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Question: Hi Rosamund.
Answer: Hi Sam.
Q: Thank you for doing this.
A: You are welcome.
Q: I saw A Private War just the other day, and this film blew me away, and I also think it lives up to the experience of what it is like to be a journalist— the caustic whit and the laissez-faire attitude towards certain grooming habits [laughs]. Things like that. I was curious if you hung around a lot of journalists in the lead-up to doing this film?
A: Actually, there’s this amazing bar in London called The Frontline Club, which is where a lot of the war correspondents and journalists hang out. That’s where I first met Paul Conroy, who was the photographer with Marie Colvin when she died. So, I met Paul there, and it was this wonderful evening. It was drinking whiskey. It was sharing stories. It was him giving me the Marie that he knew, which included footage. He had his laptop there, and he showed me a video of the first night they ever met. In the video, she was doing this riff on the fact that she walked into the visa office and all the foreign correspondents were dutifully waiting in line to get their visa to cross the border into Iraq. And she just couldn’t believe that everyone was just following protocol like that. She was like, “What has happened to my generation of war correspondents? What are they doing?” She was like, “My god, don’t drink the tea.”
Q: [Laughs] When you’re in that type of situation, are you just a sponge? Or are you just trying to live it? Or maybe you have your student hat on?
A: Well, I had a read-through of another film the next morning, and I was like, “Oh, I’m so torn. Do I go home and get a good night’s sleep, so I’m ready and fresh for this job, because I’m meeting everyone for the first time? But then, maybe, I’m never going to meet Paul again. Maybe, this is my one chance to kind of have a few whiskeys with him and talk like this. You know, maybe I’m never going to get to see this footage again.” So, I stayed. I was like, “Come on, I’m going to play Marie Colvin by the end of the year. This is the only way.” And you are soaking it up, because the whole process is you don’t know if you’re going to get the trust with that person. You don’t know if you’re going to meet them again. This could be your only opportunity. I think that’s what Marie felt at all times, so you extract the most. You seize every moment, and as I’m always reminding myself, you don’t look back on your life and remember the nights that you got a lot of sleep.
Q: That is a good point, and that’ll be my excuse the next time I don’t get a lot of sleep. But I think Marie Colvin is a special brand of human being, because she did seem to seize the moment more than most people. And I wonder if when you’re starting out to take a roll on like this and playing a real person, do you start with trying to figure how you’re like her?
A: I think there were things that I related to very strongly. There was a detail about when she first got married, all her wedding presents, the gifts were still wrapped up in their wrapping paper in the cupboard under her stairs. And there was something about that. I sort of saw the whole woman in that detail, because I thought, okay, this is a not being quite able to get round to real life and the practicalities. It’s like, maybe, you can’t see that you deserve that sort of domesticity, or there’s a sort of security and safety in a healthy relationship that somehow she felt she could never quite own. That’s how I interpreted it anyway.
Q: Could you relate to that?
A: I think so. I think I’m not very good at all the kind of practicalities of life. You know, certainly, she struggled to kind of keep her receipts in order and keep track of her paperwork, and I am completely like that. But then, the ferocity with which she commits to something. I think I have a sort of all or nothing approach. I think I’m sometimes slow to commit. I’m not always the most immediate to make a decision or to become close friends with someone. But once you’ve got me, you’ve got all of me. I don’t have any… there’s nothing I’m holding back, and I think that’s similar. But for me, this film was a real exercise in getting myself the hell out of the way. We had Matthew Heineman who was a documentary maker. Like yourself. And his job is to spend the time and gain the trust of people. Follow them, observe them, find a level of intimacy. Give us the privilege of a point as an observer where you almost feel that maybe, you shouldn’t be in the room at a certain moment. I didn’t think, “Okay, this is going to be a version of Marie sort of transmitted through me.” I really wanted to get myself out of the picture and embody her. I sort of embarked on it with this idea that I wanted to sort of shed myself and my thoughts and deliver her to a documentary maker.
Q: Well, that’s an interesting point, because I think, especially considering the fact, that this is Matthew Heineman’s first narrative. I think the big difference is that a narrative filmmaker creates a world, and a documentary filmmaker captures a world. It’s a probably a big distinction when it comes to the process of how you want to collect the story.
A: Nice image.
Q: Was there any worry that he would be able to tell when you were acting versus when you were feeling it?
