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“I’m in an interesting place because I feel I’m free, actually,” says the actress Rosamund Pike as we record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter‘s ‘Awards Chatter’ podcast at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel. The 39-year-old, an English Oxford alum turned Bond girl turned best actress Oscar nominee who is contending in that category again this season for her portrayal of war correspondent Marie Colvin in Matt Heineman‘s A Private War, continues, “I feel I’m free of a lot of the things that troubled me in my early twenties. I’ve got nothing really to hide. I’m working with directors who see that. And if you completely trust someone and you open yourself up, exciting things come out of it. I’m feeling like I’ve shed a few layers of skin; sometimes I feel like I’m quite skinless at the moment. It could be because I’ve played Marie Colvin and then after that Marie Curie [for the forthcoming film Radioactive], two real women who led big lives and who touched me very, very deeply. And I think when you enter into someone’s life like that, it sort of takes you over, body and soul, in a way. If you can get yourself out of the way and be a channel, some very interesting things come out. It’s what I’m working on, anyway.”
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 16:40], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Matt Belloni, THR‘s editorial director, about the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
Click here to access our past episodes, including conversations with Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Meryl Streep, Justin Timberlake, Gal Gadot, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Kate Winslet, Aaron Sorkin, Carol Burnett, Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ryan Murphy, Natalie Portman, Jimmy Kimmel, Nicole Kidman, Chadwick Boseman, Reese Witherspoon, Ricky Gervais, Amy Schumer, Eddie Murphy, Jane Fonda, Tyler Perry, Emma Stone, Jerry Seinfeld, Emilia Clarke, J.J. Abrams, Kris Jenner, Jimmy Fallon, Rachel Brosnahan, Michael Moore, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Margot Robbie, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Lady Gaga, Bill Maher, Jennifer Lopez, Tom Hanks, Judi Dench & Aziz Ansari.
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Pike was born in London to two opera singers. An only child, she, too, became interested in performing at a young age, ultimately landing the part of Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet at the National Youth Theatre. “I thank them for my whole career,” she says, because in the audience at one performance was the person who would shortly thereafter become her agent (and remains her agent to this day). Despite burgeoning career opportunities, Pike, a strong student, went off to university at Oxford, but frequently returned to London for auditions. While still enrolled there, she landed her first TV jobs and, before long, was faxed sides for a project called Bond 20 — as in, the 20th James Bond film. “I think I’d seen zero” Bond films at that time, she admits. “I’m afraid it was almost just another script.”
At just 21, the actress, who had not yet appeared in a single film, was brought in for an elaborate series of auditions to play Miranda Frost, a double-agent Bond girl in what would become 2002’s Die Another Day. “It all went incredibly, incredibly quickly,” she recalls. “I had never experienced anything like it.” One aspect of the process, she says, gave her pause: “I was told that at some point in this scene, if it felt right, I should drop my dress and stand in my underwear. Something just went off in my mind. I stood there and I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to drop my dress and stand in my underwear. If they want to see me in my underwear, they can give me the part!’ I was sort of certain about it, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe that’s cost me the job’ — but it didn’t, and I feel quite pleased for standing my ground on that.”
Making her big screen debut as a Bond girl was a double-edged sword. “It was an unforgettable experience and there were amazing things,” she acknowledges. “But I looked way older than I was at the time. Inside, I was a frightened little girl, looking like a sophisticated woman, all decked out in Armani, and I think it lost me the chance to play as many ingenues or young girls in my twenties because people thought I was so sophisticated.” In short, she asserts, she came away from the experience somewhat famous, but not respected. “The general, sort of niggling, underlying feeling is that you’ve been cast for things other than your acting chops, and that you’re probably pretty similar to the character that you’re playing.” She adds of her character, “Frost by name — and, people assume, frost by nature. There was a sort of coldness to that character that was very effective in the film, but it’s very hard to get people to see you as bubbly or messy or a bit girl-next-door-y or a student or a young love interest after you’ve played such a sophisticated woman.”
Post-Bond, Pike returned to London and threw herself into a range of projects, from a play at the Royal Court to a supporting part opposite Johnny Depp in the 2004 film The Libertine, for which she won the best supporting actress British Independent Film Award. But she mostly felt stuck in roles without the substance she craved. “The exception to that rule” was Joe Wright‘s directorial debut Pride & Prejduice, in which she played Jane Bennet, the older sister of Keira Knightley‘s Elizabeth Bennet and Carey Mulligan‘s Kitty Bennet. “It was a romantic experience,” she recalls, referring not only to the material and the process of adapting it, but also the friendships that she formed with her costars and the relationships that blossomed between Knightley and costar Rupert Friend, as well as herself and Wright, to whom she became engaged in 2008, but who broke off their engagement later that same year. “Joe and I had a dream that we might be like John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands at some point,” she volunteers, “and then it never was to be.”
