It’s 10 p.m. in London, and Rosamund Pike has just roasted a chicken, finished the washing up, folded the laundry and tended to a wee sick one. Now she sits for a moment in her kitchen, spent but happy, her four-day-old baby son snoozing in his basket beside her.
The setting may be calm and pastoral, in keeping with Pike’s new life, but it’s sharply at odds with the actor we now know her to be. This year she delivered a career-making performance as Amy Dunne, the stunningly beautiful, dangerously secretive and cynically vicious wife in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” who can both swan her way into her husband Nick’s heart and slice the life out of a lover with fatally poor judgment.
It’s an undeniably exciting turn from the 35-year-old properly British actress who was previously known for buttoned-up roles in “An Education,” “Made in Dagenham” or P”ride & Prejudice,” along with the occasional action moment in “Jack Reacher.”
No one, it seemed, knew she had Amy Dunne inside her. No one, that is, except director David Fincher and the actress herself. Pike shared her most intimate thoughts about creating the role, watching the conversation the film has started over marriage as well as how she shot that bloody murder scene.
Do you agree that this is a career-changing role?
Rosamund Pike: That would be the idea. It felt like being seen for the first time, really. Fincher can do that. He looks and he sees and he doesn’t see what anyone wants him to see, or what anyone is trying to put forward. He X-rays someone, he goes beyond. I still find it slightly unfathomable that he should zone in on me for this part. I knew I had it in me. I knew there was greater range and depth and craziness than anyone has tapped before, or chosen to look for. But the fact that David Fincher—whose films I’ve seen all of—has seen beyond the carapace of these characters I’ve been offered in the past, seen there’s something wilder in there, was so extraordinary.
How did it come about?
RP: I was filming up in Glasgow, doing a lovely British comedy called “Outnumbered.” I play the mother. Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin make the series, and they use improvised techniques to bring out surreal conversations with age four-plus children. I’d rented a cottage in the middle of the woods, 10 minutes down a bumpy road to get there. I was really isolated. And I remember these pixilated Skype calls with David and suddenly realizing that it wasn’t just a job interview, that he was seriously considering me for this.
What was he saying?
RP: It was the way we were talking. I remember saying to him, “I suddenly realize that you know I have this role in me. I’m not sure how you know that. But I do. I do get it. I’m not Amy Dunne. But I can understand where her heart beats, her character build, however dark and troubled it is, I can decode somehow. I can understand.”
It’s funny. I don’t know. I think all the unknowability that was evidenced in my roles to date was useful to him. I’ve never played a lead. You’re always getting a glimpse of a character, but never a full picture. You don’t get a chance to put something more nuanced on screen. When you’re trying to sell the movie about a man whose wife has disappeared and was murdered, everyone would believe that I would sign up to do a David Fincher movie and be killed. David is very aware of that. You cast Ben Affleck and then you cast someone with a healthy career playing smaller roles. It’s the male protagonist and the woman who gets bumped off. It’s what Hitchcock did when he cast Janet Leigh in “Psycho” — you think, ‘He’s not going to kill her,’ and then he did.
Were you auditioning via Skype?
RP: Not at that point. I’m reading the book in a book club of two. I’d get an email: “How far along are you? Do you want to chat?” He could monitor my experience of the book and I wanted to get on the phone as well.
Then he invited you to dinner?
RP: He said, “Meet me in St. Louis.”So I flew to St. Louis to meet him for dinner—an 8,000-mile trip for dinner. I didn’t tell anyone I’d gone. Didn’t tell my agents. I was sitting at the airport ready to fly when I got my first email from him [directly]. I thought, “Fuck me, this is serious.” I’m a risk-taker. I like gambling with things like that. I had to put quite a lot of money on the line for that.
What did you discuss over dinner?
RP: Everything. Personality, dating, marriage, relationships. We talked for five hours. Who are the people who surprise you, unsettle you? The kind of woman Amy would be. Carolyn Bessette Kennedy as a golden-couple model. He shared with me that he was talking to Ben Affleck, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry. I was interested in Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. I thought, Who is this woman? There are so many images of her but so little in her own voice. You see her animated, attractive, you see candid pictures in blistering rows with her husband in Central Park. You see her hunted by the photographers behind that veil of hair. But there’s always that sense that you didn’t really know her. That’s what he wanted from Amy. People talk about that first scene. Some people have uneasily said, ‘This is what a Fincher rom-com would look like.’ He didn’t let it breathe in a romantic, giddy, sexy way. It was always that unsettling thing. Yes, a couple flirting, yes they’ll have sex, but the sense that Amy is testing him from the beginning.
Did you like being Amy Dunne?
