David Fincher brings the best-seller to the screen, with Ben Affleck as the husband who either lost his wife -- or killed her
Rosamund Pike is missing.
Three weeks ago, the 34-year-old British actress phoned for an interview but hung up after the first question. “I don’t think I can talk about that,” she said, flustered and stuttering. She called back 20 minutes later, but again got spooked and ended the conversation after a few seconds. Now, days later, not even her assistant can track her down. She’s just…gone.
Pike’s new movie, as it happens, is Gone Girl, based on the 2012 word-of-mouth smash best-seller by Gillian Flynn. The thriller, directed by David Fincher and produced by Reese Witherspoon, autopsies the marriage of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife, Amy (Pike), two out-of-work magazine writers whose marital bliss turns toxic when they leave New York City for small-town Missouri. Amy is a beautiful, sophisticated, and increasingly distraught fish out of water. Nick is a shifty, narcissistic liar. When Amy vanishes on their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick becomes the prime suspect in her murder — though, technically, it’s unclear if she actually has been murdered. Maybe she’s just been kidnapped? And maybe Nick had nothing to do with it? But the guy really does seem like a creep.
Flynn’s novel was riveting and unnerving, and it boasted the year’s most delicious, out-of-nowhere twist. For some readers, it was also enraging at times because of its untrustworthy narration and its deep cynicism about love and justice. If the cover of this magazine, which was shot by Fincher himself, is any indication, the movie (out Oct. 3) isn’t going to play nice either. It takes a particularly ballsy filmmaker to create a cover image that appears to be a major spoiler.
The director readily admits he isn’t interested in pandering to audience expectations. “All you need to do is look at my filmography to know that I have no idea what people want,” says Fincher, 51, who has built his career with such button-hammering films as Se7en and Fight Club. He says that the lesson he learned from bringing Stieg Larsson’s hit novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to the screen in 2011 was that “we may have been too beholden to the source material.” And he is unapologetic about his preference for unconventional characters: “I don’t know what ‘likable’ is. I know people who are doting parents, who give to charity, drive Priuses, all those things, who are insufferable a- -holes…. I like people who get s— done.”
Long before she met Fincher, Flynn sensed he was a kindred dark spirit. “When I was writing Gone Girl, there were certain parts where I thought, ‘David Fincher would really kill this scene,'” says the author, 42. “I thought he’d inject just the right sense of necessary malice.” Typically, authors are kept far from the filmmaking process because they tend to resist the necessary cuts that make a story cinematic. But Flynn, a former ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY writer who also wrote the film’s screenplay, wasn’t just willing to kill her darlings but to slaughter them. “Ben was so shocked by it,” Fincher says. “He would say, ‘This is a whole new third act! She literally threw that third act out and started from scratch.'”
Hiring Affleck to portray Nick was a no-brainer for Fincher, partly because he likes the challenge of directing actors who’ve directed movies themselves. “No one will find you out faster than the guy who made Argo,” he says. But the kind of fame that Affleck has enjoyed, and endured, played a role as well. As the murder investigation heats up, Nick becomes the center of a relentless media onslaught. “Ben knows inherently what that experience is like,” Fincher says. “He knows what it’s like to be hunted.” And as Flynn notes, Affleck seemed perfect to capture the duality of Nick. “You have to wonder if Nick did horrible things to his wife, and you have to see him do some really not good things, but at the same time you have to be able to say, ‘I’d like to have a beer with that guy,'” she says.
For his part, Affleck, who won the Best Picture Oscar for Argo last year and postponed directing Live by Night (based on the Dennis Lehane novel) to take on this role, says he had an ulterior motive: getting a master class in filmmaking from Fincher. “He’s the only director I’ve met who can do everybody else’s job better than they could,” says the actor, 41. Does that sound like empty hype? Maybe, but Affleck has evidence to back it up. On set one day, he tested Fincher’s eye by changing the lens setting on a camera an almost imperceptible amount, betting a crew member that Fincher wouldn’t notice: “But godd—it if he didn’t say, ‘Why does the camera look a little dim?'”
Casting the right Amy, the girl who gets gone, was a bigger challenge. While rumors circulated that A-listers such as Emily Blunt, Natalie Portman, and Charlize Theron were eyeing the role, Fincher went searching for a dark horse — much as he had when he cast relative unknown Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in Dragon Tattoo. As the story progresses, you get a fuller picture of who Amy is/was, and there are real surprises along the way. Stars, for better or worse, carry audience expectations onto the screen with them. Fincher needed someone without baggage.
