Lewis Morley, Charlotte Rampling, London, early 1960s.
“I didn’t actually set out to write a book,” Charlotte Rampling said as she greeted well-wishers at the Librairie Galignani in Paris last night. Fielding a compliment about the slim volume’s cover photo, a portrait of Rampling as a teenager, she replied, laughing, “Well, there is something about 17!”
Ten years in the making, Qui je suis (“Who I am”) is, as its title suggests, an autobiography. Yet Rampling never does things quite like others do: Onstage, in fashion, as in life, she’s an icon for going her own way, her mystique intact. Qui je suis is an impressionistic ballade, a wandering through her childhood, from London to Fontainebleau and Provence and back again, when Charlotte was still Tessa (her first name) and The Night Porter was years away. All the photos are from her personal archives, save one portrait by Tim Walker of the actress behind a camera. Rampling and her collaborator, the editor and author Christophe Bataille, spoke with Vogue.com about the similarities between writing and fashion and Rampling’s taste for risk taking.
Your book jacket quote reads, “For the Ramplings, the heart is a safe (. . .) We only know how to keep silent.” What made you decide to write?
Charlotte Rampling: I set out on an investigation about how to write. I knew there was something I could do [with] writing, but it needed me to find actually how to do it. It had to be more than just telling about what I’ve done and my films and my childhood. I wanted to recognize who this person was. I’ve exposed quite a lot through film, but I wanted to expose something in a different way if I could. If I couldn’t, that didn’t really matter. Christophe helped me, because in our exchanges I found how I could articulate the way I saw things. I didn’t want it to be a project; I wanted it to be a work in progress.
Christophe Bataille: I first wrote Charlotte 10 years ago, as an editor at Grasset, suggesting a project. Then we sort of floated along for years, meeting for lunch or a walk, or just talking, recording, and writing. When it came to the writing, she’s the one who chose every word, every picture, and what went with what. I was disarmed by Charlotte’s simplicity—in terms of style, her art, everything—and her curiosity. She has done so much in her life, but she still has a rare taste for risk. Who else [of her stature] would accept to pose nude in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa for Juergen Teller?