RP: She’s not a nice person to be inside for a long time. There’s never a moment where she lets herself just be. She’s always analyzing her own performance and everyone else’s in every moment. Her parents raised her to be a narcissist, because they gave her an alter ego, a fictional twin. If that’s not a recipe for insecurity… it gives her really low self esteem coupled with a tremendous sense of entitlement and power—and this is what creates a monster. She has this sense of power that she hasn’t earned.
Talk about the sex and murder scene.
RP: David is deliciously shocking sometimes. After I did the murder scene, I said, “Is that alright? Did I cover Neil’s cock?” He said, “Yes, you were like a little bloody codpiece.”
It was one of most phenomenal two days — everyone was stretched. The precision of it — all credit to David for seeing all the potential problems.
RP: Such as, you’re going to create a bloodbath. You have to reset pristine sheets like in a five-star hotel. We had to have a system in place: Get out without dripping on things. One bed wheeled out and another wheeled in, Neil and I had to have showers….
How many times?
RP: Various bits we had to reset and rewind. We could double up on some footage. There was a point in the middle of the struggle where we’d pause, we’d get out bed and we’d be bloodied more than what was done by the prosthetics.
What was the emotional impact of doing that, especially more than once?
RP: Luckily Neil is one of the most delightful people to work with. So often in very violent sexual scenes, the woman is the one being tortured and terrorized and abused. I have been in that situation, where you know it’s acting, you know it’s not real and by the end of it, I’ve been in tears. Your skin gets stretched so thin at some point that, as much as your brain knows it isn’t real, the body thinks it’s being attacked, and responds accordingly. It’s an interesting part of acting, where the body overrides the brain, and the body thinks it is real. So having experienced that with being the violated one in a sexual scene, it’s different being the aggressor.
Because Amy is not someone who is overpowered by rage. She is driven by the rage she’s had since she was a little girl. When you’re playing Amy it’s not like you’re unleashing something really animal. Everything is worked out in advance. So when you’re playing it, it gives you a buffer, because she’s so clinical. In the case of that scene it’s more horrific for me to watch it than to do it. Because it’s the sociopathic brain you’re living inside. David and I worked out this thing, she’d practice to see if she could conjure an emotional response: “My first love. Can I produce real tears?” Check. Being inside the sociopathic brain, it’s not pleasant, but it’s different than being inside someone who sees red in a moment.
Do you to have empathy for her to play her?
RP: You have to understand her. People have said even at the point where she’s on the run people feel for her and want her to win. At the point of the murder of Neil, people do lose her.
This is quite a cynical view of marriage, do you agree?
RP: We all found it chillingly funny in its way. The narcissistic projection onto a lover is a feature of our culture. The idea of the golden couple, it’s not enough to be involved with each other, you have to present an image the outside world will reflect back on you as a couple. Are you the cool couple, the golden couple, the happiest couple?
The debates in psychology journals have been very interesting. The “irrelationship,” the relationship as performance. The other partner as an audience member. If they’re not appreciating the performance enough, it lets the whole charade down. You’re not being an authentic self. If you can’t keep up the performance, Nick stops responding.
Do you have an opinion about marriage, since you have decided against it in your own life? (Pike is coupled but not married with mathematician Robie Uniacke).
RP: I do value marriage. When I see good marriages I think they’re really inspiring. In Amy and Nick’s case, they’ve fallen in love with the version of themselves that the other person projects back. She says, “The only time you’ve ever liked yourself is when you were trying to be someone that I would like.” That’s a killer argument because it’s true. It’s a long night’s journey into decay is the takeaway from the film. It’s a chilling vision, and then children are brought in as a weapon, which is awful. I am interested in the marriage thing, but I’m also interested in how the marriage for Amy creates the story that trumps her parents’ fiction. While she’s on the run, she realizes the potential for repentant Nick and Amazing Amy is better than her parents’ version of Amazing Amy.
Do you have the sense that the movie has the cultural power of movies like “Fatal Attraction” or “Basic Instinct?”
RP: That has been the thrilling part—to be part of something that has entered the cultural conversation. I realize that might never happen again in my career, a movie that hits the pulse. It’s exciting. To see people flock into the theater. You say, THIS is what it should be about. I’ve had people stop me in the street and say they’ve seen it three or four times. People stop and try to decode the ending with me. It’s an ongoing conversation. There’s been a lot of cheap chat that it will end in 1,000 divorces to people who see it.
Does this movie have a sequel?
RP: Easily it could. I don’t think it could be a sequel of the next five days. You’d have to go forward five or ten years.
Are you prepared to play Amy Dunne again?
RP: Oh yeah. It’s an extraordinary moment I’ve had with this film, it may never come again. I’ve been on the other side. It’s why I can enjoy it so much. I’ve experienced all of it. It comes down to that David gave me an amazing opportunity.