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Rosamund Pike - `I have James Bond to thank for my whole career`

19-Apr-2009 • Die Another Day

What is more deadly for the career of a British actress: the corset drama or the Bond film? The first is as restrictive as the garment itself, confining its players to a life of simpering under parasols and sipping tea. It is a fate that befell Helena Bonham Carter before Tim Burton cast her as an ape. The second frequently signals the death knell for any serious young actress seeking credibility, as the latest Bond girl, Gemma Arterton, might discover to her cost - reports the Sunday Herald.

Rosamund Pike had acted in both by the time she was 22. In theory then, her career could have been over before it had begun. Early television appearances saw her in the BBC's Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation Wives And Daughters in 1999, cast as the top-notch equestrian Lady Harriet, followed by a role as the impossibly nice girl Fanny in Love In A Cold Climate, based on Nancy Mitford's tale of English upper-crust life between the wars.

Then, just as those corsets were beginning to choke the life out of Pike, along came the Bond juggernaut, Die Another Day (2002), in which she starred opposite Pierce Brosnan as the Olympic fencing gold medallist Miranda Frost. "I have Bond to thank for my whole career," says Pike.
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It says something about her resolve that she turned all of these potential career dead ends to her advantage. While her female Bond co-stars were no less than Madonna and Halle Berry (whose career plummeted afterwards), it was Pike that emerged from the film with her credibility intact. Aided by the fact she sizzled in one of the sauciest bedroom scenes in the franchise's history, Pike was England's latest rose, demure and detached with a cut-glass accent and an icy reputation. This was not the real Rosamund Pike, as she is quick to stress. "I can't bear it when people make assumptions about me. I think post-Bond, people forgot I'm very girly."

Pike, though, is no prude. After Die Another Day, even while appearing in period pieces such as The Libertine, opposite Johnny Depp, she was deconstructing her English rose image on the stage. When she accepted a role in Terry Johnson's play Hitchcock Blonde - playing the woman who was Janet Leigh's body double in Psycho - she did everything from simulating orgasm to stripping down to nothing more than a pair of stiletto heels. She had fulfilled her early vow to do something as visceral as Emily Watson's performance in Breaking The Waves.

For all her bravura, you sense that Pike, now 30, is a fragile creature. During one interview, she burst into tears while recalling being cast opposite her ex-boyfriend, Simon Woods, in Joe Wright's 2005 take on Pride And Prejudice. Her private life, scrutinised by a celebrity-hungry media, has been painful to witness. In the wake of the Jane Austen film, she began dating and became engaged to Wright before he broke off the relationship suddenly last summer.

With all this behind her, Pike is looking remarkably composed today. There are no tears - only a minor trauma when she has to leave the interview early to catch a plane. "Oh, God I hate this," she says. "I end up feeling bad."

Meanwhile, curled up on a white sofa, Pike is the picture of purity, dressed in jeans and a tweed jacket, her blonde hair neatly sculpted. Her skin is flawless, her green eyes captivating and her lean figure perfectly poised - the model cover girl. She's quintessentially English in so many ways. Pike is reserved and, by her own admission, shy. As a child, she says, she was "quite serious". Yet she's remarkably self-confident - the product of being an only child, she says - with a wry sense of humour.

Pike's latest film, Fugitive Pieces, demonstrates just how far she's come since Bond. She describes it as "one of those films that if you choose to open up to it, it will get into you very deeply". Adapted by Canadian auteur Jeremy Podeswa from Anne Michaels's remarkable prose-poetry novel, it tells of Jewish boy, Jakob Beer, who manages to evade Nazi capture during the second world war, and is rescued and raised by a caring Greek archaeologist. Parallel to this is a series of flash-forwards into his troubled adulthood as the older Jakob (Stephen Dillane), now a successful author and respected teacher, wrestles with ghosts of the Holocaust.

Into this mixture comes Pike, who plays Jakob's young, high-spirited wife Alex. They meet in a music store, marry and try to build a life in Toronto. Try as Alex might to draw her insular, moody spouse out of his shell, she can't. "To live with ghosts requires solitude," she remarks, with considerable foresight, upon reading his diary. "She's so immediate, so present," says Pike, explaining what she liked about Alex. "In a film that's all about memory and the past, she's the bit that's all about the present. I liked her impulsiveness and inquisitiveness. I understood why she felt she could come in and make life happier for him, lighter for him."

According to Podeswa, who first noticed Pike in The Libertine, the actress was perfect to play Alex. "I love it that she has these two things in her," says Podeswa. "She has this ability to be really joyful and alive on screen, and unbelievably charismatic and beautiful, but also she has a kind of depth to her. And she can call on something else that's very rich." Beyond all that, she has a glacial sex appeal. "What man wouldn't want Rosamund Pike?" adds the director, grinning. Indeed, one has to wonder why Jakob stays so miserable with Alex around.

