Rosamund Pike on inspiration, escapism and Marie Curie
Even an atheist would have come away from this month’s recent cover interview by saying, “God bless Rosamund Pike.” The reason being is because one of the big takeaways from our chat is how she really cares. Admirably so, in fact. Speaking to us with surprising candour, Rosamund exudes passion, and puts a great deal of thought into what she says. Not only that, but she is someone looking to wring every last drop out of life. If we were to choose a holiday read with Rosamund, we might make do with the easy page-turner. However, we get the feeling she would opt for the 700-page, soul-scraping opus. We would be entertained; she would feel more enriched for completing the task.
The 41-year-old feels strongly about the importance of “effort”. Rosamund’s new film Radioactive, a dizzying, time-hopping biography of the incomparable Marie Curie, goes way beyond the chemist’s two Nobel Prizes and discovery of radium.
“You know, I’ve been making these films in a climate where there hasn’t been as much appetite for effort,” says Rosamund. “It’s ‘watching’ – something that is ever-easier on a daily basis. It’s easier to find something to watch. And I get it! Especially people with small children; you just want to sit down: ‘I want to be entertained. I don’t want to have to think!’ But if you do decide [to be challenged], it is actually really rewarding and can take you miles away.”
Take two of Rosamund’s best efforts from recent years: the pulsating A Private War, about the fearless war correspondent Marie Colvin, and the sublime Hostiles, a brutal-yet-beautiful Western which casts Rosamund opposite Christian Bale. You wouldn’t call either “popcorn cinema”, but both are essential viewing. Yes, Gone Girl got the Oscar nod. Yet these two truly stay with you.
Rosamund adds: “If you overcome that initial thing of, ‘Ooh, that sounds like hard work,’ like Hostiles, say. If you sat down and watched it, the film would transport you from your living room and you would end up feeling like you had grown a bit as a human.
“It’s the same thing with so many films – I know the feeling of wanting the easy option. But what we’re all seeking is escapism: that is what cinema has always been about.”
I reveal to Rosamund that my therapist once said I watch so many films because I like to escape (it was taken as a criticism at the time, but they weren’t wrong). Still, Rosamund enthuses: “We need to escape! The imagination being let free is one of the great things. I’m always looking for time for my children to escape. I want them to have time with nothing going on. It’s only then that the mind can wander. I’m always looking for that time when there’s nothing to do because that’s when surprise comes out.”
Rosamund begins to recite a poem from her childhood, Daddy Fell Into The Pond by Alfred Noyes, which teaches youngsters that the extraordinary can strike when it seems like nothing is happening. After quoting the poem word for word, she adds: “I look for those times when there’s no plan and out of nothing comes something.” She then shares a story about going to the US Embassy in Vauxhall for a visa; a pause in the procedure meant she had a couple of hours to herself where she could simply sit by the Thames, gaze at the passing boats and enjoy a chat with a stranger. She adds thoughtfully: “It was a surprise and a nice thing.”
Such moments of serene downtime must be crucial. After all, this is someone who goes the extra mile when taking on a role. BALANCE puts it to Rosamund that she doesn’t just play characters, it’s as if she channels them. Take the tear-inducing A Private War; at times it feels as though Rosamund disappears from the screen and the real Marie Colvin appears. Rosamund says: “I like the way you use that word (‘channels’) because I think that’s what it feels like.
“You’re allowing your body to be taken over by somebody else and it’s a powerful thing. It’s such an amazing experience and you don’t question it deeply for fear that it may go away.
“I don’t know what happens, but you know when it is happening. You’re hoping to capture an essence of somebody or fill your mind with their thoughts to such a degree that their thoughts come in place of your own.”
