Before Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike was a face you might have recognised but couldn’t place. James Bond fans may remember her as the dress-dropping, sword-wielding double agent Miranda Frost in the 2002 film Die Another Day.
Three years later, she gave a masterful, albeit brief, performance as Elizabeth Bennet’s elder sister, Jane, in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
But it was Pike’s portrayal of psychopathic, narcissistic suburban housewife Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s 2014 thriller that thrust her into the spotlight and branded her rather unusual name (“Rosamund” is derived from the Latin rosa munda, meaning “rose of the world”) on the minds—and little black books—of Hollywood’s heavyweights.
Set for release this year (2017) is Hostiles, a harrowing Wild West epic in which Pike costars with Christian Bale. Also in the pipeline is A United Kingdom, a biopic about a British woman who controversially married an African chief during the onset of apartheid in South Africa.
Pike plays protagonist Ruth Williams Khama, who, with her husband, leads Botswana to independence and becomes the country’s First Lady. “Ruth was this extraordinary woman who had this courage that I couldn’t believe. I admired her so much. When you can take on a character who has a bigger soul, more courage and more qualities than you have, it’s a very positive thing. You live rather in awe of this person.”
Playing Ruth Williams Khama was a welcome change from playing Amy Dunne. Pike is, in many respects, a method actor— (“I feel there aren’t many actors working in lead roles who wouldn’t subscribe to method acting,” she adds)—so playing a psychotic seductress was trying.
“It wasn’t very relaxing playing Amy Dunne because she is always analysing everything; she has that narcissist’s temperament of ‘What effect am I having on this person? Are they liking me? Are they impressed by me? And it’s so consuming, the process of making a film. You don’t realise how far gone you are until it’s weeks later and you have regained yourself and you think, gosh, that character was really inhabiting me. It’s such a seamless process of being overtaken by a person.”
How does Pike get into character, especially one as complex and repellent as Amy Dunne? “I always have a physical tactic to take me into character. During the making of a film, there are two people living side by side—there is you and there is the character. As you become more and more familiar in that character’s headspace and shoes, you become more deft at being able to switch in and out, but at the beginning you always need a way in.”
Her way into Amy Dunne was a “strange playlist of songs—in some ways quite incongruous, quite innocent songs because Amy played with this idea of innocence.” For the character of Ruth Williams Khama, a gutsy young woman from southeast London, Pike would throw her fists around. “I felt she was like a little boxer, so I’d do some shadowboxing before every take which would get me into her physicality.
If the character is an airy person I might imagine them as a dancer,” she says, her voice becoming breathy as her hands soar slowly into the air. “Or, if they’re a desperate person struggling to survive,” her voice grows strained and hoarse as she reaches for an imaginary shovel, “then you might imagine you are digging potatoes or pulling carrots out of the ground.”
They say actors fall into one of two camps: those whose performances are driven by instinct, and those whose performances are driven by intellect. After the first five minutes of our 20-minute discussion it’s clear that Pike falls into the latter. She speaks with focus and eloquence indicative of an Oxford education, and a sort of bridled intensity that suggests perfectionism.
Is she ever happy with her performances? “Most of the time you go home [from the set] gutted, feeling that you could have done it better,” she says. “Acting is a process of building yourself up to the point of confidence where you can fight for the role and tell everyone that you are the right person to do it, but that kind of confidence immediately turns into terrible fear as soon as you’ve got the job.”
Pike has two children with long-time partner Robie Uniacke, a man often described rather obscurely as a “mathematical researcher.” She rarely speaks publicly about him but tells me Uniacke is a Sinophile, fluent in Mandarin and talks to their children almost exclusively in Chinese. “It’s wonderful because now I have a four-year-old who can translate for me when I’m in Beijing. It’s an adventure in multiculturalism.”
Pike, who is also an ambassador for luxury watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen, decided she wanted to have a second child when she finished filming Gone Girl. “I thought, I need to bring something very positive into the world,” she told the media in late 2014.
Being a working mother has its challenges, but Pike feels motherhood propelled her career to new heights. “I think I’ve become better at my job since becoming a mother. I think it’s given me a freedom, a true purpose. There is a whole lot of this business that is terribly self-regarding.
As a young actress there is a lot of pressure on your looks and it can make you very self-conscious, and self-consciousness is the direct enemy of being a good performer. It’s a funny contradiction; you are made to look at yourself externally while also having to inhabit these characters and lose yourself in them.
Having been through birth, I think I’m just so much more relaxed, especially about the appearance side of things. I wish it had happened 10 years earlier, but it’s great that it happened because I have no fear anymore, and I used to have loads of fear in front of the camera. I suppose I’ve been stripped of something and I can now look out honestly.
“Most actors are hard on themselves,” she continues. “Each day on set is really a process of facing your own failings. In the old days when there was no child to come home to, I could spend all evening wallowing in the anxiety of all the things I wished I’d done differently, but now all I have to do is walk through the door and forget about it.”
The combination of astuteness, impeccable posture and a refined English accent give Pike an air of the untouchable. She’s not without a sense of humour, though. Why did she become an actor? “I suppose it had something to do with being glib,” she quips.
“No. Who wouldn’t want to live multiple lives? I get to do that. It’s a great feeling taking on people who are bigger and better than you. You get to explore the wonderful things about being human: love, fear, sadness, sorrow, laughter. At a certain point in your life a certain character gives you something. Jane Bennet will always be a very strong part of me. A lot of people think Jane is the boring one but she’s not; she has just chosen to go through life as an optimist. For me that was a big lesson—to always look for the good.”
(Text by Madeleine Ross; Photo by Jesper McLlroy; Hair: Tristan WaIkong; Make-up: Marian Woo)