Paging “Top Gear.” Who would have guessed that tall, stately and “posh” British actress Rosamund Pike is a bit of a “petrol head,” as they say in the UK?
It’s the sort of thing that comes up when you switch the conversation from her new film, “Barney’s Version,” to her next film, tentatively titled “Johnny English Reborn.” Sharing the screen with British funnyman and Aston Martin freak Rowan Atkinson brings it out.
“I took my first paycheck and spent the whole lot of a car.
“I am SUCH a car person, a petrol head. I have my old ‘70s Citroen, NOT the “deux chevaux,” the 2CV. A Citroen DS, almost exactly like the one you see in ‘Barney’s Version.’ Of course, I have to have a much newer car, too. Something more reliable.
Is it true that you didn’t have a TV when you were growing up?
We didn’t have one. We certainly didn’t have a video player.
Why did you want to act?
I saw a lot of operas from backstage and watched a lot of rehearsals – my parents were singers. It was seeing all the drama, close up.
Is there a character in literature that you would like to play?
I’d like to do Nicole Diver in F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, if that ever gets made.
Did you worry about being typecast after playing a Bond girl in Die Another Day?
That character was so different from me – probably the furthest from me of any character I have played. I was a shaggy student coming out of a gap year. At the time of being cast, I couldn’t have looked less like Miranda Frost. I had never even seen a Bond film.
The actress Rosamund Pike – British, blond and effortlessly chic in skinny black trousers and a blue-black jacket – cooly contemplates the tines of a fork. “Look at all the little teeth marks,” she muses before ordering lunch at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown. “Think of all the mouths that have bitten into it. Do you see that?”
“No, no, no it’s fine,” Pike says, her voice a creamy purr. “I was just sort of commenting on the life of a fork.”
With any other actor on the publicity trail, it would be easy to dismiss the episode as carefully calculated eccentricity. But Pike’s inquiry into the existential implications of cutlery aptly illustrates the spirit of alertness and curiosity that has often made her the best thing about every movie she’s in.
Since making her big-screen debut as a Bond Girl in 2002′s “Die Another Day,” Pike – who just turned 32 a few days ago – has become something of a best-kept secret among discerning viewers. General audiences may not know her name, but they may well have found themselves captivated by her un-showy but indelible supporting performances in “The Libertine,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Fracture,” “An Education” and, more recently, “Made in Dagenham.”
In “Barney’s Version,” which opened Friday, Pike once again finds herself in a supporting role, albeit a juicy one. The film, based on Mordechai Richler’s novel, stars Paul Giamatti as the title character, a Montreal TV producer who becomes obsessed with the woman of his dreams at the reception of his own wedding (to another woman). Pike plays Miriam, the object of Barney’s passion, who eventually succumbs to his dogged pursuit. Donning an auburn wig and wire-frame glasses, Pike breathes welcome warmth and life into Miriam, a paragon of wisdom, self-possession and inaccessible sex appeal.
Film: My favourite cinema is the Arclight Hollywood. I saw a double bill there recently: Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’, followed by ‘The Fighter’. I found ‘Somewhere’ slight in comparison. But I’d stayed at the Chateau Marmont and I was curious to see ‘Somewhere’. I’d always thought it would be fun to capture that hotel, as it holds a special place in my LA life. ‘Blue Valentine’ was very painful to watch and it doesn’t change your life. ‘The King’s Speech’ lets you right in. The director told a true and simple story, very beautifully.
Theatre: I saw ‘Hamlet’ at the National with Rory Kinnear. We were at university together and then we acted together in the BBC’s ‘Women in Love’. I thought he was a brilliant Hamlet. When I saw Ben Whishaw I thought nobody could do it as well again – but he did it in spades.
Television: I’ve just been on a road trip in America and when I stopped at a motel, I’d watch late-night chat shows with Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel.
Books: I’m loving ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen. I love his observations. The middle-aged woman in the first chapter is not the person we thought she was when the story travels back in time. No one is ever who they’d like to be in their head.
Music: It’s unlike me but I went to a thrash-metal concert performed by Omega Crom in LA. I got beer thrown at me and there was a lot of head banging. I also saw Roger Waters do ‘The Wall’, live at the Staples Centre in LA.
Visual Arts: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt at the Neue Galerie in New York. It focuses on the artist’s “character heads”. The 18th-century Austrian sculptor spent part of his life looking in the mirror pulling funny faces, turning ideas of classical sculpture on its head.
The 31-year-old actress – who appears alongside the Hollywood legend in ‘Barney’s Version’ – found the star’s playful attitude irritating, as she would find it hard to concentrate when he was around.
She explained: “We only had one important scene together, and he was so annoying!
“Paul Giamatti and I were having our wedding day, and we were doing our big kiss, and Dustin would be like, ‘C’mon, that’s not a kiss. Ooh, now Paul, that’s more like it! Ah-ha, now she’s kissing you back big time! Giving you a stiffie, is it?’ All this stuff.”
However, the ‘An Education’ star confessed she was too scared to reprimand the actor because of his legendary status.
Rosamund added: “He’s completely un-shy. He’ll say things like, ‘Rosamund, which part of your body do you like least?’ just before you do a take. And if it was anyone else you’d say, ‘Oh f**k off’, but it’s Dustin Hoffman, and you realise that he’s suddenly got you to wear a mournful face when it’s supposed to be the happiest day of your life.
“You sort of marvel at how he got you into this different place.”
Sexism is not confined to football commentary boxes. Rosamund Pike, the former Bond girl, complains that she was recently turned down for a leading role because she was not flirtatious enough.
“I auditioned for a job recently, and didn’t get it,” says the actress, speaking at the launch of the Birds Eye View Film Festival. “Word came back that they were looking for ‘a flirty piece of ass’.
“Now, I do not want, and have never wanted, to be a flirty piece of ass, but when told I was not one, I found myself quite offended. I was thrust right back on the most primeval battlefield, the loser at the mating game.
“The point that sex appeal is not the level at which I want to compete was lost on me, momentarily.”
Pike, 32, appeared in the film Made in Dagenham, about women workers’ fight for equal pay. She adds of Hollywood power brokers: “The irony is that a good director needs to be really feminine.
“I mean, look at those fellas out there, with their long hair, – they’re real posers, some of them – natty dress sense and sensitive sides.
“They’re all so busy cleverly accessing their feminine sides that we don’t realise that they’re taking up all the space and pushing into the wings those people who really are feminine.”