A: Well, I think that’s a good question. I mean I think that’s always my touchstone. I’m sort of pathologically unable to pretend emotion when I’m onscreen. I admire people would can do it, and I sort of can get very…you know, the deep fear, of course, is you’re asking everything to collide in a moment to make a moment real, and the fear is always that it won’t happen.
Q: It won’t show up.
A: And it won’t show up. But you can’t, I have no trick to recruit it. I have no trick to pretend it, so you know, there are scenes in this film where, perhaps, right before the take that’s actually in the film, I’ve gone to Matt and said, “I can’t find it. I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like a fraud. I don’t know who I am.” And I think, particularly, as you say, because he’s used to observing real moments, and you think what is the place of performance in a film like this where I must say that he is, in part, creating worlds, and in part, capturing worlds, and the blend is extraordinary, because the people who populate our movie are Syrian, Syrian refugees for whom this is their very recent lived memory. And there was a scene that we do in a clinic where we…a makeshift clinic, you know— they had no hospitals, very few medical supplies. Marie did a famous broadcast, which with Anderson Cooper on CNN, and she showed this footage of this young baby dying of a gunshot wound. It was very shocking and upsetting, but we recreated that footage. And the man who was playing the father was a Syrian man from Homs who had his nephew shot off of his shoulders at a protest rally, and the child had bled to death. So, he saw our baby, our young child on the bed, and he’d come in as the father, and as the doctor actor said, “There’s nothing we can do,” this grief welled up in this man, and the whole atmosphere was electric. It was so painful…and you know, Matt’s experience with documentary making— he could hold it. But I thought, “How do I occupy the same room as this level of felt lived grief? There is no place for pretend in a room where that is happening.” You know, I thought, “Who am I here? I don’t know whether I have a right to be in this room with this.”
Q: Even making the film, you felt that way?
A: Yes. You know, I’m here witnessing this, because this is what Marie would have done, but I’m not Marie. And yet, so where do I put these feelings? And Matt said to me, “You’re just experiencing what documentary makers experience all the time, which is that your human instinct is to walk away and give someone space, and yet, your obligation as a filmmaker is to keep watching, keep listening, keep the camera rolling.” And I thought, “I can’t fake any feeling in this movie.” Because I felt like I got out of the way of it, and I felt total trust in Matt and in Bob Richardson, the cameraman, I just let stuff happen and trusted that it would be right.
Q: Tell me about that, because it would seem like trust would be a huge factor in getting up and going to work each day and feeling like you know what movie you’re in. You know, like you would just have to go, these are the people that I’ve put my trust into their hands. And I guess I was curious, when you give over to that, if you discover that something happens on a different level?
A: It’s not a giving over one time. It’s a constant tussle, I find. It’s not a…it’s a trust that has to be won and re-won again and again, I think. It’s interesting that you say, there’s a lot of talk about trust in our business, and I think this movie’s really shown me what it means is, because I think Matt looks really deep. He’s very penetrating in his gaze, which might be a characteristic of documentary makers—they are looking to occupy a place of intimacy with their subjects that’s uncomfortable. There’s a way he gets inside Marie’s head in this film, and sometimes there are snapshot images from other parts of her life. There are moments of trauma. There’s a scene which comes as flashes, and it seems to be her in the middle of a panic attack in her house in London, and we see bits of that at other moments of the film. Then, there’s one point where it plays out in full, and a panic attack is not something I’ve experienced. You know, this was Marie unhinged, alone in her darkest place. This is the woman who lived so brightly, who was incredibly funny, life of the party. But the flip-side is when it all goes quiet, and it was vodka, or it was cigarettes. It was the curtains drawn. Matt said, “Okay, we’re going to go into her room. This is the space.” He said, “You do whatever you want.” And he sort of locked the cameras off—it was very vulnerable making. You don’t know what the hell is going to come out. This is not a thing that’s going to take a couple of minutes. This is not scripted. This has got to be in you.
Q: So, are you able to prepare for that? Do you even want to prepare for that?
A: No, because you don’t…I almost didn’t know it was coming. He would often spring things on me, so the scene was not necessarily written like that, but he said, “This is the thing when we need to get inside Marie’s nightmare place,” and I felt this sort of dread. I thought, “Oh, my God. I can’t…you know, we’ve got to go there? Really? Now?” And he’d be like, “Yup. This is where we’re going. We’ve got all the time, but this is where we’re going.” And so, that’s what I mean about having to re-win the trust, because you know you’re going to make yourself vulnerable, and if you’re in the right place, you don’t know what the hell is going to come out.
Q: And what is the fear there?
