MENTION THE NAME Rosamund Pike and the cliches start flying: Ice Queen, English Rose, Thinking Man’s Crumpet. With her striking combination of blonde hair, that delicious accent and a degree in English literature from Oxford, it’s not hard to see why many reach for ready-made labels. But they’re missing the point.
As Pike arrives at The Delaunay restaurant in London, she greets me with a warm smile and apologises for being all of five minutes late. In her chunky grey jumper worn with a black skirt over tights, the former Bond girl makes no waves with her entrance. Once seated, she scans the menu before opting for an Earl Grey with a bowl of muesli. A quarter of an hour passes before I even think of consulting my notes, so deftly and charmingly has Pike steered the conversation; asking questions, chatting about her bus journey here and discussing her script-in-progress.
When the subject moves on to fashion, I ask if she’s managed to catch the Valentino retrospective over at Somerset House. It becomes clear that neither of us has, despite our best intentions. “I’ll go with you,” she suggests readily. Then, as if afraid of sounding presumptuous, she turns it into a question, “Should we go?” Yes. Yes, yes, always yes. It’s rare that an interviewee’s schedule allows for spontaneous excursions – and besides, the prospect of visiting an exhibition with a cultured companion such as Pike is never to be refused.
Once inside, Pike wanders around with the leisurely pace of the seasoned museumgoer. Pointing out a white linen day dress from the ’60s, she sighs, “I could wear that every day.” There’s a moment on our way out, when Pike is halted by the sight of Princess Marie-Chantal’s wedding dress. The gown, with its lace veil, four-and-a-half-metre-long train and delicate butterflies, elicits such a heartfelt response that I feel as if I’m intruding on a personal moment. “I’m actually feeling quite emotional…” Pike says, surprised.
A self-confessed “total Londoner”, Pike was born in the city on January 28, 1979. The only child of a violinist mother and an opera-singer father, she has often remarked how natural the call of performing was for her. It was during her time with a National Youth Theatre production of Romeo and Juliet that she was first scouted and signed by an agent, leading to appearances in various BBC costume dramas. Continuing her studies at Oxford alongside her burgeoning career, she successfully graduated with a good degree.
Having bypassed the need for drama school, Pike went on to hone her craft on the set of Die Another Day playing the chilly, double agent Miranda Frost (and becoming the first Oxbridge Bond girl). Her reticence – due to nerves – during the ensuing press tour did little to shake the public perception of her as cool and aloof.
Since then, an eclectic mix of films including Pride & Prejudice, Made In Dagenham and Wrath of the Titans has kept her well away from being typecast, but it’s her comedic talent – as showcased in An Education and Johnny English Reborn – that most surprised audiences. “I’m into surprising people,” she notes wryly.
Indeed, none were more surprised than the cast and crew of her latest blockbuster, Jack Reacher, when she revealed during filming that she was pregnant. Pike has since spoken of how Tom Cruise, her co-star and producer, became her staunch “protector”, insisting on her not being replaced. In May 2012, she gave birth to her first child, a baby boy named Solo.
Let’s talk about Jack Reacher. Had you read the Lee Child novels beforehand?
No, not before accepting the role. I didn’t know anything about him, apart from his name. I had a great conversation with Christopher McQuarrie [the film’s director] on Skype – it was really instinctive and humorous. I teased him afterwards, after we’d had a long discussion about Helen, [the character I play], I said, “Well, it’s been really interesting, and I’ve got a lot of interest in this character, but you do realise that I’m actually the costume designer [laughs]!” You know, taking the piss out of him, that he’d thought he’d been interviewing a prospective actress but I was pretending I’d been interviewing for the job of the costume designer.
So we had quite an amusing conversation. It turned out that he’d actually just done that with someone else, done a whole interview with someone who was interviewing for something else! Not an actor, but a head of department…
What attracted you to the character of Helen?
We wanted to do something different with the role of the lawyer. We’re so used to seeing lawyers on top of their game and lawyers that are somehow quite steely and in control. What’s interesting is when someone is out of their depth, or feel that they’ve actually got something to lose. You never really feel a lawyer’s got anything to lose, unless they’re corrupt.
What was the biggest surprise about working with Tom Cruise?
