elegantly.

She arrived at the screening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in the East Village wearing a black crepe pantsuit and pointy flat-heeled shoes. Never mind that NARS cosmetics was a sponsor of the event, and that Ms. Rampling starred in its 20th-anniversary campaign last year: She wore little makeup. And no jewelry.

“I was given watches, necklaces, bracelets through the years, but I kind of lost it all and I didn’t find it again,” said Ms. Rampling (who has been described by reporters as “chilly” and “remote,” though “self-contained” may be more to the point). “It’s probably a metaphor,” she added good-naturedly. “But I don’t know what that metaphor could be.”

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Ms. Rampling, who had come from another screening for “45 Years,” was running 30 minutes behind schedule. By the time she got to the theater around 7:30 p.m., most of the guests — who included Lee Radziwill, the actress Sean Young, the jewelry designer and socialite Ann Dexter-Jones, and Gilles Mendel of the fashion house J. Mendel — were already upstairs in their seats.

It turned out they would have to wait a bit longer. There were photographers with urgent directives (“Over here, Charlotte,” “Look down, Charlotte”), and reporters with nagging questions. The wraithlike Ms. Rampling, who has the posture of a dancer and, apparently, the patience of a saint, smiled for them all.

The gossip columnist Cindy Adams, 85, sat Ms. Rampling down on a bench for a murmuring tête-à-tête. Topics included her dating history (lots of actors), the film (Ms. Adams heard it was great) and marriage (“If it lasts, it lasts,” said the twice-divorced Ms. Rampling, whose longtime partner, the French businessman Jean-Noël Tassez, died this year).

Then Ms. Rampling moved on to a pair of 20-something reporters, who turned the conversation to less dignified topics like “being sexy on camera.” Or as one of them put it, “this older-actresses-can-be-sexy discussion that is happening now.”

“You mean to be a sexy old lady?” Ms. Rampling asked roguishly. No such pressure, she replied.

Follow-up questions concerned beauty and “aging gracefully” tips. “It’s the climate in England: We don’t have much sun,” Ms. Rampling said. She swims when she can and does yoga. “And meditation. If that gives you a hint.”

“Perfect,” said a publicist, signaling an end to the questions. With that, Ms. Rampling pressed her palms together and bowed slightly before walking away, a wordless benediction that she offered throughout the evening.

She is a practiced hand at all this sound and flurry. She has been in the public eye off and on, clothed and unclothed, for almost 50 years, since starring with Lynn Redgrave in the 1966 hit “Georgy Girl” and raising hackles with her portrayal of a concentration-camp survivor in an S&M relationship with a former guard in “The Night Porter” in 1974.

After a brief introduction by Andrew Haigh, the director of “45 Years,” Ms. Rampling walked to the front of the theater on a wave of applause. “What can I say?” she said with a gracious nod. “We’re really happy to see people enjoying the movie. We hope you’ll be part of that group.”

But when the lights went down, Ms. Rampling cleared out. She doesn’t like looking at herself on screen. “The last thing I need to do is watch myself,” she said. “No actor should watch herself.”

The after-party at the French macaron cafe Ladurée SoHo was low-key. Waiters circulated with sliders, plates of oversize French fries and movie tie-in cocktails by Lillet. The space was small, so it didn’t take more than a handful of people (models in cutout dresses, Ms. Young and the actors Hill Harper and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) to make it feel crowded.

Sir Ian McKellen arrived late and clasped hands with Ms. Rampling as the two posed for photographers.

At one point, the actress sat down at a table near the back. All night, people had been telling her how amazing she looks. It was getting wearisome. “What they’re really saying is, ‘You still look actually O.K.,’” she said. “‘You don’t look terribly old.’ I’m polite, so I just say ‘thank you.’”



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