Think Gone Girl star Rosamund Pike is as cool and composed in real life as she is on screen? Think again, writes Siobhan Synnot
Rosamund Pike is not the woman you think she is. Not the coolly efficient Bond Girl Miranda Frost, who we met in her first film Die Another Day in 2002. Nor the serene beauty who tantalises Johnny Depp in The Libertine, Paul Giamatti in Barney’s Version, or Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English Reborn.
Instead, Pike directs us to her appearance at the 2011 Bafta awards, when she presented the award for best screenplay in front of a malfunctioning autocue and tried to fill the gap by bantering with co-presenter Dominic Cooper about the nature of writing, before almost giving away the award without first running though the list of nominees.
“I screwed up so badly,” she groans. “I think people assume that I’m very composed, but I just go to pieces in that sort of environment. Yet even though people have that evidence on screen, there’s still this idea that ‘she’s so cool, she’s reserved, nothing can fluster her’, even when the evidence is there that contradicts this. It puzzles me that this bundle of adjectives has escorted me through my career in film. I think, ‘Why don’t people see me as I really am?’”
You can watch that Bafta episode on YouTube if you want to see a more chaotic side to Pike, but I think it’s her look that makes people type her as an intimidating beauty. She entered our hotel room purposefully, wearing a pristine black shift dress that skims the fact she’s seven months pregnant. Her words are just as polished and precise, but the stories she likes to tell are peppered with klutzy moments, like the time she almost kebabbed Halle Berry during a fencing scene on Die Another Day, or her grand entrance to Los Angeles some years back, where she came to conquer movies and discovered a writers’ strike had turned the city into a ghost town.
She also has a nice, innocent story about auditioning for Die Another Day. For the second round of auditions, the producers asked her to wear an evening dress, so she turned up in an elaborate opera gown her grandmother had made for a stage appearance, with a bell-shaped skirt and a long train.“They were very polite about it, but apparently Bond women tend to dress in something more slinky,” she says, drily.
At the age of 21, and just out of Oxford, the early Frost gave Pike a career spike, but Bond girls are the equivalent of Hogmanay programmes; everyone watches them, but few linger in the mind. She went on to play Hedda Gabler on stage, the most beautiful of the Bennet girls in 2005’s Pride And Prejudice but also, like many other gifted actresses, did yeoman service playing under-written spouses to annoying British actors. This summer she waited patiently for Simon Pegg in Hector And The Search For Happiness, and is currently on screen in the BBC comedy drama What We Did On Our Holiday, trying to hide her faltering relationship to David Tennant from her in-laws.
Gone Girl is also about a married couple with a rocky marriage, but David Fincher’s sly thriller takes marital meltdown to alarming, darkly funny and sometimes moving places. Pike gives a star-making performance as Amy Dunne, married blissfully, then bitterly, to smug, shady Nick (Ben Affleck). When she disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, her husband becomes the chief suspect, scrutinised by family, police and the media. To say much more than that would betray the film’s satisfyingly serpentine twists but it’s a gamechanger for Pike, making full use of her sometimes inscrutable, ethereal beauty, but also a gift for black comedy, only glimpsed in previous roles.
Pike was in Scotland last summer filming What We Did On Our Holiday when word reached her that Fincher wanted a chat to her over Skype. To get a reliable internet connection outside Glasgow, she had to join a gym, where conversations evolved into acting exercises for Pike among treadmills and abductors. Yet after reading Gillian Flynn’s best-selling book, she was sure Fincher’s interest would eventually peter out. “There I was with Billy Connolly and David Tennant, doing something light, easy-going and maternal, while David was looking for someone to appear with Ben Affleck in something dark, corrupt and unknowable,” she says. The trade papers were already guessing that Charlize Theron or Natalie Portman would bag the role.
Instead Fincher invited her to visit him as he scouted locations in Missouri, and they talked for two days. Then it was back to Scotland, midges and Billy Connolly: “I remember a big discussion about beige clothes, and Billy saying ‘I don’t mind beige as a colour. It’s beige as a state of mind that you’ve to worry about’. I thought that was very true.” Just as the shoot finished, a text arrived, which she accidentally deleted – but fortunately not before registering its message: “You got the part.” “If it was any other director I probably wouldn’t have got this opportunity,” says Pike. “But David is somebody who works entirely to his own rhythms and his own instincts. It was an amazing vote of confidence. When you’ve seen all somebody’s work, the idea that they’ve even seen some of yours is nice.”
I ask which of her films drew in cinephile director of Seven, Fight Club and The Social Network, secretly hoping for something off the radar, like her sinewy Andromeda in Wrath Of The Titans, her sharply observed cameo in A Long Way Down as a TV presenter skewering her badly behaved co-host live on TV, with morning show faux smiles, or perhaps one of her literary adaptations. “He never told me,” admits Pike. “But I’m hoping David managed to make room in his life for Pride And Prejudice.”
