Who's that 'Gone Girl'? A chat with Rosamund Pike
Everyone who read Gillian Flynn’s runaway 2012 bestseller Gone Girl quickly had a vision of Amy Dunne in their head. Hollywood was no different: The beautiful blonde who’d been the model for her parents’ popular children’s books, Amazing Amy, who disappeared on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, leading to a media frenzy that focused suspicions of foul play on her husband, Nick, could’ve been Reese Witherspoon or Charlize Theron or Emily Blunt. Chances are you didn’t immediately picture Rosamund Pike.
But when the lights come on in the theater after David Fincher’s Gone Girl, don’t expect to hear much second-guessing. Instead, expect some version of, “Who. Was. That?”
Pike so perfectly taps into Flynn’s complex main character, who narrates much of the film, that it’s suddenly difficult to imagine anyone else. And while Pike has been acting in major Hollywood films for more than a decade, Gone Girl might be the first time many casual moviegoers connect the name with a face. Then, working backwards, some may remember her from Jack Reacher, from her role as a vacant party girl in An Education, from playing Ryan Gosling’s new boss in Fracture, from her beautiful reserve as the eldest Bennet daughter in Pride & Prejudice, and from her big-screen debut as a 22-year old in Pierce Brosnan’s last James Bond film, Die Another Day. Clearly, Pike is hardly some overnight success.
“Rosamund was someone that I had seen in four or five different movies over 10 years, and I never got a bead on her,” Fincher said at the New York Film Festival premiere. “I never got a sense of who she was. And I pride myself on being able to watch actors and sort of know instinctively what their utility belt is, and I don’t have that with Rosamund. I didn’t know what she was building off of. There was an opacity there and it was interesting.”
The only child of two British opera singers, Pike graduated from Oxford and acted in theater before segueing into British television, where she was spotted by Bond producers and cast as a Bond Girl named Miranda Frost. (You might remember her fight scene with Halle Berry.) She’s never stopped working, but Fincher was the first major filmmaker to entrust her with a leading role in a big Hollywood production.
With Oscar buzzing growing, Pike might now be elevated to that top rung of actresses whose names will be bandied about the next time a great literary female character is adapted to the screen. She’s already booked her next big project, however, and it’s not a film. She’s expecting her second child with husband Robie Uniacke this November.
Pike spoke to EW about her career, playing Amy Dunne, and the experience of working with David Fincher.
EW: Growing up the only daughter of opera singers, you were around arts and entertainment from an early age. When did you realize that you wanted to act and that that was a feasible goal?
ROSAMUND PIKE: I never thought it wasn’t a feasible goal. I wanted to be an actress since I was really, really small. I knew I didn’t want to sing, and I didn’t want to do music, and words were the ways I wanted to express myself. And I don’t know, it’s pretty good, isn’t it? You can create characters and dress up and just extend the role-play you do as a kid and make it your job. It’s pretty exciting. I never thought about film, though. Film wasn’t in my head; I didn’t see it as feasible. I just didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know where film came from when I was under 10. I just thought I’d be a stage actress. I always knew money would be tough, but that never frightened me. I grew up without any security—I obviously had lots of security because I have two parents who had a good marriage and stayed together and we had a creative household full of ideas, but there was never any financial security. So I knew I could have a good life without that.
The role of Gone Girl‘s Amy Dunne was one of the most sought-after in Hollywood. You’ve had some roles in big and celebrated movies, but several of the most notable movies had you playing the sister, the friend, or the girlfriend. How confident were you during the courtship process?
I never really get in an arena with competition on my mind. Sometimes my agents like to incite that competitive instinct by saying, “Oh, so-and-so is up for a role,” or “So-and-so really wants this.” But I sort of feel I know enough about the actor/director connection to know that that’s not really how it works. It’s not really like that, however much it can feel like that. You know, you start out in a career, and you don’t get something and you feel beaten out. There are lots and lots of good actors out there and often it’s just luck if what you bring to the table syncs with the director’s vision. It’s really hard to come to that point, to that realization. It certainly didn’t come to me until [later]. And sometimes it’s about chemistry. I remember auditioning for Jack Reacher and knowing then specifically that I had a really good connection with the director, and then there were three of us, screen testing. And I suppose that is as close as it gets to a sort of competitive arena. But with this role, that wasn’t how it was.
How was Gone Girl different?