The whole thing is so surprising because he’s so well known. I’ve grown up watching all his films, and that shock was absolute; suddenly seeing him close up in front of me. It was very arresting. It’s also surprising – as with everything in this business – how quickly all that stuff becomes normal. It also kept surprising me when we were on the press tour, what a gentleman he is. I’d be in high heels coming down some steps, and suddenly someone would offer a hand. I turn around and it’s Tom. We were actually travelling on his aircraft to some of our premieres, and seeing Tom Cruise serve everyone dinner on his airplane is quite an extraordinary sight. Most handsome air steward you’ve ever had in your life!
Do you follow a fitness regime, or is looking after a baby enough?
It’s amazing looking after a baby. He’s nine months old and I don’t have a buggy, so I carry him in a harness. It’s like doing that training thing, where they make people run with a rucksack on. I do yoga as well, which is completely brilliant. I think unless you understand, it seems like a cop-out. I had a wonderful teacher and I suddenly realised that everything is connected – it was like switching on a light in my head. You can stand in one position and be drawing energy up into every part of your body. There’s no doubt about it, we’re energetic beings.
How does it feel that in every description of you, there will inevitably be the words “Bond girl”?
When I’m doing a chat show and somebody says, “Now we have Bond girl Rosamund Pike,” I think, “Really? That was 10 years ago.” Of course, a Bond film is seen by something like a sixth of the world. So if it’s mentioned, I’m thrilled; it launched my career. But it’s not who I am, and I don’t think it defines me as an actress at all.
The public does seem to have transplanted Miranda Frost’s personality onto your own.
I think that’s changing now, don’t you?
Definitely with your more comedic roles. Speaking of which, can you tell me more about your new comedy, The World’s End, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost?
Yes, I hope it will be fantastic. It was just so great to work with those guys – can you imagine what it was like on set? A lot of them had a background in stand-up, so suddenly something would start a riff going and we were pissing ourselves constantly. We made up stupid songs, we formed a band; it was like having a bunch of brothers who took the piss out of me mercilessly. I loved it. I also loved working with Edgar Wright – he’s a visionary. He’s a writer/director who sees the world in his own unique way, and to have the privilege to work with someone like that…it’s amazing. If you really want to knock the ladylikeness out of Miranda Frost, put her in The World’s End and make her sink a few pints!
So we can dispense with the “Ice Queen” label once and for all?
My hope is that one day, when people really start to know who I am, by doing more and more interviews, then they’ll see that Miranda Frost was actually a really good acting role! She’s pretty different to who I am. I think people assume because of the history of Bond films, that the Bond girls are cast to almost be themselves.
You’ve done a wide range of genres: sci-fi, thrillers and costume dramas, to name but a few. Are there any genres you wouldn’t consider?
No, though I’m not massively into pure genre pieces. I don’t think I would do another videogame movie – that was an experience. I don’t think I understood the business well enough to know what that meant; I didn’t really get it. I’m quite naive when it comes to popular culture. I grew up without a television – I still don’t have a television – so occasionally I notice my gap [of knowledge].
Like when people talk about Breaking Bad?
Yeah, I haven’t seen Breaking Bad, but I have worked with Aaron Paul [on A Long Way Down]. He’s a really interesting guy and a really good actor. I think Breaking Bad is something I must order and watch. I just ordered Girls from Amazon; I got an email saying it’s coming today.
Do you spend most of your free time reading or watching movies?
I watch movies religiously, but at the moment I aspire to spend more time reading. It’s insane really, to try and describe my life. There are so many facets to it. When I commit to something, I commit so wholeheartedly that [tremendous] layers of research and thought go into it. For instance, I had the privilege of being invited to the Dior Couture show in Paris, but I don’t just take it and ride on the Eurostar. I look into Dior, because my brain starts to go, and I end up spending a day researching Dior. So I aspire to read a novel, but I think, “When do I have the time to do that?” Just last night, I was literally planning to start reading the new novel I’ve got in my bag [Gill Hornby’s The Hive] and then my agent rang up with a script they wanted me to read. I mean, it’s great, but that’s what happens, something always comes knocking.
Do you have a favourite author?
I really love writers from the [American] South. One of my favourite books is To Kill A Mockingbird. I also love Carson McCullers. It’s funny, so many American authors I really get into: Richard Yates, who wrote Revolutionary Road. I would also read everything that Ian McEwan writes. Nabokov, I love Nabokov. But the things I go back to all the time would be those American authors.
