In honor of her ferocious turn in “Gone Girl,” we’re rerunning this interview with one of our favorite actresses, originally published on January 11, 2011.
There’s a reason why Rosamund Pike plays the woman who makes Paul Giamatti’s twice-married Barney Panofsky realize he will love no other. With the beauty to play a Bond girl in her first film role and the smarts to be one of the few to follow through with a meaningful career, Pike has that bedeviling combination that can seduce an audience of either sex and prove elusive to casting directors unfortunately too used to casting actresses for one quality or the other. However, this has changed in recent years as Pike has found her unique skill set employed to play the daft, but knowing arm candy to Dominic Cooper in “An Education,” the trophy wife who was smarter than her husband in “Made in Dagenham,” and ultimately her natural role as the complete package in “Barney’s Version” as Miriam, the woman who catches Barney’s eye, captures him with her intellect and endlessly frustrates him as only perfection can.
If one were to suggest she’s anything close in person, Pike would quickly disabuse you of the notion, though she’s even quicker to disarm you, pulling out her iPhone at the drop of a hat to show off the green head that sits by her fireplace, a life cast of her face used as a model for the prosthetic work for her character in “Barney’s Version” that she’s since spraypainted over and outfitted in Doc Ock spectacles. She can’t help but look particularly radiant when she does this, showing flashes of the performer her co-star Giamatti has repeatedly said he’d become “obsessed” with before filming and the curious old soul that jetted off to Kerala right after filming wrapped to experience an Ayurvedic detox for the first time. (Not surprisingly, she wrote eloquently about it for the Times of London.) Now that the old-age makeup’s worn off, Pike recently took the time to talk about her other transformations, both in inhabiting the the role of the aging Miriam and for her career, in addition to her recent adventures in the States.
You initially went in to audition for the role of Barney’s free-spirited first wife Clara, but came away with Miriam, which seems like a benchmark for your career. Was it particularly gratifying to get the part?
I don’t read any press actually, but [my agent] sent an e-mail and he just said The Sunday Times just picked “Barney’s Version” as something to watch and it said something [like] “Rosamund Pike has the acting chops to play any role she wants now.” That felt really, really good because that’s what you want is freedom. I went into this business because the first films I saw that got me in the gut and moved me, it was probably “In the Name of the Father” with Daniel Day Lewis. I was glued to the screen. I felt the injustice, I felt I was going through it all with the character and I just bawled my eyes out and it was an incredible experience. I thought I want to do that to people. I want to give people those kind of rides. And until now, I haven’t really gotten the kind of roles that have allowed me to do that. [slight laugh] So in a way, it feels like a point of freedom is coming. And Paul [Giamatti] had my back. Paul really went out on a limb. I auditioned for it and we met and I think Paul said, “cast her.” That’s what you need. You need someone in this business because people are so…I don’t know. They’re risk averse.
After your audition, I understand you wrote a letter to the filmmakers. Have you done that in the past?
No, but I wrote an e-mail to the producers and the director after the meeting and I knew the novel of “Barney’s Version.” I read the script backwards and forwards. I’d obviously done reading for Miriam on my own and then I met Paul and Paul was Barney. I believed in him so totally as Barney and I believed in myself as Miriam that we’d tell this story with truth. It felt right. We were those people. And you don’t always feel that. Sometimes you go in and of course you want it to work and you do a chemistry read with another actor and you don’t quite believe them or you kind of know you’re faking it a little bit. But with this, it was like looking into someone’s face and there was no acting. There was no artifice. It was daunting in some ways when you actually get the job. You then think God, how am I going to pull this off? But mentally getting inside the older woman I didn’t find so hard actually.
Since you age gradually in the film, does the physical aspect of it change your performance?
This is what’s interesting. You get the part and it’s all about the soul and the feeling inside and then suddenly, the obsession is all on the external, which is usually what throws me. It’s what threw me in the Bond film [“Die Another Day”]. I went and auditioned for the Bond film, got that role — I had just come back from traveling on a gap. I was like a shaggy student, sort of hippie kind of chick and then suddenly I get transformed and all the focus was suddenly on the external. It makes you panic because that’s not how you got the job, right?