Fincher merely says that he’s been intrigued by the actress for a while. “I’d always liked Rosamund in movies, but I didn’t really know her,” he says. “That made her very interesting.” It’s not just Fincher. People who work with Pike seem to get a little obsessed by her. Tom Cruise came to dinner when they made Jack Reacher and meekly washed up her dishes, while Pegg posted candid pictures of her on Hector with the hashtag ROSWATCH on Twitter. Long before they met on Barney’s Version, Giamatti had been tracking her career: “I remember watching this James Bond movie, and thinking ‘They always have great-looking women in them, but where did they find this woman who’s such a great f***ing actress?’”
Four days after Fincher’s text, Pike, her partner, City businessman Robie Uniacke, and their two-year-old son, Solo, relocated to Los Angeles. As Amy Dunne, Pike changes age, look and mood throughout the film so the production chopped her hair down to a bob, then sent her to training sessions with welterweight champion Holly Lawson to tone up for scenes where her character is still in her early twenties. Bobbing and weaving perhaps also helped keep Pike on her toes with Fincher, whose reputation includes a penchant for demanding umpteen takes of a scene.
“It’s never about doing the same thing again and again and again,” she says. “He’s always adding stuff, always asking you to do something new. He helps you get there, by repetition and hard work. But sometimes during Gone Girl I would go home to my other half and say ‘I’ve got give it all up after this, I can’t do it, I don’t think I’m ever going to be as good as I want to be’. And at one point I went up to David and said ‘I think I might have hit my limit’. And then, in that moment of being honest about that fear, I felt it all bubbling, and I was able to do it.”
The film’s sex scenes have hit the headlines, in particular a discomfiting sequence with Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s fixated ex-boyfriend. Harris recently described that filming day to Out magazine as “almost robotic”, a soundbite that got misconstrued, according to Pike now: “He was really saying something much more intricate about the planning that goes into both sex scenes and violent scenes. My memory is that we had a wonderful time. It’s an 18, so you can explore things that are shocking or disturbing, but it does mean carefully structuring something that is meant to represent wild abandon.”
An interview Pike gave to Gillian Flynn for Glamour magazine this month developed its own ballyhoo. “I had my grandmother phoning me up asking ‘Why aren’t you enjoying motherhood’ just because I’d said something about not enjoying having a waist and big boobs,” she says. “All I meant was that I’m not the sort of person who has ever enjoyed showing off a big cleavage, but that got translated into Rosamund Pike Not Enjoying Pregnancy.”
Pike has previous experience of tabloid prying. A relationship with Atonement director Joe Wright ended abruptly shortly before their wedding, and there has been some press snarkiness about her partner of five years, Uniacke, because he is older (53 to Pike’s 35), a divorcee twice-over and for a short time in his twenties became addicted to heroin. The bottom line however is that they seem happy together, awaiting their second child (“I can’t have a single child called Solo”) and the closest thing to addiction in their lives seems to be flogging off unwanted possessions on eBay.
When we talk about the marriage in Gone Girl, Pike is thoughtful about how women in particular are still in the grip of idealised love and sex. “People have ridiculous expectations of a mate, and I think it’s partly borne out by the narcissism epidemic. We expect our partner to fulfil every part of ourselves. In my grandmother’s day, you wouldn’t expect your husband to fulfil the same need in you as your sister, or girlfriends, or colleagues at work, you’d have different needs met by different people. Now we want all our needs met by one person – and I don’t believe that’s possible. Or rather, yes it is possible, but I don’t think it’s universally achievable.”
Pike was raised by two classical musicians in west London, and some of her independence may come down to a childhood where self-sufficiency was a norm. Her parents travelled the world for work, and Pike won a scholarship as a boarder at Badminton in Bristol. “I do think separation is key to a relationship,” she says. “If I go out with my partner and we are put next to each other, there’s a feeling of ‘What, you don’t think we can’t operate without each other?’ I don’t need him as a crutch. Of course, he’s the person I want to go home with but he’s not necessarily the person I want to sit next to. I’d rather meet someone new, and he would too.”
For now, they are all back living in London, but it seems likely that Pike will be criss-crossing the Atlantic more frequently, so I ask her what quirk of Hollywood she most enjoys, expecting to hear about onset catering, unfettered sunshine, or the comfort of luxury trailers. “Parking,” she says. “When you go to studios, it is all about where you are allowed to park. It matters hugely because it says a huge amount about where you are in the pecking order. There’s a huge difference between being given a small corner in a multi-storey and being allowed to park outside the president’s office. You could mark your career by your parking space.”
Pike is amused rather than envious of this parking power listing, although it turns out that she is also a petrolhead. Would she like to be a Top Gear Star In A Reasonably Priced Car? “Don’t tease.”
Every day, she used to watch Fincher and Affleck drive their top-of-the-range Teslas to the Gone Girl set, until finally she phoned up her friend and actress Talulah Riley, who happens to be married to Tesla chief executive Elon Musk. “I said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to get me a really out of this world Tesla, just so I can drive it in quietly for one day, park it and instil enormous envy in Ben Affleck. We almost did it, except the only model that could eclipse what they had was out of the country at the time, but it would have been very funny.”
At least on her next movie Pike should be guaranteed a shorter walk from car park to film set. “Only,” she says, “if I can get someone to loan me the Back To The Future DeLorean.”
Gone Girl (18) is in cinemas now