Why do you think that is?
I think it’s the imagination, and the imaginative life of America. Reading should be a way of understanding your own life through identification with characters, and I suppose it’s the fact that America is one step removed, so I find it easier to make the imaginative leap and then bring it back to home. Maybe reading stuff that’s close to home is too uncomfortable.
How important is fashion in your day-to-day life?
I think feeling dressed, feeling ready to face the world – I’m all for that. It’s nice to make an effort for those around you. One night I came down in a red dress, and my baby beamed because of the bright colour. I have some beautiful things, and I’m now in the state of mind of, “Why not wear them?” rather than save them for best. Instead of thinking, “I’m at home so I should be in jeans”, why not put on a dress? I’m quite lucky because my boyfriend hates jeans. Fashion can be so much fun. I think it can be in the detail. [For example, today] I chose this handbag [Loewe Amazona with neon handles] because I wanted a flash of neon with this monochrome look. Also, I’ve got the most amazing access to clothes that most people don’t get the access to. I mean, even for this shoot, the Dolce & Gabbana couture pieces were so inspiring.
Who are your favourite designers?
I do really love all the French fashion houses. I love Azzedine Alaïa, he’s a master of what he does. I love his clothes, I love his shoes. I had the privilege of meeting him, and he’s amazing. I’m currently the face of a British high-street brand, LK Bennett. I believe in affordable luxury, their quality is unbelievable – and it’s not at a ridiculous price. It’s been fun to take a collection that people might have one perception of, and to make it modern and current. My hope is that people will see the adverts and think, “Oh, what’s that?” and be surprised it’s LK Bennett. I’ll never say yes to [a project] unless I am passionate about it.
What would be your one piece of fashion advice?
I think the fact that fashion’s become so affordable has made me go the other way. The fact that you can go into Topshop and get a whole new look for under £50, it’s made me want to wear the same things [I already have] in a way that makes them look different. I’d love to have a uniform of a few key pieces that could be switched in and out. You never want your wardrobe to feel like a pressure, like you can’t face it because it’s so chaotic. You want to be able to look at your wardrobe and think, “I want to wear these clothes.”
Is it true you speak fluent French and German?
It’s not, no. My French is OK. When I was in Paris last week, I made a mental note to improve it. My other half is learning Mandarin. He speaks to our baby only in Mandarin. We have Chinese radio on all the time, so I’m sort of learning a few words just by default – it is funny how it goes in. Qingwa. Frog. Tuzi. Rabbit. Mao. Cat. Ni kan mao? Can you see the cat? I mean this is stuff I’ve literally picked up through listening to them. Feichang hao wawa! Wawa is “doll”, but it also means baby so we call him wawa, which always makes me think of that George Harrison song, “Wah-Wah” [laughs]!
You’re writing a screenplay as well. How do you manage it all?
There’s no creativity without discipline, as they say. You need a routine. [Last year] I had a burglary, I moved house and I had a baby, so it’s just trying to find that clear head space that you need to write. It’s a total learning curve. It’s not something I profess to be any good at. I think I’m good with words, I love words, and I’m interested in how things sound in the mouth. But structure and story…I’m learning on the job really.
Do you see yourself acting in your script?
I think the producers do, yes. But it’s really a chance to create a few good roles for women. I wanted to write a film that you would want to watch. I’m sure you have the same experience, when the [nominations are announced for] the Academy Awards or the BAFTAs, there’s the ones you know you ought to watch, and there’s the ones you actually want to watch. I suppose I want to make something that’s quite easy watching – a comfort movie, in a way. It’s not really my pedigree; people probably expect it to be really cerebral. But it’ll be something British, and basically warm-hearted.
PHOTOGRAPHY / SARAH DUNN
CREATIVE DIRECTION AND STYLING / PARIS LIBBY
PRODUCTION / SHAHRZAD MOAVEN
MAKE-UP / RUTH WARRIOR
HAIR / HALLEY BRISKER
STYLING / GABBY GOWER
DIGITAL TECHNICIAN / MATT WASH
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS / GUY IS HERWOOD, WILL GRUNDY
LOCATION / RUBY HOUSE, LONDON