Pike’s career since has been marked by incremental, important markers of growth. Getting to play a comedic part — Helen, a ditzy party girl dating a thief, opposite old pal Mulligan — in Lone Scherfig‘s An Education (2009) was, she says, “a joy,” as she “loved the chance to be funny.” Then came Richard J. Lewis‘ Barney’s Version (2010), in which she played a woman — the third wife and one true love of a wacky TV producer whom she meets at his wedding to his second wife — who ages 30 years over the course of the film. In 2012, she appeared in two big-budget action flicks, Wrath of the Titans and Jack Reacher. And then came a call from the Oscar-nominated auteur David Fincher, who was interested in her for the part of Amy Dunne, a woman who goes missing on her fifth anniversary, in the highly-anticipated big screen adaptation of Gillian Flynn‘s bestselling novel Gone Girl. “To get to explore a character like that?” Pike marvels. “I’d just been craving doing that kind of work.”
Fincher ultimately cast Pike in the part — her first leading role in a film — and four days later she reported to work. Over the course of 10 weeks of ‘boot camp’ and 100 days of production, she had to gain and lose 12 pounds three different times (“not a fun process”), learn accents for “cool girl Amy” and her impersonator and handle Fincher’s infamous demand for dozens of takes of virtually every scene. The night before cameras were set to roll, she was both genuinely ill and sick with nerves, prompting her to reach out to her Jack Reacher costar. “I ended up emailing Tom Cruise in the dead of night,” she confesses, “saying, ‘You’ve had this since you were 17 years old — you’ve carried these movies. Have you felt this fear that I’m feeling now? I’m feeling completely ill-equipped for the job, I’m feeling like I can’t do it, I feel I’m gonna fail. This is my most truthful place that I’m sharing you.’ And he, sweet man and generous soul that he is, emailed me right back and said, ‘I absolutely felt all of these things.’ He shared the experience of making Taps at age 17 and what he felt — and then he just said to me, ‘But you’re ready. I saw it when we worked together and you are ready and you can do this,’ he said, ‘so go get ’em.'” And she did.
Pike did some of her finest work to date in Gone Girl, which had its world premiere on the opening night of the 2014 New York Film Festival, garnered rave reviews and ultimately grossed $369 million worldwide. “The opening weekend of Gone Girl was one of the most exciting points of my career,” she states. “It was the drug, the sheer drug, of knowing that you were part of a zeitgeist and a movie that adults needed to go and see in the theater.” She continues, “It was like nothing else. It’s something I crave to have happen again, that thing of being the conversation that’s on everyone’s lips — it’s incredibly exciting. And watching the numbers roll up! I mean, I guess the numbers would have been rolling up like that for Bond, and I’m sure for Jack Reacher, but this was something that I was so much more a part of, somehow, and it was an incredible feeling.” So, too, was being nominated for best actress Critics’ Choice, Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe and Academy awards.
Some have wondered why Pike didn’t do more to capitalize on that moment of extreme heat for her career three-plus years ago. “I didn’t even think about my career,” she asserts. Instead, she had a baby and then, she continues, “I did films that really mattered to me.” These included two underseen standouts, Amma Asante‘s inter-racial love story A United Kingdom (2016) and Scott Cooper‘s western Hostiles (2017), and now A Private War (in theaters Nov. 2), the narrative directorial debut of Heineman, whose prior films were both acclaimed documentaries, Cartel Land (2015), a nominee for the best documentary feature Oscar, and City of Ghosts (2017). It therefore shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that A Private War feels as close to a documentary as a narrative film can, with long takes, handheld cameras and many scenes shot on locations that Colvin herself traversed and among people who survived the wars Colvin chronicled in the hope of communicating the human cost of war.
Pike says that she felt an immense sense of responsibility to portray Colvin well. The role was in no way in her comfort-zone — Colvin was American; was older than Pike; possessed a distinct voice and physicality; and, in her later years, suffered from PTSD, something Pike and Heineman discussed extensively. “I knew that he was a very original storyteller from seeing his docs,” she says of her director. “I just thought, ‘The truth he captures, the things he witnesses about human behavior — I want to make a film with this guy because I know that his language is the truth of human behavior. He’s not gonna fall for any artifice, so I am gonna have to make damn sure that my performance is totally rooted in truth.'” She adds, “I had to make myself very vulnerable. We had to have tremendous trust between us.” If the film’s first reviews following its world premiere at September’s Toronto International Film Festival are any indication, she succeeded mightly. “I had to go to the darkest places that I imagined Marie went to,” Pike reflects. “The whole movie was unlike anything I’ve been part of.”
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