It was a sort of protective line of communication between David and myself, and I have no idea if he talked to other people, if he auditioned other people. I have no idea. And that’s the way David works, under this shroud of secrecy, and although the life-changing thing of getting to stretch yourself in a role like this is obviously massive, somehow at the moment you’re just embarking, you’re going through these conversations, you’ve got the time to talk. We had Skyped for six hours, and then I flew to St. Louis to have dinner with him. My agents didn’t even know I’d gone. So that’s an unusual situation. You know, always in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “Is he meeting me under duress from someone? Does he really want to be meeting me?” It’s only in retrospect that [I realized] that he was pretty much zoning in on me. I didn’t know that at the time. So, as I sat in the departure lounge [at the airport], I opened my emails and there was an email from David Fincher [with the Gone Girl script]. And I thought, “F–k me, this is real. This is serious. This is not from an associate or a casting director. It’s from the man himself.” And beneath the title, it said “For Your Eyes Only.” I went to St. Louis not knowing what he wanted. I knew I was being auditioned, but it’s not that way with David Fincher. We talked and talked—more than five hours until 1 o’clock in the morning. He’s dissecting. He’s talking about your layers. He’s saying what’s required for the part. He’s also seeing if someone’s right for the part, and if they’ve got the balls, I guess, to go on the journey, which is pretty demanding, physically and mentally.
Before you start on a film, or before you even sign on, do you do a lot of your own homework on a director? Do you reach out to friends in the business to learn what it’s like to work with certain directors?
It’s the best kind of homework, isn’t it? Because you rewatch all his films. “Sorry honey, I have to go and do some homework,” and that means sitting down and watching The Social Network. It’s perfect. I did rewatch all his films. I didn’t look up loads of interviews with other actors who’ve worked with him or whatever. I wanted to keep that experience untainted. I wanted to go into it unknowing.
So you didn’t phone all your peers who’ve worked with him before.
No, no. David’s work totally speaks for itself. What is the reason that all these actors seem to inhabit new skins in his work? There must be something good going on here. It’s the care and attention to detail he gives his films. He likes to make a joke about that, whenever he goes to see a friend who’s an actor in a play—and I’ve had this experience myself—when somebody comes, you’re really excited that this person’s come to see the show. And that performance just isn’t as good as it was on Tuesday night, or whatever, for whatever reason. You tried too hard, or you had the wrong thing to eat right before, or you had a distressing phone call three hours before, whatever it is. He said, “That thing, when you go and see an actor and they say, ‘Oh man, I wish you’d come on the Saturday matinee or something.’ He said, “I never want an actor to feel like that when they watch a film that we’ve made. I never want them to feel that the best stuff isn’t right there for everyone to see forever.” He’ll never go home because he just thinks, “Well, we haven’t got it, but, hey, you ready to call it a day?” He’s going to do 35 takes or however long it takes to give you time to make you feel relaxed. And that’s the big difference.
How did you ultimately find out you’d won the role?
As usual with the most important events in my life, I was out of cellphone reception range. I was filming very far north on the west coast of Scotland. Near the set, there was a little hill that you could climb and retrieve one bar of cellphone reception. So I climbed up there and I got one text from my manager: “We’re getting the offer on Gone Girl.” And then there was nothing I could do with it, because I couldn’t ring out, I couldn’t do anything. I could just do a little sort of leap of joy to myself. So I did a little dance and then just kept it close to my chest in a sort of delicious way. Because I knew that moment of it being a secret wasn’t going to last very long, Because you don’t have time to process the enormity of it before the world’s got a hold of it and they’re going to be saying, “She’s great for the part!” “She’s terrible for the part!” “How did she get it?” “Why didn’t so-and-so get it?” and all that conversation will inevitably begin. I mean, I don’t read it, but you’re still aware that it’s out there.
After the screening last Friday night, David mentioned how he’d admired your work over the years, in particular because he couldn’t get a quick read on you, that you couldn’t be easily placed in a box as an actress. Which I thought was important for someone playing a character like Amy.