A: Well, the fear is of total exposure. You are trying to trick your brain into getting to a place where you are out of control, and that is a scary place, because you don’t know how your body will react, you don’t know if a roar is going to come out. You don’t know if you’re going to harm yourself. I didn’t know what was going to come out. It’s an unusual way of working, and it’s not that I sort of even craving a kind of that level of intensity. It’s just that I think as an actor, you want to fulfill a director’s vision. You want to do justice by your character. There was a scene of her intense vulnerability when she reveals the eye. This is a woman who’s worn an eye patch and knows that an eye patch gives her part of her swagger. It’s a good piece of character and armor, and she knew it was working for her. But in our film, we have a moment where she reveals it to us, to the camera and to her lover at the time. And Matt really wanted this to be about Marie being truly vulnerable in front of someone and being naked, and I have never done nudity onscreen before. I’m very body shy. But I knew it was coming. We had talked about it before. And then, the day it happened, I was in tears. I was so shy, so painfully shy. And Stanley came in, because Stanley Tucci’s in that scene. But he said, “How are you?” He plays her lover at that time, and it’s revealed that he’s actually in the bath. And then, there’s this very tender moment, and it’s not even sexual. It’s really about pure acceptance— her sort of accepting herself at that point of her life as an older woman. And Stanley just kisses the broken eye, and it’s a very tender moment. But you know, me, Rosamund, felt very shy and vulnerable.
Q: I imagine that’s really hard. I remember the moment of that in the screening of just thinking like I am not watching a narrative film at all. Like I’m not supposed to be in this bathroom with these people. You realize this woman has given her life over to her passion, and there’s a cost to that. And I wonder if that came up for you in doing this, in having to look at your own life and how you spend your time and what the cost is of diving that far into what you love and the price that Marie paid for it and the price that anyone who loves something very much and feels a commitment to do it. How their life can be a mess.
A: Yeah. Well, you know, we’ve been talking quite personally, and in a way that it’s quite uncommon to really delve. And it’s one aspect of the job, and I don’t know, you know, this film hasn’t come out yet. I don’t even know if it’s a novel way of working that I am still processing, as you can see. You know, is this the right way? I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way, necessarily. But boy, did Matt get me to feel things, or we tricked my brain into…obviously, I know I’m not Marie Colvin, but my body, I don’t know. I don’t know what my body thinks. There’s a sort of physiological level in which sometimes I think your body doesn’t know you’re pretending. I really don’t.
Q: Tell me about that, because I was also I was struck by your work in Hostiles, and I feel like that was a similar thing where the trauma you were playing is so great, and the way you describe your work is, so you have to go someplace pretty uncomfortable and dark to get there. And I do wonder about that?
A: Who does that for a job?
A: I mean… you know, you do. And you don’t want…you know, nor do we want to think gosh, you know, you’re some sort of intensity junkie. I’m not. I’m longing for the light, you know. I really am.
Q: Well, you’re picking the wrong projects.
A: [Laughs] I know. You know, and I think it’s that it’s the shadow to the light.
Q: There are lots of animated films you could lend your voice to.
A: You know, I’m doing a bit of that. I’m also playing Moominmamma in the…do you know the Moomin’s?
Q: No, I don’t but…
A: Okay, the Moomin’s are a…
Q: Do they lose their whole family when they’re murdered by Native Americans?
A: They do not lose their family. They’re these wonderful hippo-like creatures that are very cozy and have very domestic concerns. So, I have outlets. But I think, originally, what I was so drawn to in Marie is the way this woman burnt so brightly. Of course, that’s what you’re drawn to, and yet, when you delve and explore, you have to see where the shadow lies, where the flip-side is. It’s the pitch of intensity, isn’t it? And then while you’re absorbed in her, your life is also living at that pitch of intensity. And Hostiles too. It was an exercise. I’ve been trying to, I suppose, explore things more physically. I’ve never been a particularly athletic person. I always viewed myself as the person who’s quite bad at physical things. That was kind of a clownish persona, and I realize as an adult that I’m not as bad as I thought, and you know, if you play a role long enough, you believe that’s who you are. So, I’ve been enjoying rediscovering the physical.
Q: That’s so interesting. Well, tell me about that a little bit, because one of the things that struck me about your upbringing is that you’re an only child.
A: Sure. Weirdo.
Q: And I mostly grew up in a neighborhood with a bunch of people who had siblings. And there was only one kid on the block who was an only child, and he was different.
