Rosamund Pike isn’t afraid to mix it up
If it were up to Rosamund Pike, she might not be sipping hot chocolate in a roomy booth with a reporter at Hugo’s in West Hollywood on a windy mid-November day.
It’s nothing personal; the one-time Bond girl is more than amenable, quick to answer every question with candor and often insight and depth. It’s just that the 31-year-old British actress, who’s also a cellist and an accomplished presence on the London stage, sometimes prefers to write her own articles about herself rather than be interviewed. Like the character piece she wrote for British Vogue last year, or the travelogue about her recent trip to India for the Times of London. Pike takes charge that way.
It’s with that same focus and strategic resolve that Pike has steered her career, making choices that defy categorization and taking imaginative leaps in both the kinds of films, and roles, she takes on.
She’s in theaters this week with two very different movies: “Barney’s Version,” a character study opening Friday, in which she plays opposite Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman, and “Made in Dagenham,” a historical film about British women who go on strike in 1968 at a Ford factory for equal pay. With two major studio comedies slated for 2011, Pike now finds herself at a welcome, if precarious, juncture.
“Suddenly, all the faculties that I’ve been honing since I was a little girl seem to have come [together],” she says. “And I don’t know why. But the scope of life, and the scope of experience and everything, has all melded. So I feel very free in my work. I feel like I have a lot to draw on.” When the din in the restaurant rises, Pike snaps up the recorder from the table and holds it close to her mouth, continuing her thought without skipping a beat. “I think people didn’t know what to do with me in my early 20s. I feel that now’s the time I make sense to people.”
Her breakout came in her early 20s, as the evil Miranda Frost in “Die Another Day.” She could easily have slipped into the blond, blue-eyed cliché she calls “that girl” but managed to sidestep any sort of typecasting. “Often I’ll read a script, and be offered it, and I’ll see why they want me to do it. And then it doesn’t interest me,” she says. “I usually think, ‘That’s because I’ve been there, done that.’”
In 2005, she went 180 degrees from Bond, transforming into the genteel Jane Bennet in “Pride & Prejudice.” In last year’s critically acclaimed “An Education,” Pike stretched her comedic muscles onscreen for the first time as the somewhat dim party girl Helen; that character’s polar opposite might be the highly educated, upper-class housewife she plays in “Dagenham.”
Her role in “Barney’s Version” is her weightiest to date. Based on the book by Mordecai Richler, the film is quiet but relentlessly engaging, a 1970s-style character study of a brash-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside TV producer named Barney Panofsky (Giamatti). Pike’s earthy, even-keeled Miriam is Barney’s third wife and true love.
Having her character age over 30 years — often filming in public places wearing heavy makeup and altering her voice, posture and internal perspective — proved physically and emotionally taxing for Pike.
“It was a big challenge,” she says. “I did experience that thing that women have described to me in the past, which is becoming invisible [as one gets older]. It was humbling and quite haunting. I felt quite close to my mother in a way; I felt like I understood things.”
Pike originally read for the smaller role of Clara, Barney’s tempestuous first wife, but she wasn’t quite right for the part. Still, she invited the film’s director, Richard Lewis, to her performance that night in “Madame de Sade,” at London’s the Wyndham’s Theatre, in which she had a lead role opposite Judi Dench (whom, along with Meryl Streep, Pike counts as a role model).
Immediately, Lewis saw a presence and strength that could carry a character over three decades. “I felt she could actually have the weight and girth to play [Miriam],” Lewis says. “She had a certain maturity and elegance and gracefulness that the character needed.”
Lewis says he’s certain Pike will become a major force in Hollywood in the coming years. “She just feels like she’s going to be able to play those Annette Bening parts that are really leading lady … actors like Kate Winslet in ‘The Reader.’ That’s where it’s leading.”
Pike, though, is less sure, given what she sees as the glaring inequities and double standards in Hollywood for serious actresses, particularly of a certain age.
“There are never going to be as many good roles for women. I don’t know how to change that,” Pike says. “And girls have to be so nice. Charlie Sheen gets to have his moment in a hotel room with coke and hookers and become cool, and get kudos from it. If that was a girl, she’d be considered a dirty little flapper and pounded out of town.
“Or a girl can’t even say something vaguely confrontational in an interview; or it’s all about sweetness. It makes everything so insipid.”
If Pike sounds unusually frank about the business of celebrity, perhaps it’s partly because as a kid growing up in London she didn’t have her sights set on Hollywood. Her parents were musicians and didn’t own a television.
“We read or played cards” she says, describing herself as “woefully undereducated” in TV and film. “So I had a lot to catch up on.”
Catch-up quickly became a crash course. In addition to her larger film roles, she’s played a smattering of smaller parts opposite some heavy-hitting leading men, Anthony Hopkins, Bruce Willis, Johnny Depp and Ryan Gosling among them.
Nevertheless, she’s still firmly rooted in England. Earlier this year she played the lead in a touring British stage production of “Hedda Gabler,” and she records books on tape and poems for the British poetry archive.
Next year she’ll see the release of both “The Big Year,” a comedy about bird-watching in which she plays opposite Owen Wilson, and “Johnny English Reborn,” starring Rowan Atkinson.
“Having done the Bond film and been really overexposed, I was known by everybody but respected by none,” she says, finishing up her now-cold hot chocolate. “I thought I wouldn’t do any interviews — bow out of the whole system — until I had something to talk about that I was actually proud of. Now I feel I’ve got my wits about me.”