Actress-film director Carmen Chaplin has the most alluring red-carpet presence. It is a combination of her natural beauty, incredible smile and of course the impressive, creative family lineage, which gets the immediate attention of both fans and the paparazzi. The most famous link is to her grandfather Charlie Chaplin but her family includes father, actor Micheal Chaplin, mother, French artist Patricia Betaudier, and great-grandmother playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Carmen Chaplin
Carmen Chaplin
Image: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

You come from a very famous family. Did you ever feel pressured to enter the film industry? I was always interested in making films but felt a little intimidated about acting. I thought it was kind of a cliche to want to do it. I felt embarrassed to act. I started off modeling as I was scouted by an agency. That was something different. I hated school so it was also an escape. I was a really bad model though as I was very shy, so at the same time I had to take some acting classes. I was lucky to make a film when I was only 18. I then started working. I didn’t have the guts to say I wanted to act until I started working professionally. I wish I’d been more gutsy though and gone to film school, and learned how to direct. I did learn while on set but I wish I’d been more assertive as a young girl.

You’ve done quite a bit despite this? I didn’t set out to do the work in film, I wanted to be discovered. Maybe I saw too many fairytales as a kid but not the modern kind where girls are more assertive. The first film I made was with Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara. It opened the Festival de Cannes. I had made a film before that but I was left out of the final cut. I was the love interest of a woman who was playing a man. Luckily I bumped into the director before the screening, which saved me the embarrassment.

Charlie Chaplin's Jaeger‑LeCoultre Memovox watch featuring a gold case engraved with the inscription: “Hommage du gouvernement Vaudois à Charlie Chaplin – 6 octobre 1953”
Charlie Chaplin's Jaeger‑LeCoultre Memovox watch featuring a gold case engraved with the inscription: “Hommage du gouvernement Vaudois à Charlie Chaplin – 6 octobre 1953”
Image: Jaeger‑LeCoultre

The ties between the Chaplin family and the watch industry date back to 1953, when your legendary grandfather Charlie Chaplin was presented with a Jaeger-LeCoultre 34.5mm Memovox alarm watch for his contribution to film by the Swiss canton of Vaud, when he moved to Switzerland that year. A new museum, Chaplin’s World, was opened in April last year on the estate of the home that he and your grandmother Oona (O’Neill) lived in with their eight children including your father Michael. This timepiece is now included in the permanent collection at the museum. What are your earliest memories of this watch? I remember seeing it in my mother’s jewellery box but I wasn’t that interested in it. My father had inherited it and he told me how he admired it so much as a teenager because it was so modern. He also told me that it was the only thing he had to give to my mother on their wedding day, because they were so broke. I loved that story. 

You are now also part of the Jaeger circle of friends? It’s been an organic relationship. It’s not a massive brand and so we know each other quite intimately like a family. And most importantly, we both love films.

A contemporary version, the 40mm Master Memovox in pink gold on alligator strap, and features the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 956
A contemporary version, the 40mm Master Memovox in pink gold on alligator strap, and features the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 956

You directed a short movie for the brand three years ago, 'A Time For Everything', which has a strong family story. How important is family to you? It is always extremely important for me, especially when I became a mother. I only spent one night away from my daughter and she’s now four-and-a-half. I couldn’t imagine not being with her. I breast fed her until she was three. It was natural to me, as that was how I was brought up. I‘ve never had a nanny. I’d just become a mother when I made that film so the idea of lineage was so strong. And the thought of becoming a grandmother one day. If it had been any other time in my life I may have made a completely different movie but right then it felt like the most perfect fit.

What I find so interesting with luxury watches particularly is the history they have, and the history they will have when you buy one for your child or pass yours on to your child.

Which timepiece are you passing on? Unlike me when I was a child, my daughter loves fashion. I was a complete tomboy. She loves shoes, fashion and watches. Every time I wear a watch she asks if she can have it. I think she will probably 'steal' everything I have by the time she becomes a teenager.

What are you working on at the moment? I’m writing a film and have almost finished the first draft. A story about a model in her 40s and she’s been out of the business for a long time and she is brought back into the business. It’s about beauty and aging, being an artist, and how much you sell yourself as an artist. It's also about living in our society and the pressure of having to remain beautiful for ever.

Slightly autobiographical? Slightly. Definitely about being a woman and growing older. A place in my life — where you are conscious of the image you project especially when working with brands — compared to the image I had five years ago. We are all more exposed. We are all guilty of commenting on other peoples appearances and beauty. We are all expected to be so many different ways, big bottoms, small bottoms…it's forever changing.  

Do you prefer being in front or behind the camera? I love directing what I’ve written. Unless you’re in the hands of a great director, you put so much effort into acting, and then half of it is likely to be cut out. However, if an amazing director came along and asked me, of course I'd love to act. 

Where do you get your biggest inspiration for film? Life. The complexity of being alive and dealing with people you love who are dying. The planet, where it is going. Life is so intense right now. So many things to write about.

Most inspiring place you’ve been to in last year? I grew up on a farm in the south of France and I was there this summer. My father wasn’t well but it was filled with children. And being in nature, I find it very calming, especially when you are used to city life. Time stands still.

What would your ultimate role be? That’s difficult as you always think of a role already done by someone, and so well. I love costumes. There’s a series Outlander. The heroin Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe)...there are a lot of sex scenes…but she’s a pretty cool character. I like adventure. 

What is the best gift you've received? My daughter, she is the most amazing thing. Objects come and go.

Charlie Chaplin was also presented with a Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clock in 1972 when he received the Caméra Souriante prize in honor of his 'kind attitude toward Swiss journalists'. Designer Marc Newson reveals his design for the latest Atmos clock, the Atmos 568

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