Q: And it wasn’t that we didn’t like him or anything. We liked him just fine, and but when you went to play at his house, it was different. And reading about you and your upbringing a little bit, I thought your parents were opera singers, right? So, first off, I get the sense that you were carted around with them while they did their thing up to a certain point, and then, they dropped you off at boarding school.
A: As an only child, you become, you sort of feel your place in the family very strongly. We never had very much money. My parents still live in the student flat they rented when they were at their old college of music together. Opera singing, it’s a tough life, and it’s full of kind of…
Q: All of your glasses are breaking…
A: It’s very expensive.
A: And I was often backstage. And it was incredibly exciting. And then, I…yeah, and then, I got a scholarship to go to this boarding school which sort of just seemed like the right thing to do as part of my kind of I don’t know, my contribution to the family. And my mom said, “You might be the misfit. There’s going to be people there who’ve got a lot more money than us and you. You won’t have the clothes that they have, and you won’t have the things and just be prepared.” And so, I went there, and I was a bit of a fish out of water, but then, I’ve always felt a little bit like your friend on the block. You feel a bit of the outsider or the alien or something. But then, you are.
Q: I’m curious about that.
A: I was sort of different. I felt different. My parents didn’t do what their parents did. I remember when they came, my mom came to perform one time in Bristol, where my school was which is a city in England for those people who don’t know. Then I was backstage, and in the interval, I was kind of wandering around and realized that like my mom was the entertainment for my friend’s parents, and I thought that was pretty cool, really. But I was always craving adult bigger feelings. Something bigger. I departed in my mind into some future life where things were complicated and fascinating and intricate. And I was always away in my imagination with that, and I functioned, and I went through my lessons and all the rest of it, but it wasn’t really where my heart was.
Q: So, did you know at an early age that that’s what you wanted to do?
A: Yes, 100%.
Q: And without question.
A: Oh, without question, yeah, because it was like diving into somewhere where you actually felt alive. It was paradoxically like, “This is where things feel real.”
Q: And were you naturally a performer? Like extravert?
A: Even now—it’s okay sitting here in the room, but if I think about anyone watching this, I’d get very nervous, but I’m focusing on just you and me chatting. But sometimes people ask me to do a speech. They think I’ll be quite good at it, and I hate it. It fills me with such painful fear.
Q: Well, there’s your panic attack research.
Q: It makes me wonder what it is you love most about what you do, because I think people do get into this for very different reasons. I guess is it the ability to live somebody else’s life?
A: It’s finding truth. I get to live other people’s lives, and if you’re lucky, you get to convey something meaningful, and you get to live intensely. But I don’t think it’s like I’m running away from myself. I think it’s just that I find other people more interesting. I was thinking…I’ve been waiting for this opportunity, I think, all my acting life. I’ve often watched performances and been like, “Oh, there I am. Oh dear, I see myself.” So, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity, which I realize, only in speaking to you right now, that’s what I’ve been looking for is, because what really interests me, is what we’ve just talked about, is intense meditation on somebody else and disappearing into that person. But you know, in other roles I’ve done, that’s not been possible, or it’s not been what’s required. And sometimes you realize, you’ve been cast, actually, because they want you, which is not the idea for me at all. I want to be a channel. You want to have the mystery, don’t you? And that’s why, I don’t really like to question it too much. There was obviously some intensity, a great deal of intensity, playing Marie Colvin. People asked me, “Did you decompress at the end of day? Did you sort of do anything to…” And in truth, the answer is no. If something comes through me, I never want to interfere with its because there’s a terrible fear that it will never happen again
Q: It’s arrogant to think you can put that skin on every morning, and then, take it off at night, right?
A: Yeah, I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I have got a tremendous fear of losing the mystery or somehow I don’t know. Because it’s intangible. It’s not something that you do or plan.
Q: Are you hard on yourself?
A: Oh yeah, very much so. Yeah, very much so. But I do watch myself, because I’m always saying, “Do I believe it? Do I believe it?” It’s the same thing, as I sat as a little girl, as I sat in rehearsal rooms with my parents, I would be asking, “Do I believe that? No. Why don’t I believe that. I don’t believe that at all. Why don’t I believe that? Oh, I do believe that. Yeah, that feels real to me.”
Q: I was reading about sort of your history going through Die Another Day and the Bond girl time because that was sort of your first big break.
Q: And I think it probably doesn’t occur to a lot of people what a transformative experience that is to go in with no perceptions about your career, and then, come out and have everyone have an opinion.
