It’s a cold, clear day in London and actor Rosamund Pike has just returned from her morning bike ride. “I made a resolution years ago to be more aware of my body, and it’s really helped to hone my instincts,” she says. Those instincts are responsible for scene-stealing roles in Pride & Prejudice, An Education, and, more recently, Made in Dagenham, for which she won ecstatic reviews as a housewife during the 1968 Ford Motors factory strike in Dagenham, England. But it’s Pike’s performance in Barney’s Version, an adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s prize-winning novel starring Dustin Hoffman and Paul Giamatti (her love interest in the film), which has finally earned Pike awards season buzz. “It was an incredible challenge for Paul and I to play characters in different phases of love from ages 29 to 60—to find language for that,” she says. “Now I’m going to make sure to wear a lot of miniskirts in public before people get the wrong idea.”
The picture of a patrician English Rose, Pike, 31, is excited about the opportunities she’s had to exhibit range and depth. “An Education was the first film that allowed me to play a villain, but also make people laugh,” she says. “That one opened up a lot of doors.” Among those open doors are a host of roles in upcoming films, including The Big Year, a bird-watching comedy opposite Jack Black and Owen Wilson, and The Sea, a drama with Charlotte Rampling. “I suddenly feel understood,” she says of her recent successes. “I’m like the geek at school who suddenly gets to be friends with the cool kids.”
Some people are saying that you’re destined to become a household name. How does it feel to hear something like that? Does that mean I’m like Tide or some washing powder? That’s what I always think of as a household name, a brand. Tide or Spiffy (laughs). But it’s true — An Education gave me the chance for the world to cotton on to the fact that I wasn’t just one thing. It surprised everybody that I could make them laugh. There’s something definitely changing and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe I was just not in the right place in my early 20’s. In my late 20’s, I fit in better. Like the kid at school that’s always been a bit geeky and suddenly grows up and gets to be friends with the cool clan.
Have things gotten perceptibly busier for you? I am kind of busier than normal. You always do what you do. My philosophy has always been that I do what I do as well as I can, and sooner or later somebody will notice. Before I was even ever getting paid, I thought that I’d do this because I love it, and sooner or later, if I do it well enough, someone will pay me to do it.
You have Made in Dagenham and Barney’s Version out now, and immediately next you have a TV series called Women in Love. Sort of an unexpected entry, no? Women in Love was a choice I made because of serendipity. There was this female director who I met because her boyfriend at the time was doing a drawing of me, five years ago. He’s an artist and he was doing a series of drawings on actors. And you know there was this sort of extraordinary girl cooking soup while I was having my sitting for this portrait. She fascinated me more than the painter, and the soup was so delicious. I asked her what she did, and she said she made a couple of short films, so I asked if I could watch them. And I watched them and I remembered them. And five years later this script comes through the door for a TV mini series—directed by her! And the script is written by the man who wrote Made in Dagenham, which I had done the year before. So that was sort of strange serendipity. I thought it was an obvious sign that pointed to what I have to do next. You know, link up a few dots so I can color in the picture.
It does seem like success is colored by fate. I don’t think somebody who’s a typical success story would move in that way. It was not the obvious logical choice. I think lots of agents wouldn’t really approve of it, since I’ve already completed a big film. To go and do two months in South Africa, making a little low budget TV series? That’s not an of agent-friendly move. Emma Thompson once said that it’s as important what you say no to as what you say yes to. When people talk about your choices, you know the choices they don’t see are the ones you’ve said no to. And the no’s are probably the most interesting moments in your history of choice.
Is that why your resume is so varied? I run on instinct. It takes me a long time to make decisions, and often I try and talk myself into something because I know it would be a good thing to do. But if I know my heart isn’t in it, I don’t end up doing it. I’m a total loyalist, and that’s the way I am in real life, as a friend—or anything. But sometimes I hang back a bit before coming forwards. I’m not always the person with their hand up first, as it were. I’m filming a comedy called Johnny English Reborn, which took me quite a while to commit to, but then something clicked, and I was all in. And it’s brilliant and so funny. Rowan Atkinson is a complete genius—it’s such a privilege to work with someone like that.
Do you need to keep mentors or experienced people around you? There are some films up for next year where I’ll be the lead. I was just thinking today that that’s going to be a big change, because usually I’m on set learning from somebody. They don’t know that I am, but I’m sort of sucking in what they do and working with them and learning from them. Like I am with Rowan, like I was with Owen Wilson in The Big Year, like I was with Paul Giamatti in Barney’s Version. Suddenly I’m realizing that it’s going to feel like a funny limbo if I’m the most experienced person on set, carrying the weight of it.