Pike has never shirked on researching her roles. For Doom, the disastrous sci-fi movie based on the computer game - one of her more bizarre choices - she took part in a post-mortem in Prague to help prepare for her role as a scientist specialising in demon biology. Before starring in the Tennessee Williams play Summer And Smoke, she went to Memphis to hang out in blues bars and juke joints in the middle of cotton fields. And for Fugitive Pieces, aside from perfecting a pitch-perfect Canadian accent, she spent a lot of time among Jewish Orthodox women.

"I had some very Jewish experiences while I was there," she says. "Robert Lantos, the film's producer took me to the festival of Purim. Do you know it? It's a festival that happens once a year where you're obliged to get drunk. The aim of it is to lose your rationality - the men anyway, not the women. It was the most extraordinary thing to be taken into this house of the rabbi and all these boys and have this evening with them when they all get drunk on whisky. It was all going well, then somebody found out I was in a Bond film." She goes on to explain that things got a bit uncomfortable as the boys seemed to find being in the presence of "a Bond girl" just too hot to handle.

Pike might never shake off the Bond girl image, but, to her credit, she has made a remarkable effort to do so. She is currently on stage in London's West End, in the Donmar production of Madame de Sade, Japanese writer Yukio Mishima's scandalous play about Renee, the devoted wife of the famously sadistic marquis. It means pairing up again with Dame Judi Dench, her co-star in Die Another Day, who here plays Renee's disapproving mother. "I just love it," Pike says of her theatre life. "I want to be in London. The roles I've done on stage are so great and I just love being a part of London's nightlife. I like being a live entertainer."

That could have something to do with her upbringing. Her parents, Julian and Caroline, were opera singers and Pike can still remember the first time she set foot on stage. Her father was performing in Monteverdi's The Coronation Of Poppea and invited his daughter to see what it was like to tread the boards. "I apparently just lay down," she says. Still, Pike now appreciates what her parents' profession instilled in her. "I remember times of anxiety, ups and downs, and times of unexpected windfalls," she says, "but my parents loved what they did. And because their work was also their hobby, it taught me work could be fulfilling."

Some of her formative years were spent on the Continent. In Italy, her father worked with the modernist composer Hans Werner Henze. Later on, she boarded at Badminton School in Bristol so her parents could travel to wherever the work was. She says she felt "totally out of place there". Her respite was the National Youth Theatre, which she joined when she was 16. Two years later she played her first lead, in Romeo And Juliet, which won her an agent. Going on to Oxford, reading English at Wadham College, Pike continued to act - initially winning a cameo in A Rather English Marriage opposite Albert Finney.

Even now, she has no compunction about whether she's playing a lead or not. "No, you just see one little thing that you want to play and you think, I'd like to play that part.' If you start thinking about the size of parts, then you're going to screw yourself really." One forthcoming example is in An Education, which has been adapted by Nick Hornby from the memoirs of renowned British journalist Lynn Barber. The film, which details the 1960s relationship between a teenage girl and a suave older gent, has already won an Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Likely to become one of the most anticipated British movies this year - well, perhaps after Slumdog Millionaire - An Education has the feelgood factor in spades. "It's one of those films that's hit the zeitgeist," says Pike. "Among a whole lot of rather ponderous films, it's something of which people can sort of think, That's just what I want - a bit of escapism.'" For Pike, it's a perfect corrective to the dreaded ice-queen tag. As the vacuous Helen, the "loveable ditz" of the story, despite being in a minor role, she's more than memorable.

So far so indie. Then, of course, there's Hollywood. Pike recently shot a Bruce Willis action movie, Surrogates, due for release later this year. The film is set in a future world where humans live in isolation and interact through robots. Her American roles, from Doom to the Anthony Hopkins thriller Fracture, have yet to set cinema screens alight, and some studio heads doubtless see her as a cut-price Kate Winslet. This aside, she admits she likes Los Angeles, using words like "crazy" and "mad" to describe it. "You get treated like a foreigner," she says, smiling. "You have an English accent and sometimes people talk to you very slowly, as if you won't understand otherwise."

She lived in the city for several months, within spitting distance of the legendary Hollywood sign. While performing in Madame de Sade she's staying in London, and could well remain in town if Mrs Darwin, a biopic in which she's been recruited to play spouse to evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin, gets off the ground. Pike makes no apologies for taking on another period movie, perhaps because she knows she's found room enough to breathe in those corsets. "I'm quite happy to see where life takes me," she says. Given her journey so far, it's no wonder.

Fugitive Pieces is released on May 29. An Education opens later in the year. Madame de Sade is at the Donmar at Wyndham's Theatre in London until May 23

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