It was nice to hear him say that. Then he added to that, it wasn’t that it was sort of opaque in an uninteresting way. He said, “I was interested, I was drawn in.” And Amy is like that, I suppose. She’s always self-editing in a way. She’s a little girl who was forced into a spotlight that she never desired by her parents, having this iconic children books series named after all, the Amazing Amy books. She was sort of given this fictional twin who she was made to compete with, in quite an unhealthy way. The real girl fails to make a team, the fictional girl makes varsity. The real girl gives up the violin or cello; the fictional girl becomes a prodigy. And yet the real girl is made to go out there and be the face of the cartoon. That sort of gives you a brittle sense of self, I guess. Amy has been used to sort of constructing herself under a gaze, from under the gaze of the outside world. And I think it’s the unearned media attention that always makes people pretty shaky.
Was everything you needed in the book or script, or did you seek out Gillian to ask about certain things that helped out for the character?
Well, you want to kind of moodscape in your head as much as you can. The detail on the page takes you so far. And you’ve got to have gut instincts and you’ve got to be transported into some sound worlds, so I’d ask Gillian for songs that she was listening to while she was writing, or any books she read, or any films she watched. There’s not necessarily a direct link. It’s just a feeling. There’s a taste. There’s a flavor, a smell, whatever. And you take that. David sort of talked early on about Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and the glare that was on her relationship. I looked up pictures of her, and it was interesting—he gave me an enigma to work from. There’s very little written, there’s nothing in her own words, I couldn’t find anything on YouTube with her speaking. It’s all supposition that was loaded on her, all the things that people supposed, and all these pictures. It was good, because I had to imagine what it would be like to be in that woman’s skin, and how she walked, and what she was protecting. And I thought the image protected something different than what was underneath, and that’s obviously what we wanted with Amy.
What songs and films did Gillian tell you she consumed?
I don’t really feel I should share them, because they’re so private. They’re her things, and she shared them with me. [Note: Flynn has said Amy’s playlist included some Fiona Apple.] But for me, then there were documentaries and psychology books I read, and I consulted a handwriting expert because I wanted to develop Amy’s handwriting in the book.
Really? That’s interesting. Because the visuals of her journal entries are such a large part of the viewing experience.
I developed a handwriting that would suit Amy’s personality and mutability—what she was trying to project versus what she is. That all would have to be reflected in her handwriting. I’d looked up handwriting samples and I looked up things online, and I remember finding this capital A that I thought was cool. And the fact that she’s a narcissist, I felt that she probably embellished the A in writing her name. So I did the capital A when I wrote Amy and I sent it to this graphologist and [I learned] that that A in graphology terms is known as the Felon’s Claw. I thought, “Oh, that’s funny.”
At the end of the book, Gillian thanks her husband for bravely sleeping in the same bed as she was writing these characters. How did playing Amy spill into your own life?
David said after the premiere, “So did your husband sleep in the same hotel room?” Yeah, I think she’s a potent cocktail, Amy, and she does get into your head. She’s not a relaxing character to play because she’s always on the move, she’s always in flux. You do have the opposite effect, you know, when you’re playing a really good character like Jane Bennet or someone very admirable with these wonderful qualities of honor and virtue, like Miriam, the character I played in Barney’s Version. You feel that rub off on you, and it’s really kind of enriching. Amy wasn’t enriching in that respect. She makes you quite wary of people. You can tend to be more isolated playing Amy, because the nature of being in her skin makes you think about all those things. I think she makes you a bit more wary of, you know, the whole thing of dealing with appearances and what people are trying to project, and what’s underneath. And I suppose when you’re in that headspace all day long, it carries over into your off-days too. So I just try and get out of my head as much as possible, go swimming, surfing, skateboarding, anything. Play Ping-Pong. Anything.
I’d read that you looked at To Die For and Basic Instinct before filming Gone Girl. But ignoring those, ignoring roles that might have helped illuminate a character like Amy, was there a stage or film performance that you hold up as the model of perfection for an actress?
Faye Dunaway in Network, I think, is a brilliant, brilliant performance. What she gets to express and the way being a woman in that environment is expressed, the way she is with men, she surprises you; she confounds you in a way that I aim to do with Amy, I suppose. But I remember seeing Helena Bonham Carter in Wings of the Dove. I don’t know why that sprung into my head just then, maybe because I’m thinking about Fincher, and thinking about seeing Wings of the Dove to Fight Club, and knowing that you can just excel when someone gives you the chance, in all kinds of different ways. I’m constantly seeing female performances that inspire me. Just looking at people and wondering, “How do you do that?” I see Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle and I just think, “How does someone at 21 or 22 have that depth and soul and freedom?” It’s amazing to me.