Bond girl Rosamund Pike: 'I seek adventure all the time'
Rosamund Pike has been shaking off her taffeta-and-lace typecasting with a run of sharp comic roles lately. She talks to John Patterson of The Guardian
about keeping things interesting...
A discernible groundswell has slowly been building under Rosamund Pike's career since this actor, hitherto lumbered with a grave ice-princess image and a profile seemingly custom-sculpted for heritage telly, suddenly flexed her comedic muscles in An Education two years ago. She was the transcendentally vacant, dimwit-goddess girlfriend of one of its shadier characters. Seeing the ostensibly buttoned-down, corseted-up Pike fire off delirious comic fusillades one after another was like watching Monica Vitti suddenly burst into song, or Angela Rippon dancing with Morecambe and Wise: delightful, and totally unexpected. Who knew?
American critics are agreeing that Pike has become the best reason to see any movie she's in: she has crept up on them in a succession of tasty supporting roles since An Education. First it was Made in Dagenham, and now Barney's Version. People have taken notice, actors such as Paul Giamatti want to work with her, and new paths are opening up. That doesn't usually happen to former Bond girls.
"Did you see the Los Angeles Times this morning?" I ask Pike when we meet to discuss Barney's Version, an adaptation of Canadian-Jewish writer Mordecai Richler's last novel, in which she plays the love of Giamatti's life. She's dressed in well-cut slacks and blouse, her hair swinging freely around her face, and it's safe to say she looks rather marvellous today. It was probably safe to say it yesterday, too.
I pull out an interview with Giamatti, in which he's asked how much input he had in casting the women who play his character's three wives. (Pike plays the third, with whom Barney falls in love after meeting her at his wedding to wife number two.) Giamatti told the paper the film-makers had been considering Pike, "and I said, 'What do you mean? Just cast her!' I have a mad crush on her and have been weirdly obsessed with her for 10 years since I saw her in Die Another Day. I've gone to England to see her plays. I don't have this thing where I'm dying to work with a lot of people, but she's one of them."
"That's amazing!" cries Pike with a delighted giggle. "My mother will love that. And I feel much the same way about him. He's just got a great way of talking, he's interested in things and people, like a good actor needs to be â¦" She reads the headline: Paul Giamatti Swings Both Ways. "That's a pretty good way of putting it."
The way the movie tells it, three decades of Barney Panofsky's life reveal an impulsive, addictive, philandering, boozy egotist, his life prone to chaos, upheaval, betrayal, alcoholic exuberance, and possibly even a murder (he was too drunk to remember the details). So why does Pike's character, the saintly and wise Miriam, dare to take him on?
"It's so rare that you get great lead characters who are not people-pleasers. One question I keep getting asked is: 'What is there to like about Barney?' And I keep thinking: 'Well, what isn't there to like?' Because in a world where everyone's afraid to speak their mind or do anything authentic because they're worried about offending people or not being liked, here's a guy who doesn't give a fuck about not being liked â and he's played by Paul Giamatti! As I say, what's not to like?"
Also in the cast was Dustin Hoffman, playing Barney's wise and mischievous ex-cop father. (Hoffman, in the otherwise unremarkable movie Confidence, at one point grabs Rachel Weisz's breast in a totally unexpected improvisation â an incident Pike hadn't known of: "Oh my God! No! Really?") "We only had one important scene together, and he was so annoying!" she says. "Paul and I were having our wedding day, and we were doing our big kiss, and Dustin would be like, 'C'mon, that's not a kiss.' 'Ooh, now Paul, that's more like it!' 'Ah-ha, now she's kissing you back big-time! Giving you a stiffie, is it?' All this stuff. He's completely un-shy. He'll say things like, 'Rosamund, which part of your body do you like least? â just before you do a take. And if it was anyone else you'd say, 'Oh fuck off,' but it's Dustin Hoffman, and you realise that he's suddenly got you to wear a mournful face when it's supposed to be the happiest day of your life. You sort of marvel at how he got you into this different place. But no, tits weren't involved this time, actually."
It's distinctly possible that she's toying with me. An Education revealed a comic aspect to her talents that Pike said she'd been waiting to unleash for ages: for a long time she was imprisoned in taffeta and lace and posh-lit film and TV adaptations; and then one day she wasn't.
"Well, it's typecasting, isn't it? You play one kind of thing, stay quite serious for a while, and then someone casts you against that and you get a lot out of it. Who knows what makes people laugh? With Helen, I was given so much freedom. To have a character looking on completely perplexed as people talk in French and say very boring, arty things was very fun to play. She behaves as though she's completely entitled, because she knows what her own assets are. She's got looks and she's got tits and plenty of the things that men fall for rather easily. And I think she's aware that these things won't last and she's made her peace with it, she's fine with it, but that's where I think the feeling, the bits of sadness you see in her, come from."