A: I’d also never seen a James Bond film. It was like I told you, I was innocent. I was naïve, really. I think they think you’ve been hired to be you in that instance. And in fact, that wasn’t me at all. Miranda Frost was this terribly icy, controlled, hyper confident, rather soulless person. And you know, you’re 21, and that is the brush with which you are painted. It’s pretty horrific. But I knew what was required. Her name was Miranda Frost. She had a function to fulfill as the epitome of icy English blondness. I knew how to do that. It didn’t mean that was what I was. And yet, you’re 21, and suddenly, you’re feeling insecure, shy, and nobody sees it. And then, you say, I’m feeling shy, and they’re like, “Oh, but you look so confident.” “Yeah, I know I look confident, but I’m not!” was going through my head. You know, I’d hardly ever taken a taxi. I remember that I had just got the job and was about to go and meet my friends on the tube, and I was like, “I can take a taxi now.” That was a huge thing—a London cab.
A: Yeah. Like watching the meter go, and thinking, “I can afford that now.”
Q: But did you find out that after that experience that the roles you were offered, or the way people saw you, like it sort of put you in a place for a while, and you had to sort of like…
A: Yeah, I never got to be young, really. I never got to be like…I mean Pride & Prejudice, yes. That was the one thing, but I remember doing An Education with Carey Mulligan, who’s a friend of mine.
Q: And you were the sophisticate in that film.
A: Yes. I was, and it was such a wonderful role, and Carey was so brilliant in it. But I thought, “I wonder what it would have been like for me if I’d had the chance to be young in a movie.” Like had a movie where I got to experience all those big things the first time like that. You know, Miranda Frost sort of put me forward ten years. You see what I mean, because look, she came across seeming like she was nearer 30 than 20.
Q: And so then, that sort of becomes the brief on you when you get offered other things and…
A: Yeah. Then, I did a movie Fracture with Ryan Gosling, where I played a lawyer, and I didn’t feel like myself in that. I didn’t feel that was really what I had offer in terms of…I don’t know. Again, it was another cool, sophisticated, confident, slightly icy character.
Q: I think that one of the things that has to be so frustrating about trying to start a career in your 20’s, and even if you get some big breaks, I would think that getting the opportunity to show what you can do and to experience the thing you love to its fullest and finding roles that give you an opportunity to do that. You know what I mean?
A: Yeah, I do. And I watched my parents go through that too. You have this gift. You have this tool, but unless someone hires you to do it, there’s no outlet for that incredible talent that they had. You need to be hired to do it, and to show it. But you know, I mean goodness, you’re lucky, basically, as an actor to be working. I mean let’s not forget that. This is your career choice, and you want to make a living at what you do, right? But I think I always felt that I had more to offer on an emotional scale than I ever felt I was there to be the glamorous, sophisticated one.
Q: I think you described saying something about living the emotional life of that character, and I wonder what that actually means on a day to day basis, just this idea that is there a transformation that takes place where you sort of put Rosamund aside for that time of filming, and you give more like you’re more in that other person’s life?
A: When I jump in, I jump in totally, you know. I don’t know what it is.
Q: It sounds like that’s your joy.
A: Yeah, but then, I also… I mean I’m not living it all the time. I’m not working now, and I love playing ping pong and swimming. And I want to learn to ride a motorbike, because my other half is a big biker.
Q: You’ve come to the right place.
A: I know. Well, that’s what I’m hoping this conversation is going to end up is an invitation to come…
Q: Put you on my motorcycle…
A: Yeah. No, I really do want to learn to ride a bike, and there are other things. And I’m trying to learn to play football, because I’ve got two little boys, and I’ve never even had to negotiate a ball with my feet before. And there’s a kind of…do you know what I mean? You can dive into this level of intensity, but then, you can sort of unravel it all.
Q: But it makes me wonder if you also dive in that way in your own life.
A: I’ll give it all a go. I’m trying to learn to surf. As I say, trying to find this sort of lost athleticism that I might have had if I’d hadn’t styled myself as the one who was bad at everything. Yeah, trying to learn to skateboard with my kids, and all the things that it’s not the time. I realize that as you’re nearly 40, it’s not the time to start…
Q: I admire this.
A: Taking up all these dangerous sports.
Q: You know what…I’m an advocate for that, yes. I wanted to ask you about Gone Girl, because I was curious about if you’d had sort of accepted your trajectory of the kind of roles you were getting before that role, and if being considered by David Fincher was a surprise to you at that?
