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Screening A Private War for the siblings of slain war correspondent Marie Colvin was like making it “across the final frontier” for Rosamund Pike. Portraying the Sunday Times journalist who died reporting in Homs, Syria in 2012, Gone Girl‘s Oscar nominee says family and friends “were understandably quite suspicious of having their friend committed to film in this way” — especially after a certain “unhelpful article” about the Colvins distancing themselves from the biopic came out six months before production began.
“There’s nothing fraudulent about what we did,” Pike tells EW over the phone from London. “I think that’s a huge credit to [director] Matthew [Heineman]. I think we captured it as nearly you can — the truth — without it being an actual documentary.”
Pike can be seen playing Colvin in EW’s exclusive first look photo of A Private War, which also sees Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey) as Colvin’s journalistic comrade in arms, photographer Paul Conroy.
Partly based on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article, “Marie Colvin’s Private War,” the film tags along with a woman who, as Pike describes, “went to the uncomfortable places of the earth when other people were going in the opposite direction and spoke the truth about them.” Colvin was both physically and psychologically scarred by the things she saw abroad. But in the face of PTSD and the eye patch she was forced to wear after a grenade attack in Sri Lanka, the crusader felt compelled to see them so that others wouldn’t have to.
“There’s a word that people often use with courageous people, that they’re fearless, and I think it’s interesting because she had fear and did what she did anyway,” Pike explains. “It’s feeling your fear and then having the courage to put one foot in front of the other no matter how afraid you are, to carry on doing what you believe in. I’m interested in the cost of life choices. What is the cost of living any kind of extreme conviction, vision, passion? Anything that pushes your life beyond what most of your peers are experiencing. What is the cost of the fractured life that you necessarily lead?”
Pike wanted to give Heineman, known for Cartel Land and City of Ghosts, “as close an experience as he had with his docs.” In other words, “a Marie he could film at all times, whether I knew he was filming or not.” Without access to Colvin’s diaries, the actress spoke with friends and colleagues, viewed Barbara Kopple’s Bearing Witness (about five female war correspondents, including Colvin), and researched “completely candid” “pieces of footage” shared with her by the real Conroy, who was present on set. Pike decided to remain “in character as much as [she] could” to replicate that documentary feel — even, she recalls, while sitting by her laptop or smoking cigarettes.
Heineman then unearthed the real stories of the extras who were filming with them on set in Jordan. Pike recalls an “incredibly difficult” scene to film that involves Colvin’s final interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper about a dying child in 2012. “That man who plays the father of the boy, he is someone who has had a child shot off his shoulders in Homs,” Pike reveals. “I think, by and large, every time you see grief in the movie it’s real and that’s what gives the film the integrity and the fierceness that it has,” she adds.
That’s why it was so important for her and Heineman to earn the family’s trust: they “fought to find the truth for her and about her” in the film.
“It was very profound to be able to share it with them, having known that they did not trust the project, but who would?” Pike says. “The memory is very raw and recent, and I think they feel the sister they knew was captured. So that’s all I can ask for really.”
A Private War will open in limited release this Nov. 2.