Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell, Michelle Dockery, Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling star in William Boyd's Restless for BBC One

Charlotte Rampling plays Sally Gilmartin

Category: BBC One; Drama
With a career that spans five decades Charlotte Rampling has had a history of playing challenging and difficult roles from Lucia Atherton, a concentration camp survivor in the disturbing and highly charged film The Night Porter to femme fatale Anna Welles, in the soon to be released film I, Anna, directed by her son Barnaby Southcombe. In Restless Rampling plays Sally, who has a past as a spy and proves to be just as complex as many of her previous roles.

“I tend to veer towards roles that I know I can inhabit, because the character inhabits something that is familiar with me. Restlessness is a very familiar feeling with me and I felt confident there would be no problem inhabiting the character. You can’t speak out and say, ‘I’m a restless person’, you have to inhabit it in your very being. I tend to be attracted to roles that I feel I have somehow lived in a sort of way.”

“It’s a very charged feeling, it’s like you recognise somebody inside yourself. You see something in the character that you feel inside. Sometimes it’s little bits of the character - it doesn’t need to be the whole make up of the character or the story but it’s sufficiently charged to make you know that you can make the character as believable as you can as an actor.”

Told in two different time zones, the viewer is transported to the 1940s where Sally’s former life as a spy unfolds. In the 1970s she attempts to reveal to her stunned daughter Ruth the extraordinary events that led to her life of deception and the ever present suspicion that she is being hunted.

“Sally, having been involved with counter espionage and the Secret Service has been part of secret missions and, at times, missions that have gone wrong. As we go through the story of young Eva’s life we discover that she has encountered betrayal and there have been people from her past who have tried to eliminate her.”

The story begins when Sally sees a photograph in a newspaper that alarms her so much she decides it’s time to tell her daughter the truth about her past.

“Her secret hasn’t affected her relationship with Ruth at all for the past 30 years because she hasn’t told anybody. So it’s only at the start of the story that the paranoia begins again because a photo appears in a Cambridgeshire newspaper following the memorial service of Ruth’s father, her husband. Sally thinks the people who have been tracking her all these years have been alerted and so that’s when she decides to tell Ruth the story of her life.”

“Her past gives reason for Sally’s strange behaviour; she is forever on the look-out with the thought that one day they will find her. This suspicion and the constant unknown is the basis of the story and where we find Sally at the beginning of the film, in the Seventies, 30 years after the war,” explains Rampling.

“She never comes to terms with the past especially in relation to her feelings for Romer (her handler). Sally loved Romer and was totally excited and fascinated by the process they were living. There were heightened emotions and it was a heightened time, which then ended unbelievably dramatically where Sally didn’t even know if Romer was dead or alive. So it kept a whole movement, a restless movement of yearning and wondering, coupled with love and hate. Sally hasn’t lived constantly like that over the years but when we arrive at the story it is all re-awakened.”

For Rampling, having access to the original book as source material and also the author of that book was a luxury rarely available to actors.

“William Boyd has written a very beautiful script from a book that was very powerful so it makes an incredible package. It is rare for authors to adapt their own books, as it is a completely different skill that you need. In this case, with William, he has a rare ability to do both.”

“There is an intellectualisation when at first you are reading the scripts and thinking about the character and then after that there is a moment when you realise that the part is for you. Then you learn your scenes and you wait until you’re actually in the situation with the director and the other actors and things begin to emerge and you don’t really know how, well I don’t know how and I wouldn’t want to know how, I’d be fearful of tampering with the magic!”

Like her own son Barnaby Southcombe, Restless’s director Edward Hall trained as an actor before turning to directing in theatre and television.

“Ed has a natural instinct when it comes to working with actors; he understands exactly what it is that an actor needs. He did originally train to be an actor for a long time before deciding that it wasn’t for him. Luckily for us he then went on to pursue a career in directing. Ed is an extraordinarily perceptive and sensitive man and as an actor you can trust that he is really on your side and feeling the same emotions as you when you’re filming together. It is a gift that he has, not all directors have this but Ed does, so if he is going to do more films then he will be well loved by actors.”

Rampling shares most of her screen time with Michelle Dockery and Michael Gambon. Despite having no scenes with the actress playing her younger self, Hayley Atwell (Eva), Rampling claims they have a shared energy which comes from having worked together twice previously (The Duchess and I, Anna).

“When you cast the spirit of a person it’s the invisible thing that comes out of the person, not so much the facial resemblance that matters - there is just something similar in the spirit. Hayley and I have worked together twice now so I know her and I feel with Hayley there is some energy that is believable. At the beginning of the story Sally says, 'I am Eva Delectorskaya’, then you instantly meet Hayley playing the young Eva and it’s a very good dramatic way of introducing the fact that there will be two different versions of the one character. Whether we look similar or not doesn’t really matter - it’s the Forties and people looked very different then.”

A gifted linguist and resident of Paris, Charlotte has mastered several languages over the years but for her role as Sally she had to learn to speak Russian competently. “Learning Russian was very difficult because it has completely different sounds. I’m quite good at picking up languages and speak a few fluently but they are Latin based with the same writing and nothing like Russian.”

Whilst the scenes from the Forties were filmed on location in South Africa, Rampling and Dockery spent most of their time in rural Oxfordshire and some additional locations in Cambridge and London.

“The cottage where Sally lives is completely hidden away near Henley - to get there you drive down tiny roads, not so easy for all the trucks to get to! When you get there the cottage is very hidden which is what Sally wants, she needs to feel that she is somehow hidden away. We filmed in a house that is really lived in which added to the reality; we just moved in and changed the décor a bit, but it is lived in so it feels authentic. Unlike studios or abstract places, these locations are real; not only from the viewers point of view but for the actor as well - you know there is life in there.”