Rosamund Pike understands how Hollywood works. Best known to mainstream audiences for her breakthrough role in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” – a turn that earned Pike her first Academy Award nomination – Pike is now moving into a new period of her career, one marked by very personal choices, and one she knows is at least partially possible because of her work in the Gillian Flynn adaptation.
“Obviously, with a film like ‘A United Kingdom,’ I’m sure that ‘Gone Girl’ and the nomination helped hugely,” Pike said of her latest feature, debuting this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I might not have been able to get the movie financed if I hadn’t just done that part, so there’s things like that that usually help.”
But that’s hardly the only impact that her jaw-dropping turn as the vicious (and viciously smart) Amy Dunne had on her career. For Pike, who has been working in film and television for nearly twenty years (her first credited screen role was on the UPN sci-fi series “Seven Days,” back in 1998), her casting in the David Fincher feature changed everything.
A Seal of Approval
“I don’t know if things changed because David Fincher put his seal of approval on me, [but] people take note if you’re selected by a director like that to take on a role like that,” Pike said. “For me, it feels much more like that was the point at which I’m beginning this next phase of my career. That’s what it feels like.”
Her work in the film also allowed Pike to snag something truly rare in the industry: A complicated, multi-faceted role for a woman.
“Any actress, goodness, we’re lucky to be working,” Pike said. “We all know that. There are few parts, a few good ones. There was a time during ‘Gone Girl’ that I’d come home and I’d say, ‘I get to be every part of being a woman in this role.’ For me, I feel it much more as a springboard for the work I’m going to take on thereafter.”
“Gone Girl” also offered Pike the chance to embrace a role that required a new level of physical commitment. Her favorite example? The shocking scene in which her Amy kills Neil Patrick Harris’ Desi in one of contemporary cinema’s truly gob-smacking moments, blood everywhere, audience gasping, everything and everyone thrown into total disarray.
“We really rehearsed it, choreographed it, and I was fully enlightened to the power of physicality on film,” Pike remembered. “A lot of film is about the close up, but there’s so much that can be expressed through the whole body, and that’s what’s really exciting me now. I’m not talking about acting so much as finding a character physically rather than mentally.”
“I’m just trying to do things differently,” Pike added. “It’s not like I ever think I can rest on that role.”
An Emotional State
With Amma Asante’s “A United Kingdom,” Pike is hardly resting. The true story of Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana (played by Oyelowo), and his life-changing love affair with his wife Ruth Williams Khama (Pike), is a romance for the ages that also addresses questions of intense racism, horrific political maneuvering and colonialism.
The pair had previously worked together on “Jack Reacher,” and Pike was eager to re-team with Oyelowo, so when he sent her the script and a deck of photographs of the Khamas, she was already receptive to the possibility of the project. But it was those photographs that really sold her.
“I looked at the faces of these two characters who were obviously the central characters of the film,” she said. “Here was this was black man and this white woman in the 1940s and ’50s. There was a child and then there were clearly pictures of them in Africa, and I just started crying. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t in an emotional state. I just had tears pouring down my face looking at these photographs.”
It was an unusual response for Pike – “a completely unique experience,” as she tells it – and one she felt she needed to act on immediately.
“I wrote to David and I said, ‘David, I haven’t read the script yet, but I just have to say that I’ve opened these photographs and they’ve touched something so deep in my soul,'” she remembered. “I don’t understand it, I don’t know anything about the story.”
Although Pike knew her response was a profound one, she didn’t feel the need to examine it too deeply, instead choosing to act with the same emotion the photos originally stirred in her. Yet, as she began to learn more about the Khamas and their complex story, she unwittingly discovered the source of her feeling: Admiration.
“Their Love Was So Real”
“It’s turned into deep, deep admiration for them, but I knew nothing at that point,” Pike explained. “I knew nothing about what the story was. I think I maybe was connected to love. The one thing about this story is it’s a love story, and their love was so real.”
The Khamas’ love story is certainly an admirable and compelling one, a relationship that was built on all the hope of a post-war world by two people who wanted nothing more than to truly capitalize on the possibilities suddenly available to them.
“That post-war generation, there were people there who really forged ahead with new and important life journeys for themselves, and Ruth and Seretse were clearly among those,” Pike said.
But even their attitudes and affections couldn’t fully protect them, and Asante’s film pulls no punches when showing what the pair ultimately went up against.
“They fell in love, got married, and then faced an absolute onslaught of racism, social exclusion, and political battering that couldn’t have been foreseen,” Pike said.
“Ruth particularly was not equipped to deal with it, and yet she withstood with the most tremendous valor and courage because of love, because she loved this man,” she continued. “Everyone was trying to prevent her from being with him, on a political scale, on a social scale, on a familial scale, and she just held fast.”
In short, it’s a love story, and a big one at that. And that’s exactly what Pike thinks the world – cinematic and otherwise – needs right now.
“The world is a bit starved of love stories at the moment, and I really want them first and foremost to see it as a love story,” Pike said. “Their love ended up inspiring a nation to change. I think it’s a tremendous testament to what the human spirit can withstand if you’re loved.”
“It just is inspiring to me. I love it so much,” she added. “It’s really important to me, this one.”
A Different Kind of Journey
Pike is currently filming Scott Cooper’s historical drama “Hostiles” alongside Christian Bale, Ben Foster and Stephen Lang. It’s the kind of work that she’s long wanted to do – physically challenging and emotionally rich – and she’s a big admirer of Cooper’s attitude and his “wonderful process.”
Per Pike, the film is “a journey across the West in the 1890s. It follows a group of American cavalry officers, who are involved in the incarceration of Native Americans during that period.” But the story has an edge, and one that Pike seems quite excited about portraying.
“As a sort of gesture of goodwill – or cynically speaking, maybe a publicity stunt – Christian’s character is asked before his retirement to escort a dying Cheyenne chief back to his family’s burial grounds,” she explained. “On the way, they meet me, who has suffered considerably, and I join the group.”
Although the film has all the trappings of a traditional Western – “the horses and guns and that sort of landscape,” Pike laughed – it’s the more profound nature of the feature that she appears to have sparked to.
“It’s more a kind of journey of the soul, really,” she explained. Sounds like her kind of film.
“A United Kingdom” will world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.