Until She Flipped for a Woody Allen Script, Charlotte Rampling Was Turning Homebody

updated 11/24/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/24/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

"I guess I am a little on the beautiful side," smirks British actress Charlotte Rampling. That's undeniable, but it's not vanity—just one of her lines from Stardust Memories, Woody Allen's latest exercise in guilt'n'giggles. This one features Rampling, 34, as a neurotic lost love who is part Diane Keaton (Woody's former lady), part lithium freak and all shimmering sexuality. The movie is Allen's least flattering—and most daring—self-examination to date. And Rampling is lovely in the most alluring performance of her career. "Woody is brilliant at creating entertaining reality, opening up closed doors and exposing monsters," reports Charlotte. "All the women who came up to him while filming wanted to go to bed with him."

Rampling, however, didn't even want to go to the States with him when Allen flew to Paris last year to coax her away from a three-year layoff. He knew her film work as the tease of Georgy Girl, the degenerate of The Damned and the willing victim of a sadomasochistic Nazi in Night Porter. Rampling had long since settled into domestic tranquillity with her second husband, French composer Jean-Michel Jarre, 32, after years when a supposed ménage à trois, an abrupt flight from her first marriage and an out-of-wedlock child overshadowed even her notorious films. "There are other things in life," Charlotte explained to Woody of her reluctance to leave her family for five months on location. "I don't have only cinema."

Allen's persuasiveness and modern technology changed her mind. "I used the Concorde as a bus," smiles Rampling, who crossed the Atlantic supersonically no less than 10 times during filming. The hearth was tended by husband Jarre, who was between work on albums (his LPs of electronically synthesized music, Oxygene and Equinox, have sold 14 million copies worldwide). "Marriage is a team effort. It puts a sort of seal on a relationship," says Charlotte. "I like that feeling very much." And if that means a return to the Establishment principles she challenged so visibly in the 1960s, she shrugs, "Why not? They are the principles that work. I keep thanking my lucky stars. I've discovered a whole new way of life—one that I want."

She refers to her solid two-year marriage, though she admits that the transition from career wasn't easy. "I didn't know any way of life other than work," she says. "It was a painful withdrawal, a question of learning to live with three rambunctious children. It came on awfully fast."

The youngsters are Barnaby, 8 (Charlotte's by her first husband), Emilie, 5 (Jarre's by his first wife), and David, 3, who arrived barely a year after his parents both left their spouses to run off together within a week of meeting at a 1976 party. "It's a very time-consuming thing," Charlotte says of motherhood. "Children need you at every bloody stage of their existence. To make a child strong and independent is such a complex thing. It's not so much what you tell the children as what they observe."

Rampling uses her own background for guidance. Born near Cambridge, she credits her father, a British army colonel who won a gold medal running in the 1,600-meter relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, with instilling a sense of stability despite the family's biennial relocations. Though introverted, Charlotte tried amateur dramatics before a modeling photograph won her the lead in the 1964 comedy Rotten to the Core. She then trained at the Royal Court Stage School.

But she went "off the rails" in 1967 when, almost simultaneously, her sister, Sarah, died of a brain hemorrhage and her housewife mother suffered a debilitating stroke. Charlotte broke off her career, studied yoga and Oriental religions, lived with gypsies in Afghanistan and meditated for two months in a monastery in Scotland. After she returned to filmmaking, she shared a London apartment with her press agent/lover, Brian Southcombe, and his roommate, male model Randall Lawrence, a living arrangement that the Fleet Street press trumpeted as a scandalous mènage à trois. "It's not my bag," Charlotte now says coldly. "I'm not a free lover." She married Southcombe when she became pregnant with Barnaby, but the four-year marriage crumbled when she met Jean-Michel, the son of movie score composer Maurice (Dr. Zhivago) Jarre, at a fete in St.-Tropez.

"I'm a rather high-strung, solitary person," says Rampling. "Jean-Michel gives me the space to wander around in my own mind. Whatever I do is okay by him and vice versa. But I've been very faithful." They live in luxury (and jogging shoes) in a 10-room, 19th-century manor near the Seine in a posh Parisian suburb. A housekeeper, nanny, handyman and gardeners are on hand to help with the kids, three dogs, three cats and a one-acre walled-in garden that is outfitted for family picnics and games. They traveled to China last June and will return next summer for Jarre's planned open-air concerts in Peking and Shanghai. The footloose days seem over. "I have planted my roots," says Rampling. "I've accepted that repetition is a function of life. Children and being happily married help," she adds. "But I know that you have to be flexible, open for changes, so anything can happen."

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