A: It was I had been craving an opportunity like that, and I certainly was not finding it with if someone had offered me something more complicated, it certainly wouldn’t be with a director of that caliber. I mean I know that your only real shot of making a decent film is if the director is superlative of a really great film, and I think a really great film is something very rare. And I didn’t know anything about David Fincher’s process. I didn’t know that…I assumed he was meeting everybody. I didn’t know that that was not how he works, and that he sort of zones in on people. And suddenly, we’re having this conversation, and I just said to him, I said, “I realize you think I’ve got this character in me, don’t you.” And I said, “I don’t know how on earth you know that.” From my work to date at that point, there was nothing that could have told him that I had all of Amy’s multi-layered complexity and deviousness. It was a sort of growing dawning that this could actually become a reality as we were talking. That somehow this was maybe mine to lose rather than mine to win.
Q: That’s got to be kind of scary at the same time as exciting, right?
A: Yeah. I mean I flew to meet him. I did this crazy thing. He was like, “Can we meet?” And at that point, I just thought I’ve got to say yes to everything. I’ve just got to kind of go with this ride and in whatever crazy form it takes. And we’d Skyped many times by this point, and he was like, “I’m in St. Louis. Can you meet me in St. Louis?” And I said, “Okay.” I was on a job. I mean I was on a job. I had a 6AM call time on Monday. I was in Glasgow in Scotland, and I had said yes to meeting him. I didn’t even tell my agents.
Q: And you were like where’s St. Louis?
A: Yeah. And I thought, okay, I have to fly to New York, and then, on to St. Louis. And there was one flight that would get me in, and it would get me back at 8:30AM on a Monday which was two hours after my call time. And I thought, I started planning in a very, probably, very Amy like fashion, a kind of, a sort of plan. And I had I decided I was going to be…I’d had a minor toothache a couple of weeks before on the job, and I was like, “Okay, that toothache is coming back in a big way.” And I’m going to have near sort of hospitalization as a result of this tooth that we didn’t catch. And I’m going to have to say that I had my young son with me at that point, and we had a nanny. And I was like okay, the nanny’s going to have to meet my driver at 6:30AM on Monday, and she’s going to have to tell him that I’m in the hospital. But he cannot go to the hospital, so she has to produce an old prescription that I have tucked away that he has to go and wait outside the pharmacy for it to open, so he cannot go to the hospital to look for me. Meanwhile, my husband’s driving to Glasgow airport to meet me off this flight. And we’ve done our research into the fact that six times out of seven in a week, that New York flight gets back to Glasgow on time. There’s one flight a week where it’s like three hours late with…and anyway, I’d had this mad night with David in St. Louis talking about Amy, and I did it.
Q: Did it worry you at all that he felt you were totally believable as a sociopath?
A: Yeah. I mean that does cross someone’s mind. I know. I mean you know, but I mean sociopaths are very clever, very attractive people.
Q: They are. They can assume many guises. That’s true.
A: You know, I mean we are drawn to… now, this conversation could take a whole other turn, and everyone will be like oh, my God, is that whole conversation some sort of deep study? Is she just a sociopath? Yeah no, but I mean come on. You know, you’re playing a sociopath in a convincing way for a number of months. I mean you think that doesn’t fuck with your brain? You’re like is this because I am a terrible person? Can I pull this off, because I am awful? I mean…
Q: Are these the questions that go through your mind?
A: Of course, it crosses your mind. Yes, it does.
Q: It doesn’t just say, “I am a great actress because…”
A: For God’s sake, no. I mean does that ever cross anyone’s mind? No, it’s like, am I a terrible person? My job is pretending, and yet, you’re convincing yourself that it’s real. And sometimes it is totally real and lived and felt, and but oh god, it’s multiple layers. But yes, boy, does that go through your head, yup. And then, sometimes, I mean I remember getting this kind of nervous energy, especially when Amy was in control of the scene, and she was being so manipulative. I knew I was doing it well, and I was like, “Being convincing in this role is such a precariously scary feeling.” It’s uncomfortable, and that’s aside from my research which involved going to a butcher on La Brea and practicing with my box cutter.
Q: Right, for the big slash.
A: For the big slash, yeah. I mean hell yeah, I went down and sawed some pig carcasses and slashed them with deep intensity, not realizing that it was one of the kind of open plan trendy new butchers. And there were people lining up for their coffees watching me slicing these hanging pig carcasses. I mean, I went in with the question of, “Could I come?” And, “I need to see how a knife passes through flesh. Would you mind if…?” It didn’t occur to me that people might think this woman is total bat-shit crazy. I mean I got a Dora the Explorer doll from CVS and taped her with gaff tape.