Pike, an Oxford-educated actress who has had memorable supporting roles in An Education and Pride & Prejudice, seemed appropriately enigmatic. “I always liked her. I’d seen four or five movies with her and I didn’t have a beat on her,” Fincher says. But he had to find her first. Pike is known to be elusive on occasion, apparently because she likes to go off the grid. Fincher wanted to interview her by Skype for the role, but the actress was filming a British comedy in the Scottish Highlands and had to travel to a gym in Glasgow just to get an Internet connection. After weeks of conversations, Pike flew to St. Louis, without even telling her agent, to meet Fincher in person. “She’s kind of an orchid,” the director says. Which suggested that she could disappear into the role — and then, as Amy, just flat-out disappear.
For days after her brief and cryptic phone calls to EW, Pike proved exceedingly hard to find. She missed two subsequent interview appointments, and at one point her frustrated assistant even suggested that we write the story without her. Pike may have been delaying the interview because talking about her character is fraught with spoilers, and because she probably doesn’t relish talking about herself, either. Even after weeks of filming in Cape Girardeau, Mo., the actress is still a bit of a mystery to her leading man. “Because of the way David works, there’s not a lot of bulls—ting and hey-how-are-we-as-real-people between takes,” Affleck says. “I like Rosamund — she’s great — but mostly we’re in character and there’s not a lot of time to hang out.”
Just before New Year’s, Pike texts EW and then calls from Joshua Tree National Park in California. She’s on a break from filming and sounds refreshed, thoughtful, and, to use Fincher’s word, hugely likable. She says she’s lying in the back of an RV as it bounces over the rutted desert roads, and the conversation is punctuated by her exclamations of “Oh my goodness!” as the vehicle jumps and rattles. Pike agrees that she and Affleck haven’t had much time to bond. Some of the scenes they’ve been shooting have been focused on the painful, and possibly sinister, unraveling of their marriage. “It makes for a pretty uncomfortable atmosphere,” Pike says. Once, to brighten the mood, she pulled Affleck aside to where she was practicing flipping pancakes. “I told him, ‘This is all getting so dark, you’ve got to come make a pancake with me,'” she says. “It kind of worked.”
Exploring the darkness in her character, however, is no burden, she says. Far from it. “Falling in love with Amy is like a chemical high injected right into your veins,” Pike says. “And that needle can inject something toxic as well. [Playing] Amy gives you a sense of feeling completely uncaged. As an actress, I had a sense there are no rules about what a woman has to be.”
Or a movie, for that matter. While the filmmakers are keeping mum about any changes to the plot of Gone Girl, Flynn takes satisfaction in knowing that her unsettling novel is heading to the screen, and on her terms. Last October, the author was walking around the film set in Cape Girardeau — a town where her car had broken down years earlier while she was road-tripping during college — and she had a mind-bending realization. “I just looked at David and thought, ‘You are a sorcerer,'” she recalls with a laugh. ” ‘You took this from my brain and made it real!'”
When ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY approached Twentieth Century Fox about doing an exclusive look at the making of Gone Girl, the studio came back with a surprising reply: David Fincher was offering to shoot the cover himself. Not being crazy, we said yes. The director dreamed up the image, which calls to mind Annie Leibovitz’s famous Rolling Stone cover of a naked John Lennon curled around wife Yoko Ono. Fincher shot the cover on Dec. 14 in Los Angeles, during a break in production on the movie.
Another Gillian Flynn Novel to Hit the Screen
After winning an Oscar for playing a man-killing prostitute in Monster, Charlize Theron wasn’t afraid of taking on the emotionally stunted kleptomaniac Libby Day in Dark Places, an upcoming film based on Gillian Flynn’s ’09 thriller. “There’s something about her — she doesn’t make it easy,” the actress says of Libby, who survived the brutal murder of her family as a child. Libby’s wardrobe certainly proved challenging on the Louisiana set last summer: Theron wore a leather jacket in the sweltering heat — “Not the smartest!” she says — and chose one of her accessories. “This is a character who avoids people at all costs — what better way to do it than to put a trucker hat on?” Flynn was impressed by the star’s transformation. “The way she walks, the way she holds herself, the way she looks at you — she’s spectacular,” says the author, who shot a cameo for the film.