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Ever since he first visited the set of Matthew Heineman‘s narrative directorial debut A Private War, Paul Conroy, the esteemed freelance war photographer who worked for many years with the legendary war correspondent Marie Colvin, has walked around in a bit of a daze, looking for a way to express what it felt like to see Colvin, a dear friend who was killed in Syria in 2012, effectively reincarnated by the actress Rosamund Pike.
Now, Conroy — who is himself portrayed in the film by 50 Shades of Grey alum Jamie Dornan — has found one. In a reminiscence of Colvin and account of the filming of A Private War, Conroy hails the 39-year-old British actress — who is best known for playing the lead in David Fincher‘s 2014 blockbuster Gone Girl, and received a best actress (drama) Golden Globe nomination Thursday for A Private War — for “every note in her gravelly voice, the cadence, the rhythm of her American drawl,” all of which, he says, “brought Marie back to me in ways too tangible for mere words to describe.” He adds, “Rosamund inherited Marie’s body and spirit, catching her ever so human traits of frailty and self-doubt, her ruthless determination to bear witness and act as a conduit for the voiceless, to a world often unprepared to listen.”
In his full account, given exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter, Conroy writes:
Journalism is a profession under fire from many quarters. From the relentless accusations of fake news from American president Donald Trump, to the murders of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Raed Fares, the Syrian activist, there often seems little in the world of journalism left to celebrate. A Private War, the first narrative film from documentary director Matthew Heineman (known for Cartel Land and City of Ghosts) about the life and work of Marie Colvin, offers a glimmer of hope to the beleaguered profession in these troubled days.
Marie Colvin, American-born foreign correspondent for the UK’s Sunday Times, was murdered in a rocket attack by the Syrian regime in 2012 when we were reporting on the barbaric siege of the city of Homs. Trapped in the Sunni neighborhood of Baba Amr were 28,000 innocent men, women and children. Homs was a siren call for Marie and, as Marie’s photographer and collaborator for many years, we both knew, that in order to tell the story of the Syrian revolution, we had to gain access to the most dangerous place on earth. It was an assignment that would cost Marie her life.
Five years later, ensconced in the bar of The Frontline Club, a private members establishment for war correspondents in London, Matthew Heineman introduced me to Rosamund Pike, slated to play Marie in his new feature film, A Private War. Rosamund Pike is tall, blonde, elegant and epitomizes the English rose. Marie, on the other hand, was a ball of nervous energy, with out-of-control hair, who swore like a trooper in her Long Island, whisky- and cigarette-tinted voice. How, I pondered, would Rosamund manage to square this circle?
Jump cut to six months later and we are on set for the first day of shooting in the desert near Amman, Jordan. I’d been chatting to a few of the extras who were playing Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and missed the setup for the day’s shoot. The first I saw of Rosamund as Marie was when she emerged from the back of a potato truck in which she had smuggled herself into Iraq. I was stunned into a rare silence. Gone was the fine elegance of the Rosamund I had met at the front line. Here, in all her prowling glory, was Marie. Every step, look and gesture she made brought back, in cascading waves of familiarity, the Marie I had known and shared battlefields and bars with over the years.
Still reeling from the shock of the physical transformation of Rosamund, I was handed a pair of headphones by a producer and stood, transfixed, in front of a monitor and prepared to watch the dialogue scene. What happened next will stay with me forever. Rosamund was gone, transformed into someone I had known and loved for many years and my reaction was intensely physical, the hairs on my arms and neck rose, the tears welled in my eyes. Every note in her gravelly voice, the cadence, the rhythm of her American drawl, brought Marie back to me in ways too intangible for mere words to describe.
Over the next two months of shooting Rosamund, and actor Jamie Dornan, who played my character (wonderfully I must add), offered me snapshots of our lives from a perspective rarely granted to many. Working with Heineman, whose goal was [giving] authenticity to Marie and the world she inhabited, Rosamund inherited Marie’s body and spirit, catching her ever so human traits of frailty and self doubt, her ruthless determination to bear witness and act as a conduit for the voiceless, to a world often unprepared to listen. In reporting war, and the plight of the innocents caught up in its horrors, Marie paid a heavy price. In playing Marie, by delving so deeply into Marie’s inner motivations, demons and horrors, I suspect Rosamund’s journey through Marie’s life will not be without its own costs.
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