And then the same with this. Everybody’s looking at you and you just feel so insecure because you think oh, I’m not right. As soon as the focus goes on the external, one feels that and the first [makeup] tests didn’t really work. I thought oh, no, they’re going to think I can’t age enough visually and they’re going to fire me and cast someone else. Suddenly, we made a breakthrough. We changed the actual substance of the pieces that we were using for prosthetics from silicone to gelatin and suddenly, it started to behave like skin. And we made a decision that [Miriam] wasn’t going to gain weight as she got older, but she definitely was going to have pieces on her eyelids, pieces on her cheeks. These folds here on the side of the mouth. Pieces on the neck. They did an age-sort of makeup on me, putting age spots and little veins in and then over the top of that, I did my makeup as Miriam would, so I put mascara on and eyeliner on and treated the face as if it was mine. Suddenly, then we got something real.
Was it a challenge keeping her real in other ways when you’re representing a perfect woman for Barney in this film? I do realize the film is called “Barney’s Version.”
It’s Barney’s version, yeah. Sometimes I was pushing to add some lines that had a bit more edge. Like Paul and I really wanted in the scene where I agree to go for lunch for the first time and he gets drunk. In the film, Miriam says, “Are you okay? Is everything alright?” And I wanted her to say, “Barney, are you drunk?” And the director and the producer didn’t want it. They were so keen that she was never that direct. I think Miriam in the book probably is a bit more direct, but they just wanted her to seem permissive. That’s her quality that they wanted in the film was for her to be all-understanding and they just worried that anything would make her seem too hard, which I think, in some ways, it’s a shame because I think you can have bite. You know that wasn’t her challenge. It’s a humorous recognition, really.
With your upbringing as the daughter to two opera singers and an accomplished cellist in your own right, there were so many different artistic outlets you could’ve followed. How did acting become the one that stuck?
Because it was what you could do with words that really excited me. I love playing with words, which is why I love doing dialects because your speech rhythms become different. I love literature, and I love the way people’s characters come out through the words they choose. And of course, everything’s dying because English becoming so widely spoken means that English is simplifying the world over really. Paul is a big wordsmith, too.
I used to play the cello and I did one concert when I was about 11 and I just got total stagefright. And I couldn’t play. I never got that when I was being somebody else. I’ve never had really terrible stagefright. And it’s about playing a character or having to be there as yourself and I’m no good at doing public speaking as me. I get really nervous, so I prefer hiding behind somebody else. Most actors do. I don’t know that’s anything unusual.
As somebody who loves words, it must be incredible to have Nick Hornby now writing a film for you.
Absolutely. We now talk about ideas and it’s wonderful. Every time something amusing happens, I send him an e-mail with some sort of anecdote or story and in the end, we put it all in the melting pot and we’ll see what comes out next year. But we just had a really good time doing “An Education.” I look at the world quite humorously, but I think a lot of the roles I play, nobody saw that. And I’m constantly getting into very kind of humorous situations in my real life because I’m an adventuress, I suppose. I’ve just been on a huge driving trip all around Northern California and got into some very funny situations indeed.
I read you once spent a summer in New York trying to do something new every day.
Yeah, like going to find a lobster roll down in Red Hook or riding the Cyclone! Oh my God! Have you ever ridden that rollercoaster invented in 1928? It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever been on. I got whiplash! They have icepaks, I realize now, probably from like the 1950s, behind the counter because it’s really dangerous, that ride. There was nobody else on it. I was on the back carriage, which is the worst place to sit and it’s truly terrifying because in modern rollercoasters, you think you can’t get out – you’re so well strapped in, it’s not very scary, but on this one, you feel like you could fly out at any minute. It’s all made of wood. Terrifying.
What were you doing up in Northern California? The weather up there’s been terrible.
I know. I know. We did a drive across the High Sierras in chains at probably about 10 p.m., but it felt like it was four in the morning. There was not another car on the road. We got to a gas station, [where the attendant] said, “Okay, the road’s going to get really bad from here. It’s going to go up 9,000 feet and down 9,000 feet, and you’re going to do that three times.” I said, well, you think we should stop? He said, “No, I think you should keep going because the big snowstorm’s coming, so you’ve got to beat the snow.” We did it. We put the chains on and after about the second peak, we heard this ch-ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch-ch, and the chains had broken. That was frightening as well. But sometimes things are good though. I’ve now told you two scary stories…the lobster bun wasn’t so scary.