BALANCE wonders if it’s a spiritual experience. “Well, it’s funny because I was talking to a great philosopher about Eastern philosophy. He was saying that if you’re religious and you meditate in quite a deep way on the teachings of the religion you follow – whether it’s Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity – the true devotional practice is to meditate or think, and absorb yourself in the life or works of the person or teaching you follow. So much so that they, or the life of that particular person, becomes more real to you than your own for the time you
“I thought, ‘That’s sort of what I do.’ Not with the religious element, but with the intense focus on a person to the point [that] you’re meditating solely on their life, trying to imagine those thoughts and feelings, and putting yourself in their shoes so that it takes over you. I thought, gosh, maybe there really is a meditative aspect, especially when you’re playing someone who has lived.” She continues: “With Marie Curie, I had wall-to-wall photos of her in my trailer. I willed them to come alive. You’re trying to notice every posture, every attitude, every bow of the head, to try and bring them to life.”
What also helps Radioactive pop is the relationship between Marie and husband Pierre, played with memorable tenderness by Sam Riley. While Marie can be brusque in her brilliance, Pierre looks at his wife through patient eyes. “They had the most wonderful marriage,” says Rosamund. “He understood her oddity; he had this wonderful sympathetic joy at her slight abruptness. He ‘got’ her completely. The thing that everyone needs is to be understood. On top of that, they had this absolute involvement in one another’s life and work.” She pauses for a moment to collect her thoughts. “If you have that shared creative vision and it comes to something so extraordinary – imagine that night when they knew they discovered radium… it brings me to tears. Maybe they weren’t as sentimental as I am. But after thinking about all that work and dogged determination, we felt [the Curies] were around. It was very palpable and powerful.”
It is because of the genius of Marie Curie that we’ve given our March issue an “Inspiration” theme, and so BALANCE wonders what Rosamund does for inspiration. She is currently in the Czech Republic shooting TV series The Wheel Of Time for Amazon and says: “In Prague, there are lots of trees; I’ve always gone to parks. Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park and now Stromovka Park. Dancing physically gets you out of your head. I’ve started doing Pilates as well because I try to take on a new physical thing for each character.
“And it’s to do with the breath: the first thing we do in life is take a breath. Somewhere along the road, we forget to do it. I’ve definitely been holding my breath. Now so much of my work comes from that. You don’t find a character’s voice without taking a breath! Most of the time we’re not contacting the deep emotions because we’re holding our breath.”
Having children has also had a profound effect on Rosamund’s outlook. “A child, up until about five, only lives in the present. They’re a reminder that it’s the best place to be. I used to worry; you never know what life is going to throw at you, and then you have to take it into work. Now I’m better with that. You just have to be present. If you haven’t had enough sleep, then it’s tough. But it’s not as catastrophic as it used to be for me. I used to think, ‘Everything is going to go wrong! Everything is going to be a disaster.’ Now I’m like, ‘OK, the character will be tired!’” And she laughs. “Like every human is sometimes!”
Rosamund is on Instagram – “I’m ashamed to say I haven’t looked at it for three months” – but that’s it. BALANCE tells her that she recently went viral on Twitter when someone asked what Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix did in Joker that Rosamund didn’t do in Gone Girl (46,500 likes and counting), and she beams: “Have they?! I had no idea about that.”
Before we depart, we praise her for clearly taking on recent projects for the benefit of her two children: lending her voice to family shows Moominvalley, Thunderbirds Are Go (can you imagine a more perfect Lady Penelope?) and Archibald’s Next Big Thing. As well as the kids finding the voices oddly familiar (“She sounds like mummy!”), Rosamund was able to take her brood out to Helsinki, Finland, for the Moominvalley premiere.
“The Moomins have a lot of the values I’ve talked about! Moominmamma embodies a lot of what I believe: welcoming all comers, tolerance with a slight anxiousness under the surface, and hoping that it’ll all go all right. [She has] A great love of family and wondering what it will be when these young ones fly the nest. It’s a wonderful world though, and teaches adults a lot, too.”
Rosamund can even talk with warmth, passion and insight about the Moomins. As we say, God bless Rosamund Pike.
Radioactive is in cinemas from 20 March