You grew up with parents who are classically trained musicians and studied music yourself. How does one path lead to another? I didn’t fell into acting lightly. I never even thought about being in films. I was very inexperienced with film when I started, and now I watch and try to learn, and really hone the craft. Musicians really put actors to shame, because the amount of hours they have to train is even more competitive. You just can’t cut it as a musician unless you have the strength and talent, and obviously you have to have the virtuoso and brilliance as well. With actors, it’s the same frame of mind. You see someone like Rowan who is so funny, but underneath he’s a complete expert technician. Slapstick, he’s a clown, he’s like the closest we get to Charlie Chaplin, but nothing is not planned—everything detail is planned.
You were a Bond girl, then you starred Pride and Prejudice, then another action film, then An Education…You seem to enjoy balancing action roles with more dramatic ones. Today I’ve just been cycling all over London on my bike because I’ve been on set every day this week and I just needed to literally let it rip. I do need that balance, movement is incredibly important to me, but when it comes down to it, it’s the story. Surrogates I did because I was fascinated by the story. I was slightly disappointed in the film in the end, but I think that underneath there was an interesting idea. I think in some ways its flaw was that it had to, for the times we’re living in, be an action film. And I know that’s what people want. Especially Bruce Willis, because he’s so brilliant at it, and so watchable. But I think the story, the Sci-Fi, psychological drama, was telling to me because it seems so relevant—people terrified to go out without their mask on. We’re seeing that all over the place now. This speaks to me and probably speaks to so many.
Do you have any mentors or any personal role models? You said you really love to learn, but has anyone stuck with you through the years? I worked with Judy Dench right at the beginning of my career, and then I did a play with her in London. She’s a wonderful lesson in professionalism with a sense of humor. She’s completely professional, but she just has such an amazing lightness about the way she goes about everything. You can be incredibly serious about what you do, but it can be done with a tremendous lightness. I think it’s just the most magical balance.
Do you find it difficult to be working as an actor when bogged down by personal anxieties or worries? Or is it a release to be able to separate work and personal life? I find it really relaxing being on set, actually, because I can kind of leave all my baggage and unread mail at home. Mail is a great source of personal anxiety (launghs). I’ve given up on caffeine, which I found incredibly freeing, since the only thing I’m really addicted to is caffeine. It created such high-strung anxiety. I was navigating the ups and downs and hoping that my shot, my close-up, my take, or my side of the action would happen when I was sort of riding high on the caffeine buzz. Managing your sugar highs and lows, your caffeine highs and lows, sort of makes everything much more clear and free. I have managed to keep my own worries out of my work as I get older. I think good actors have to be relaxed, even if you’re conveying the most emotional stuff.
Lets talk about Made in Dagenham. I was struck by your chemistry with the lead character. I thought it was such an amazing film because every woman in it has a journey. So often you look at a film and there’s one brilliant character who changes, but everybody changes in that film. In the end that’s what drama is, it’s a character under pressure, and how they change as a result of that pressure. Because the whole point is that this a struggle for Equal Pay, and it wasn’t just a working class struggle, it was a fight by women of all classes. My character, Lisa, is a brilliantly educated girl who doesn’t actually have the balls to go out and do what her less educated friend Rita is doing in the way of Women’s Rights. Lisa is surprising, and I like playing a character like that. She’s similar to my character, Helen, in An Education — everybody judges her. You see these women and you think you’ve got your villain, and then you go on a journey with them and it completely turns you around. Those are the people I’m interested in playing.
Barney’s Version is a film about understanding love in different stages of life. Paul Giamatti plays Barney, who claims to have fallen in love with you at first sight. Do you believe in love at first sight? I believe in the recognition of a soul connecting. I believe that it can be something very unexpected and surprising.
Did you think that your character in Barney’s Version, Miriam, believed in love at first sight? No, I think Miriam is generally quite suspicious. I’m sure her initial impression of Barney is that he’s just trying to pick her up, but there’s obviously something that gets under her skin, even if she doesn’t want to let it in that first moment. I think it’s an amazing story. I adore the book, and I love the way it translated into film — the mixture of sentimental humor, the unexpected love story in it, the fact that it’s about loyalty and trust and what happens when those things are broken but the loyalty remains.
How was working with Paul? It was wonderful. I adore him. Everything we did felt real and believable, and it was certainly one of those stories that I hope people will recognize themselves in — and their marriages. It will probably give people hope and make them not be so hard on themselves, and make them look at their own behaviors around infidelity and trust and that kind of stuff.
How do you think the public perceives you? I suddenly feel understood, I think. People are getting me for the first time. That’s pretty nice. There are certainly bits they don’t know about, but that’s fine. That’s called a private life.
Do you have a master plan? I want to do this as long as I’m alive. I had the privilege of meeting Louise Rayner the other day, who is the only actor who has ever won an Oscar in two consecutive years, in 1937 and 1938. She’s 100. My friend and I took her to a gallery in London, and it was the most exciting thing that happened to me in ages. To meet this incredible actress and someone who is 100. And I thought, I want to go on like she’s gone on. It’s about longevity. Longevity in career and in life. That’s the grand plan.
Photo by Ren Rox; Styling by Hew Hood; Hair by Sophie Chevalier.