We chat with the Oscar-nominated actress about her latest thriller and why David Fincher was the “blessing” of her life.
If you were paying attention to movies prior to 2014, Rosamund Pike likely impressed you in one way or another, from her role as a Bennet sister in Pride and Prejudice to the very quotable Sam in The World’s End. But 2014 was the year that ‘likely’ turned to ‘definitely.’ She starred as Amy Elliott Dunne, the chilling and unforgettable anti-heroine of David Fincher‘s Gone Girl. She earned an Oscar nom for the movie — no surprise considering the film was the high point of what may be the best year in movies.
Since then, Rosamund has been working steadily and turning out fantastic performances in movies like A United Kingdom and Hostiles. Her latest is Beirut, an ’80s-set political thriller directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist) and written by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton). In Beirut, she stars alongside Jon Hamm as Sandy Crowder, a CIA agent working in the eponymous Lebanese city who has been tasked with keeping Hamm’s Mason Skiles alive while he negotiates for the return of a kidnapped colleague. You can check out the trailer below.
Beirut premiered at Sundance this year, and ahead of its theatrical release, I spoke to Rosamund over the phone about the film and her career. Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Rosamund and I was a healthy mix of nervous and excited for this interview. She was as friendly as I dreamed she would be, and gave me some insight into Beirut, Gone Girl, and what’s next in store for her.
You shot a lot of Beirut in Tangier, right?
Yes, we were in Tangier. It was very surreal. It felt so like Beirut, but we were in Tangier because obviously Beirut now doesn’t look like the Beirut of the 1980s.
To me, it looked very real, it felt like a real lived-in place. There was almost a kind of tactile sensation of watching the movie.
Yeah, it was brilliant. I’m glad you saw the texture of it. I thought that was one of the great things about the production side. And Brad Anderson, one of his very early references was The Year Of Living Dangerously just for that amazing sense of place and smell and texture. And I really thought that Brad did a brilliant job of kind of imparting some of the same seductiveness of place that [The Year Of Living Dangerously director] Peter Weir brought to that film.
That definitely came across for me watching it. I’m wondering how did you first get involved in the film and what was it that intrigued you?
I think for me it’s always been the quality of the script and Brad Anderson, I think, is a very interesting filmmaker that no one can pin down. He’s quite a dark horse but he’s got such great command of whatever he chooses to do. He gets it right even if he is flipping genres all the time. I know having talked to Christian Bale about him, Christian and he always wanted to do another film together and obviously Christian is someone I respect greatly. So that and being part of an ensemble. I think there are a lot of films that are star-driven parts, star-driven films, and obviously, this is an amazing vehicle for Jon [Hamm]. But I think the success of it relies on the ensemble around him.
Speaking of Brad Anderson, one of his films that I really love is Transsiberian and I thought that was one that didn’t take off the way that I would have expected, but I really loved that.
He just gets it right, he gets tone so well. And in such a straightforward, unfussy way. He’s a great, great guy. I agree with you.
In a lot of ways, Beirut felt like an old-school thriller that you don’t see made that often these days. Were there any movies that you watched in preparation or that came to mind while you were making it?
Brad said to me when we spoke and Skyped for the first time, he said “I’d like it to be like The Year Of Living Dangerously” and I said “well I’m in,” because that’s one of my favorite films of all time. So that definitely was an influence in terms of the way that people in that film keep their cards quite close to their chest and everything is not overly explained and you feel heat, you feel tension. And then a lot of 70s films, even something like Network, not that it has direct similarities at all, but it is a fundamentally adult story and it has a political angle as well. And Three Days In The Condor, any films like that that aren’t screaming “look at me!” in the way that some films nowadays can be much more inclined to do — spell it out, show you how good they are, show you what they’re trying to achieve. Brad just gets on with it and lets the smell and flavor of the film just grow out of the cooking pot. Does that make any sense?
Everything blooms without any heavy-handed showcasing.
One of the things that struck me about Beirut is I think it’s a movie that people are going to come out of talking about and having discussions about, not knowing where they stand on everything. It’s a discussion starter. It doesn’t necessarily tell you how to feel every step of the way.
No, because I think people don’t know how to feel. I think that’s the honest response to the conflicts. People are so subtle. I went to Beirut last year, sadly not before we made the film, but I was so fascinated making the film that I wanted to go and I tried to go before but there wasn’t the opportunity. Then I had the perfect access last year and all it does is show you how little you know and how much there is to know and how subtle everyone’s point of view is and how emotionally driven everything is, and how one thing you’re told by somebody is completely contradictory to what you’re told by the next. What seems to be is not what is and it’s wonderfully rich, and fascinating, and only after you’ve been in there ten or twelve years do you really understand it.
With your character [Sandy], I really liked her as someone who was very calm even when she’s surrounded by all these men that are very aggressive and you can see the stress getting to them, like Mason having a drinking problem. But she’s very diplomatic, more than the actual diplomats. Was this something you picked up on when first reading the script?
I think that was the case of women in the ’80s in the CIA. We’ve made progress but definitely in the ’80s and definitely in the CIA as a woman, you couldn’t let your cracks show… you had twice as hard a job as the boys. It was harder to get in, it was harder to maintain, sexism was rife. Everyday casual sexism was everywhere. You had your skills — Sandy could speak Arabic, she could speak French, she had been through all the training, but still having to be as tough as the guys or tougher. She has to make her own decisions and I think it’s interesting also that there’s… a romantic story that’s part of [Sandy’s story], without giving any spoilers, but that it’s interesting to have a woman’s relationship that’s not her defining thing, it’s not even something she’s proud of. It’s not something that’s going to change her life. It’s just one of the realities of living as a foreigner and an expat in a city where you have no ties.
