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Interview: Rosamund Pike Talks Hostiles and Career Post-Gone Girl

The actress discusses the unconventional way she approaches her performances.

Marshall Shaffer

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Interview: Rosamund Pike Talks Hostiles and Career Post-Gone Girl
Photo: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

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.

There’s this idea I think a lot of observers have that once an actor earns a huge, career-defining role like you did with Gone Girl, you become the talk of the town and suddenly the scripts and offers just start rolling in. Is that how it played out for you in 2014 and 2015?

I’ve always been my own worst enemy, I go into hiding right when other people would be jumping on the podium and taking everything being thrown—

Well, you had a child, didn’t you?

Yeah, and it was a conscious decision. I knew I’d made Amy and that a monster would be unleashed on the world. I thought, “I’ve got to make a human being.” I also needed to come back to myself, rather than think so career-mindedly and take another great big role. I’m really playing the long game, as I want to be around in my 80s doing this job. People probably think I’m in a rush, but I don’t think that I am. I’ve continued to do the things that interest me. I’m not so canny as to what the outside perception is. Maybe it looks to the outside world that I haven’t capitalized on the success of Gone Girl, but in my mind, I have. I’ve gotten everything I wanted to do. I’m working with directors who are thoughtful and profound. And, obviously, I’d work with David Fincher again like a shot if he asked me.

I think people are impatient and don’t realize how long it takes for these things to metabolize.

I just want to keep challenging myself. Another thing is that there are many male actors who are happy to play a supporting role to another man but aren’t so inclined to play a supporting role to a female. With everything that’s going on in this climate regarding solidarity and people being more outspoken about sexual harassment, I feel that the next stage of that has to be male actors putting themselves on the line to support women. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and how our business needs a new face. Women have done it for years, happily supporting male leads. And obviously other men have too, but there’s got to be a sea change. Well-established men should, could help to get female stories made. That’s the other thing, apart from women deciding to tell those stories and get them out there.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, for audiences, men have to start valuing women’s stories.

I think there’s proof that the appetite for them is there. Many films with women do well at the box office, so that’s clearly happening.

I think even in the marketing, there’s a perception that women will go to men’s films, but men won’t go to women’s or that men are a more universal avatar. For a long time, that’s been conventional wisdom, and finally that’s being flipped on its head a little bit.

I think there isn’t enough data, really. A lot of suppositions but not enough really specific data we need around traffic into theaters. That’s one of the things that was so great about Gone Girl. It was a film that hit both men and women. They wanted to be a part of the conversation, and they had to see it in theaters. That was a thrill unlike any other, and I definitely want to find that thrill again. If you make something that hits and is a conversation that people want to be a part of, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Your two major roles post-Gone Girl, at least the ones that have been released in the U.S., are both women who draw their strength from their maternal instincts. Was that at all conscious?

I think it’s a byproduct of being drawn to women who display courage, and I realized courage is something I’m inexorably drawn to. It’s why I’m playing Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times war correspondent right now, because it’s probably the quality I ultimately admire most in people. Then, if another Amy Dunne came around, I would jump at the chance. It couldn’t be another Amy but someone as confounding and complex and thrilling without any admirable qualities. That is fun too. But if I’m going to play people with admirable qualities, then courage is the one I’m looking for. It’s more the courage than the maternal that I’ve been drawn to. And the maternal is a byproduct.

You don’t think Amy Dunne has any redeeming qualities?

I think she’s a sociopath. And I loved the fact that she caused a lot of debate, and some people said this is a great film about women’s empowerment, loved her, identified with her. Ultimately, she’s a sociopathic narcissist. There are a lot of people like that out there who can also be incredibly exciting to be around. Narcissists can be some of the most fun people to hang around with if you don’t get too close. There’s a line [in the script], “My wife is a lying, scheming sociopath who’s also incredibly fun to be around.” And it was just sort of delicious to wield that power. It’s unusual for it to be the woman.

I just watched the film again the other night. You kind of want to sympathize with Nick, but then every time you do, he says things like, “I am so sick of women picking on me,” or making himself out to be the victim.

That’s why it’s so good. He’s also a narcissist, and the point is that she gets him when she says, “The only time you ever really liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone I would like.” Which is such a brilliant line, it’s so clever. Because that’s the game they’re playing. It’s the narcissism epidemic. It’s the way everyone is looking to see how they’re perceived by the outside world. It’s not enough to be just a couple. You have to be the happiest couple, the golden couple, the most fun couple, the sexiest couple, whatever it is. I don’t even know, Amy was slightly before the Instagram obsession, so I don’t know what she would have been now.

Sequel?

It’d be Amy Dunne the mother on Instagram.

A mommy blogger!

That’s pretty good! You should write that.

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