Rosamund Pike can guess what you’re thinking: that she blew her moment. Crowned as Hollywood’s new “it” girl for her performance in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, the English-born actress achieved the kind of breakout success most performers can only dream of. Yet for most American audiences, she seems to have disappeared since her red-carpet walk at the Oscars.
The quiet profile isn’t entirely by choice. Pike has filmed many roles in the past few years, many of which have run into problems on the distribution end. Cédric Jimenez’s The Man with the Iron Heart, an adaptation of Laurent Binet’s novel HHhH, is in limbo in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal (the film was set to be released by the Weinstein Company), while Amma Asante’s intimately mounted A United Kingdom failed to break out of art-house circles earlier this year, with Fox Searchlight only releasing it in 317 theaters.
Pike, though, has a big 2018 on the horizon, with Brad Anderson’s Beirut premiering at Sundance, José Padilha’s 7 Days in Entebbe opening in March, and Andrea Di Stefano’s Three Seconds currently in post-production. She’s also set to star in A Private War, the first narrative feature from Oscar-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman. But first, she’s firing off warning shots in Scott Cooper’s Hostiles as American frontierswoman Rosalie Quaid, who in the film’s opening scene watches as her entire family is slaughtered, a moment that sets the tone for a harrowing emotional journey.
Earlier this week, I sat down with Pike to discuss the unconventional way she approaches her performances, her long game as an actress, and why men in Hollywood need to work harder to bring female stories to the screen.
In one of the few bits of press I could find of you talking on this film, I was struck by this quote when you were asked about playing Rosalie: “They’re not decisions I made, it’s a journey I lived.” I think I understand that process conceptually, but how does that work in practice?
It’s the strange thing that happens in certain roles where you empower your imagination to believe the story you’re telling, and then you let go and certain things are physically out of your control. When I watch the opening of Hostiles, I see it as something I lived, and my body reacts as if it was a lived trauma. It’s strange. My heart races. Empirically, I know it’s a movie, but my body is behaving like it’s living a memory. That doesn’t always happen. Our imaginations are so powerful. I knew I could really only attempt this character if I let in that terrifying fear of not being able to protect your children from death in a felt, real, and lived way. It’s not easy, and it’s quite scary.
Are there any other films where you had that experience?
A little bit on Barney’s Version. There, I played another character whose emotional life I lived very deeply. In terms of things happening physically, with Rosalie there were definitely moments that felt more like an out-of-body experience. There was a moment that took me by surprise in A United Kingdom where I hear singing in the house, and I come out of the house in Serowe. The women from the village have come to bring gifts when they finally accept Ruth as the wife of their chief. It was unscripted, but the women started to sing, and there was no acting. It was just living something. It was that funny blurring of art and reality, which is very precious when it happens.
Rosalie, for me, is the real emotional center of Hostiles. She channels all the rage, confusion, and compassion that the film asks the audience to sort through and feel. Does it affect your approach at all when you know your character has to do that kind of heavy lifting for the viewers?
I don’t think of it like that. I’m glad she does serve as an emotional touchstone. I just felt there was a lot of heavy lifting to do emotionally because to enter that otherworldly level of grief, it’s not something you can turn on and off. You have to be “in it”—operating at a level where you’re not really present but you’re able to answer questions about your radio mic or someone asking you to do up another button on your blouse. But you have to be kind of tuned out of that as well. It’s like having two brains—that brain that’s sort of functional, but your main immersion is in something much heavier and deeper. I felt more the burden of people watching the film for whom such a tragedy might be their reality and for them to feel like their experience was done justice. That weighed heavily on me because I felt a peculiar guilt of being able to pretend to feel it very intensely and then go home to put my children to bed. That was a strange source of anxiety.
So was it a feeling you had to check when you left the set?
It’s always [about navigating] that blurred line between pretending and reality. We have to pretend sometimes these harrowing experiences, which for people are real. And yet I do believe that art is the way that we come to process our emotional lives. It’s getting more complicated in my brains as I get older.
I’m sure many people will assume that you got this part because of Gone Girl, but I’ve heard Scott Cooper cast you in part because of the “Voodoo in My Blood” music video for Massive Attack. Was he looking for a similar kind of feral intensity coupled with technical precision for Hostiles?
I think he was looking for the ability to be completely unvain and physical and express things—yeah, I guess a feral intensity. And certainly after Gone Girl I was given permission to let the crazy out. And I’m definitely being drawn recently to being not just a face, but being a body. The physical nature of film has become much more open to me. How much more I can do physically than I’ve been doing. Gone Girl, for instance, in the murder scene, the technical precision of that, the mad, warped, bloodlust dance that it was, it was very thrilling. To do that Massive Attack video and to start having the freedom in my body, I’m definitely drawn to that. I’m exploring those directions.