Q: You didn’t.
A: I did—to a stake, so I could sort of… you know, we’d rehearsed that scene where Amy murders Desi. You know, Neil Patrick Harris being set up. But for Fincher, that was the pièce de résistance of the film for him. I mean he wanted that scene to be you know something so wildly crazy that it would kind of go down in history, which I think it did. But it took tremendous precision, and that was Fincher at his kind of most masterful mode. Everything about that set, literally, a bloody bed. The wall of the set would raise. The bloody bed would go out. A clean new bed would come in. There was plastic sheeting over the floor. Neil and I would walk out covered in blood. There would be a station for hand washing and a station for body washing. Then, we’d go and have a full shower, and then, we would reset and start again. For two days straight, this revolving door of psychotic murder.
Q: For two days straight.
A: Yeah, but before that, we’d rehearsed all the moves, and I thought, “My God, there’s so much resting on this. I need to have a practice alone at home.” I couldn’t recruit somebody else, so I recruited Dora the Explorer. And you know, I tied her to a sort of six-foot stake to kind of be the size of Neil Patrick Harris. And then, I rehearsed out in the yard of the house I’d rented which I realized afterwards is overlooked by many other properties, so what people thought I was doing if they happened to be on their balcony at that time and saw me rolling around looking like…I mean goodness knows. Murdering Dora the Explorer. Oh, God.
Q: You know, hearing this, it’s, I mean…
A: You think I’m a psycho.
Q: I actually don’t. I feel like the greatest work gets done when you’re completely oblivious of what it might like look like. And you’ve just got to dive in and do it. But you describe all this, and I realize to be really good at what you do, it must mess with you.
A: Well look, I mean yeah. I mean that’s clearly pretty on the borderline of crazy, isn’t it. Yeah. I’m sure there are other things.
Q: I understand that attention to craft and wanting to slice up some pigs. I get that. I’m with you on that, yeah.
A: You know that? I mean, even when I was making Doom, which okay, I’ve now, sort of you know, probably, the nadir of my career.
Q: Well, that’s why I had you here today. We’re going to talk about Doom next. That’s hour two.
A: Anyway even then, I was playing a scientist in outer space who has to dissect monsters, and I thought, “Okay, well, this is my chance.” I was in Prague, and I went to the Prague Medical School and joined their human dissection class.
Q: You didn’t.
A: And I was so hung over, for whatever reason, on the day I had to go in there, and the kind of whiff of formaldehyde that kind of greets the embalmed bodies. And then…
Q: Real bodies?
A: Yes, but my God, is it amazing to see that and a privilege to see inside a human being. I mean it’s something very beautiful, as well as you know, obviously, people might say, “Oh God, how could you do that?” But because there was my character, Sam Grimm had to at one stage make the first incision into one of the monsters with a bone saw. I asked if I could see what bone saw actually did. So, I was given my own cadaver, who I called George. He had a large bruise on his head, I hope, from a fall. And I made the incision into his sternum. I mean now, I’m saying this to you, I realize that it is crazy, but at the time, that seemed like…
Q: You couldn’t just go get a rump roast?
A: I know. I realize it’s absurd, really.
Q: I don’t know who the director of Doom was, but I’m sure he’s now hearing this flattered…
A: For the first time.
Q: That you did the same kind of prep for Doom that you did for Gone Girl for David Fincher.
A: Absolutely. Andrzej, yeah, I hope you’re watching.
Q: That’s just what you get when you hire you.
A: Yes. What they didn’t get then was a decent American accent, which after then, I realized was going to be the thing I had to work so hard at.
Q: You are very good at an American accent.
A: Not then.
Q: Not then, well…
A: Oh God, shocking.
Q: Yeah, that was terrible.
A: It was terrible.
Q: No, I didn’t see it.
A: Yeah, it was not good.
Q: Maybe, cut a few less sternums.
A: But that was another two. I’m supposed to be the twin. In that film I was the twin of Karl Urban, right. That was the thing that set the pace with Miranda Frost. Karl Urban was ten years older than me, and I was supposed to be his twin sister. And you’re like, “Okay, I’m just destined to be ten years older than I am. And here I am now playing Marie Colvin, and I’m 57. So, I was sitting next to Keira Knightley on the flight out to Toronto, and she was like “My God, you’re playing 57.” She said, “Did you have a load of prosthetics?” I was like, “Fewer than I would have liked to be honest.”
