I knew who she was because I had admired her films - The Night Porter, The Damned - and I was immediately struck by Charlotte's stillness and her remote quality. I remember thinking she seemed less sophisticated than she was on the screen. She didn't say very much, I learnt very early on that Charlotte is not a chatterbox.
She was living in the South of France at the time, and we both had complicated private lives, so setting up home together was a big step. Charlotte was married and had a son, Barnaby, and I was about to get a divorce and had my small daughter Emilie to think of: extraordinarily, Emilie's middle name is Charlotte. The fact of my divorce was not linked to meeting Charlotte, it was going to happen anyway.
Finally, it went through. Emilie was one-and-a-half, and I got custody, which was unusual, and Charlotte became a second mother to her. She really saved the girl, who had some problems when she was young - they are incredibly close, as indeed I am with Barnaby. I don't believe in astrology, but we're bothVirgo and born in the Chinese Year of the Rat and share a very similar outlook. Then Charlotte and I had a son together and became an even bigger family.
Because my parents divorced when I was five I maybe was very aware of the implications on the children. I can't remember exactly how I felt, and my parents didn't go through a crisis, it was more of a gradual thing, with my father going to live in America to work. I think it was more a feeling of absence rather than sadness and isolation. I come from a big family in Lyons and we lived there and in Paris. My mother is a fantastic woman who was put into Ravensbruck concentration camp for a year for being in the French Resistance. Surviving that gave her an extraordinarily philosophical outlook on life which may have affected me.
I've always been attracted to Anglo-Saxon women rather than French women - although having said that I did live with a French actress and my ex-wife was a music business PR with an extremely pronounced French character. English women are very self-aware, critical of themselves, and they have a balance of being down to earth and romantic. They are also tolerant - Charlotte has great tolerance, she never judges people. French women are too knowing for my liking.
Charlotte was brought up in a military family. She was a rebel, and we both went through the hippy stage in a big way. I think it made us aware of how we should bring up our children. We speak a mixture of languages at home - the children will speak English to Charlotte and French to me: Charlotte speaks fluent French without an accent.
She is probably the person least obsessed about her image that I have ever met. Some actresses are fanatical about the way they are lit - Charlotte has never cared about that, and has never needed to because the bone structure of her face can take the light from any angle. She has a unique quality on screen that very few people in the history of cinema have had - it's not a compliment, but a fact.
She works hard, and she is fragile. She is regularly exhausted. Three years ago she did four movies together, which was unwise; she is not a robot. But we're happy.
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: In 1976 I was living in St Tropez with my husband, Bryan, and our son, Barnaby. It was a time of heavy taxation in England and we had exiled ourselves there for a couple of years because I was travelling a lot for work. It wasn't ideal; it is a holiday town, not somewhere to be on a permanent basis, and I didn't like it.
I had just come back from making a film, and a dinner had been arranged at a local restaurant by a friend, Florence, for us to meet Jean Michel. He was incredibly charismatic; very strong, very attractive, very charming and intelligent.
Michel was magnetic. Having just flown in from Los Angeles I was tired, rather silent and didn't pick up on the intensity of what I felt until three days later. I went to Paris the next day to promote Farewell My Lovely. I must have mentioned where I was staying to Jean-Michel because he phoned me and we met, and that's when it all started. A long weekend at the Lancaster - still my favourite hotel.
I was in a marriage that was not going too well, neither was Jean- Michel's, and very soon during that weekend we realised that there was something very strong that had happened between us.
We went back to our respective homes, and Bryan must have sensed that something had happened because we had a big row and I left and went up to Paris. I left Barnaby in St Tropez with Bryan and the nanny; I needed to think out what was happening.
Jean-Michel was the catalyst really - from that moment we decided our lives would change, and we thought about how to do it so that it would be best for everyone concerned. We spent two weeks trying to work out what to do and then I had to leave to do a film in Newfoundland.
After that we lived with hismother for a while, then we lived in another apartment in Paris and then, when his wife moved out of their apartment, we moved in as he had a recording studio there he obviously wanted to return to. The flat was completely empty - she'd stripped it right down to the light bulbs and we lived like that for two years.
You only feel guilty for things in retrospect. I knew my marriage had come to the point where we weren't suited to one another, and Jean-Michel had also come to the same conclusion. We had to be as gentle as possible to soften the blow because it's awful in anybody's life for things to break up. But I certainly feel it was right; it's been 16 years and after falling in love we now have an incredible and very deep companionship.
Because our work requires us to be separate I think it gives our marriage a romance. Routine is a killer in terms of romance - you have to become inventive, whereas our relationship has an intensive basis and no regularity. We get along so well because we are both alone-type people. We're not society people and we absolutely have to have time to be by ourselves. Jean- Michel will be in his studio, which is by the house, and I will be elsewhere nearby, but separate.
I didn't sail through our early period at all. You have little breakdowns that catch up with you and then you have to be quiet and come to terms with things. I had to take two years off and didn't work during that time. I've always lived very intensely and still do; that's the way I am, and so I get tired and pay the price.
We live our lives our own way in our home outside Paris. I like living in France and lived here for a period when I was young because my father was stationed at Fontainebleau - he was in the army. That was when I learnt French, and I suppose I was lucky to learn it as a child.
We can be anonymous to a certain extent, and although I am a known person I've never done anything to make it happen more - fortunately I don't have to go through the dressing- up and having a bodyguard routine that is Hollywood. Fame can be very destructive, although it doesn't mean anything in the end to your inner peace and self-awareness.-Reuse content