She’s very matter-of-fact about it.
Yeah, she’s not looking for romance, she’s a woman looking for what she believes is right and I think she believes in America and she believes in American foreign policy to a point and then after she’s been somewhere for a long time she gets disillusioned as well.
You’ve had some heavy movies in the last few years. Beirut came across as intense and in Hostiles, you play a woman who loses everything she has. How do you deal with walking away from these roles and returning to a normal life?
Well, Beirut didn’t feel — Hostiles yes, that is a much more soul-crushing experience. There’s no acting that will get you there. You have to go to the darkest part of your imagination and live there and sort of sit there and it crushes you. So, that’s not easy. But Beirut, it’s a tough subject, but its fun. It’s written by a top writer who has witty, fast-paced dialogue. It’s fiction, as was Hostiles fiction, but it felt frighteningly real many many a time
Like it could have been real.
Yeah, I think when I look at [Hostiles] I think of it as something I lived rather than something I acted in. It’s a different thing. But [Beirut], no, this was a joy, it was fun to do a film. I loved the guys, I loved working with Jon, Shea Whigham, Dean Norris. We had a ball making it and I think you can feel it. We were having fun in that city and working hard but playing hard, too.
I do have to ask about Gone Girl, it’s one of my favorite movies ever and I’m curious, did working with David Fincher change how you approached roles or your own creative process?
Yeah, I think about it a lot, actually. I was thinking about it, I’m shooting a film at the moment called Radioactive with Marjane Satrapi about Marie Curie. And there’s no way I would be playing this extraordinary woman if it hadn’t been for Gone Girl. I’m having a really amazing experience here. She’s a woman who I feel makes me privileged to play someone like that, to get inside their mind, and imagination, and intelligence, and there’s no way those roles would come to me if it wasn’t for Gone Girl.
But also I think [Fincher] gave me a freedom in front of the camera that has been the biggest blessing of my life, just because we did so much of it. We shot for 105 days on Gone Girl, so I probably did more on-camera work on that one film than I had in my entire career to date thus far. So, it kind of made me have a different relationship with the camera. I’m thrilled you love it! When you get a director and material and it’s this perfect symbiotic relationship of a director who understands the material inside out, which Fincher did with that. He understands that world. There’s no one better at that kind of cynical, corrupt look at the human psyche, at narcissism, and sociopathy, and psychopathy. You need someone with his fierce intelligence to dissect that in the brilliant way he did and it was the perfect match. And it led to this with Marjane Satrapi and this film about science and Marie Curie.
I’m very much looking forward to Radioactive and there was another movie you’ve done recently that I loved, that was A United Kingdom, with the great Amma Asante.
Oh yes! I think it’s just been on TV. I think I’ve had a few emails about it.
I found it on Netflix!
Yeah, I think it’s just come on Netflix. Again, it was a story I felt very close to. Beirut is a story that is a brilliantly crafted adult thriller. Its composition is like films I loved from the ’70s and ’80s and that’s why I wanted to be part of it. There are other films I have a deep emotional connection with like Hostiles, A United Kingdom, Radioactive. There are different reasons for choosing things and A United Kingdom was just a love story that is one of the most inspiring love stories I’ve ever come across. I mean, just their bravery, and courage, and that particular resilience that came from women after the Second World War when they challenged all their own expectations for themselves. Ruth, [the heroine of A United Kingdom], had been an ambulance driver and she’d seen the kind of freedom that had been unknown to her. So after the war, she was ready to say “yes!” to life in a new way. And she did, and she said “yes” to a life she had no idea about in the most brave and courageous way. You’re very lucky as an actor to carry these people around with you for a while. I mean, you really do learn from these people. You play people with better, bigger humanity than you have and it’s a really privileged experience.
With something like Radioactive or A United Kingdom where you’re playing these real women who changed history, is it beneficial to be working with a female director?
I think it all depends whether you get on with the director, whether you have that connection with them. Certainly, Amma’s perspective on A United Kingdom was invaluable. It was very interesting and moving that she said that she even though she’s a woman of color from London she couldn’t have done what Ruth did. She’s a Londoner through and through and she said there’s no way she could up and move to Africa even though she’s of Ghanaian descent. There’s an intrepid nature to Ruth that Amma felt she doesn’t have, which I thought was very honest, and she is very honest. And Marjane is, too. But Marjane is someone who definitely directs with her head, I don’t think her femaleness really comes into play, she’s just a brilliant person, Marjane, she’s an extraordinary person. It’s not a particularly feminine perspective, I think she just brings a totally radical, original one.
This October it’ll be four years since Gone Girl, so I’m curious, do you ever wonder what might be going on in the world of Nick and Amy a few years after the end of the film?
[Laughs] I do, I do! I do wonder that. I don’t know if Gillian Flynn wonders that, but I do. I mean can you imagine? It kind of terrifies me to imagine Amy with a three-year-old. Doesn’t it terrify you? I can’t see a cozy domesticity. I can see Nick drinking a lot.
I wonder if anyone will try to continue it.
I wonder how they would. It would have to be probably fast forwarded way in the future with Amy as the mother of a teenager. She probably had a girl, and what she does with that girl as a mother. It probably has to be a story about motherhood. That sort of perfectionist, sociopathic mother and what that does to a child. And what kind of neuroses are born from having a mother like that? It would be terrifying for me. I don’t know if I would want to go again…
Rosamund might not be returning to the role of Amy Elliott Dunne soon, but you can find her in Beirut, out April 11, 2018.