Eight years ago, when she made Die Another Day, Rosamund Pike was touted as "the first Oxbridge Bond girl". To which she says, "Is that actually true? If it is, I suppose I'm quite proud of it." It was her first movie, after doing some television. In retrospect, she discerns in that last Brosnan movie the germ of many of the ideas that came to fuller fruition in Casino Royale: more complicated female roles; a greater emphasis on motivation and character; and proper talent in the cast, from Judi Dench on down. "Unfortunately, it all came together perfectly on Casino Royale, rather than on ours â making the women more active and less decorative. That's [producer] Barbara Broccoli's influence: who says a Bond girl can't have sex appeal and brains? That was her thinking."
And what of the Bond Girl Curse, that career-killing stigma revered in legend and fable? "But everyone sees the movies, that's the main benefit. Sometimes it irks, when people come up in the street and say, 'Oh I'm a huge James Bond fan' â when you obviously want them to be a fan of your work in particular. But the Bond girl curse never happened to me. I was too young to even know what it was. And anyway, wasn't that where Paul Giamatti spotted me? It all comes around in the end."
Barney's Version isn't the first movie to demand an American accent from Pike; she's previously made Fugitive Pieces (from another classic Canadian novel, with the same team behind Barney's Version) and Surrogates with Bruce Willis ("not very good, was it, that one? Although it could have been â¦ "). Still, she felt the need to refresh her American twang, and in doing so earned herself a little lesson in the perils of speaking thus.
"For this one I actually went to Italy with my dialect coach, and the whole time we, or I, spoke in American accents. I hated it, just hated it. I hated being treated while I was in Italy, as if I was an American, because, well, it's not nearly as much fun. In restaurants and hotels, it was really eye-opening, we were treated always as brash, invading Americans, rather than as blunt, sophisticated, English people. Very different treatment."
She was 23 at the time of Die Another Day, without any kind of plan for her career, which accords with other things she says about spontaneity and impulse. Pike's parents were opera performers and spent a lot of time on the road, often bringing their daughter along with them before boarding her at Badminton School aged 11. Pike has memories of being brought on stage by them as a child ("I lay down on the stage and sort of rolled around â¦ "). Presumably her peripatetic life shaped her in certain ways?
"I think when you are an only child, parents are more protective and fearful because they've only got one of you. I was not allowed to do a lot of things that, if I'd been, say, number three, I would have. It means that now I seek adventure all the time. And our lives were quite chaotic, so my adult life is by contrast quite well planned. But freedom is the thing I crave. I find I clash sometimes with people who like to plan things and book you in for lunch. I'd rather someone call me up, say: 'Are you free tonight and d'you wanna go to the roller-disco? Or play pool?'"
During this current sojourn in California, she says she has squeezed in a trip to the state's wild north â "I've been to a thrash-metal gig at the Echo, people doing their big, space-claiming dances and the band pouring beer on the crowd. Not really my sort of thing, but you've got to get out at night, haven't you?" she says, chuckling â and has resolved to become a dangerously proficient ping-pong player.
In the midst of musing on impulse and the urge to wander, she has a small flashback to her appearance in the 2005 movie of Pride and Prejudice: "I remember we camped out for Pride and Prejudice, set up tents in daylight and came back at night after shooting. And one night we came back and there was a burnt-out car that hadn't been there earlier. And it's a frightening thing to see a car like that, completely destroyed, totally blackened down to the metal. We camped anyway, after getting in the tent after a beer, then hearing people return all drunk and swearing and shouting â you think maybe they've come back to burn another car, or to get whoever owned the burnt-out car. And I remember being there absolutely terrified, petrified, with these people whooping in the middle of the night â and then waking up perfectly refreshed the next morning. So apparently my immediate instinct when I perceive extreme danger â¦ is to fall asleep."
As we prepare to wrap up, there's a knock on the door, and Pike rushes to see who it is. She returns almost kittenish with delight. "It's arrived, oh wonderful! My Johnny Depp T-shirt!" she cries. When she returns she's holding before her torso a T-shirt featuring Depp in Cry-Baby, magnificently sneery in 50s bad-boy denim and leather. "I was thinking that with Johnny on my chest, if I got any questions I didn't want to answer I could just point to the T-shirt and go, 'Johnny says no!'"
Ah, so I probably shouldn't ask about her aborted engagement to her Pride and Prejudice director and former partner Joe Wright. The nearest I get is a bat-squeak of foreboding when I ask her if she was alone on her recent travels through California â mainly because I'm rather impressed by women who go road-tripping alone, as Pike has previously done in rural Mississippi. The response, "Er no, I had a â¦ companion," though whispered rapidly and politely, escends on the topic like a portcullis. Fair warning: "Johnny says no!"
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