Geraldine Leigh Chaplin (born July 31, 1944) is a prolific actress of English, French, and Spanish-speaking films, the fourth child of Charlie Chaplin, the first of eight with fourth wife Oona O’Neill. After beginnings in dance and modeling, she turned her attention to acting, and made her American acting debut (and came to prominence in what would be a Golden Globe–nominated role) in her portrayal of Tonya in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965). She made her Broadway acting debut in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes in 1967, and received her second Golden Globe nomination for Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975). She also appeared in his other pictures, including Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976), and A Wedding (1978). She received a BAFTA nomination for her role in Welcome to L.A. (1976), and then appeared in Roseland (1977) and Remember My Name (1978). She played her grandmother Hannah Chaplin in the biopic, Chaplin (1992) for which she received her third Golden Globe nomination. She also appeared in The Age of Innocence (1993), Jane Eyre (1996), Mother Teresa: In the Name of God’s Poor (1997), and a decade later, in The Wolfman (2010).
Chaplin has appeared in a wide variety of critically recognised Spanish and French films. She starred in Claude Lelouch’s Les Uns et les Autres (1981), the Alain Resnais comedy Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983) and the Jacques Rivette experimental film Love on the Ground (1984). She enjoyed her greatest critical success collaborating with Carlos Saura, starring in several notable films by the director, including Ana and the Wolves (1973), Cría cuervos (1976), Elisa, vida mía (1977), and Mamá cumple cien años (1979). She collaborated with Pedro Almodóvar in Talk to Her (2002). She was awarded a Goya Award for her role in En la ciudad sin límites (2002), and was nominated again for The Orphanage (2007). Her contribution to Spanish cinema culminated in her being awarded the Gold medal by the Spanish Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences in 2006.
Chaplin had a long term relationship with Spanish film director Carlos Saura, giving birth to their son, Shane Suara Chaplin, in 1976. A subsequent long-term relationship with Chilean cinematographer Patricio (married, 2006), gave her a daughter, Oona, born 1986. As of 2011, Chaplin maintained homes in Miami, Florida, in the United States, and in Madrid, Spain, and Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Geraldine Leigh Chaplin was born on July 31, 1944, in Santa Monica, California, the fourth child of actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin and his fourth wife, Oona O’Neill, whom he married in 1943. Chaplin was in his mid-fifties, and Oona was eighteen years old; Geraldine would be the first of their eight children. Her paternal grandparents were English singers Charles Chaplin, Sr. and Hannah Chaplin (Hannah Harriet Pedlingham Hill), and her maternal grandparents were Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Eugene O’Neill and English-born writer Agnes Boulton.
When Geraldine was eight years old, her father took the family on vacation to Britain and Europe; two days after the family set sail, the U.S. Attorney General signed an order refusing him permission to re-enter the country. Her father then moved the family to Switzerland. She attended boarding school there, where she became became fluent in French and Spanish. Also in this time period, Geraldine appeared in a small part in her father’s film “Limelight” (1952).
Dance and modeling
At 17-years of age, the young Chaplin decided to forego college to pursue dance instead, and studied ballet for two years in England, including a period in 1961 at the Royal Ballet School. Chaplin then danced professionally for a year in Paris. Though a good dancer, she felt she had not trained from an early enough age to excel at it and so gave up ballet. Said Chaplin “I didn’t leave ballet, ballet left me.” It was a great disappointment to her.
Chaplin then found work as a fashion model. She was then discovered by David Lean. It would be many years before she could bring herself to see a ballet performance.
Discovery and early acting, 1965-1969
When her dream of becoming a ballet dancer ended, she followed her father into what would become a prolific acting career. She came to prominence in the role of Tonya in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965). David Lean chose her to play the main character’s wife, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination in the category, “Most Promising Female Newcomer.” In an interview to publicise the film, she explained, “Because of my name, the right doors opened.”
In 1967, she made her Broadway debut in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. Her performance was praised by Clive Barnes in a New York Times review, where he noted that Chaplin “acts with spirit and force… with a magnificently raw-voiced sincerity” giving a performance of “surprising power.”
In the same year, she also began what would become a significant collaboration, starring in Spanish film director Carlos Saura’s psychological thriller Peppermint Frappé (1967).