Q: You’re like, “That’s a very rude question.”
A: No, fewer than, yeah…
Q: God, if being an actress isn’t hard enough. It’s like you now have to battle your own personal demons and learn how to use bone saws and buy Dora the Explorer. I’m sure you didn’t turn that receipt in.
A: She wasn’t that expensive.
Q: But also people think you’re older than you are.
A: Yeah. Anyway…
Q: Are you in therapy?
A: It’s paid therapy. That’s what I always say about acting is it’s kind of paid therapy, isn’t it?
Q: I don’t know. Is it something where in the end, through all of this, do you think you learn more about yourself or more about these people?
A: No. God, definitely the people. Yeah, I mean otherwise, it would be a sort of huge exercise in narcissism, which, probably, people presume it is, really. But no, definitely. No, it’s all about the sort of other people’s lives. And I, probably, may be quite a good therapist.
Q: You think so.
A: I might be, yeah.
Q: Just leave the bone saw behind.
A: Yeah, my God.
Q: Or maybe, you could put it on a rack behind you, you know.
A: Along with my sword from Die Another Day and my sword from Wrath of the Titans. Actually, you know, there was a time when I did win an award, actually, for Gone Girl.
Q: Yes, you did.
A: I won an award. I might have won a few awards, but I won the Empire Award from our British film magazine, The Empire. And I wasn’t there to accept it, so I made a sort of video speech, and I said, when I first saw, I think it was Fight Club…was it Fight Club? And I said to my agent, “God, this is something. I mean I would really want to work with this director. This is sort of totally electric.” And he said, “Well, David Fincher doesn’t hire Bond Girls.” So, then I kind went into action, and I made some very strategic choices over the next few years. Doom, Johnny English, Wrath of the Titans. I planted the seeds in his mind. I knew exactly the kind of taste he had, and bingo, ten years later, he calls.
Q: This was a ten-year motivating…
A: With all the kind of films that I felt would really speak to his taste. And you see, it worked.
Q: That must be crazy making because you have no control over that. You’re not going to say no. And it’s a great opportunity, but you have no idea the ramifications of that when you’re young, and you do that.
A: Well, it’s also like, you know, you’re asked so early on about your choices and this sort of pretentious way, and you’re just like are you kidding me? I’m just taking everything I’m offered. I was like what is this choice, this thing. Is this something we have to subscribe to, because it’s like sounds cool? I’m just like I’m lucky…I came from parents who you know were out of work many a month on end.
Q: Do you think that sort of sets your outlook pretty permanently or pretty solidly?
A: Yes now, I think I’m recalibrating. Now, the last five years or so has definitely… now, I’m making choices. I’ll sort of stand up to what I’ve done in the last five years, yeah. I come by them pretty honestly.
Q: Did you have anyone, a mentor, anyone to guide you through that process?
A: Not really. I snatched at straws, because, again, I…there were a few pieces of really great advice. There was an actress called Sheila Gish, who I worked with on an early TV series, who…there was this day that I had a scene where I didn’t have any words, and she said, “That’s the best. That’s the gift.” She said, “Because all you do is listen.” And she said, “That’s the most free you can be.” And I thought that was like a huge lesson in just one line. I was like, “Okay, it’s just all about listening, isn’t it. I get it. I see.” And yes, I understand. And I was like, it was like a switch flipped. The talking’s nothing to do with it. It’s the listening. And then, Judi Dench did a sort of on a practical level, she said, “Oh, Rosie just make sure, always go home at the end of the show.” And I took that to mean you just check in. It meant do not be seduced by the electricity of what’s just happened. And often, it’s tempting. You know, you’re riding high on adrenaline. You know, the night could get crazy. You know, you just check in with…and it was great. It’s very…I always do it.
Q: God, I think it’s fascinating hearing you talk about this, there’s a dichotomy, because on one hand, the more you talk about it, the more mysterious it becomes, how you do it. And I think that the way you talk about it, it shows what a hard art it is to lasso or to contain.
A: Well, I think it is, and I think that’s the fear of it. And I think that’s the pressure, and that’s the thing of can I do it again. And maybe, I’m never going to do. And maybe, I’m never going to do it. Maybe, I can’t do it again. And maybe, I have to give up. You’re asking feeling to come in at a specific moment that is not of your making. You never know when the scene that’s being shot before is going to end and when the lighting will be ready. How do you concentrate all your energies on that moment? That’s the great struggle and the constant learning process, really—how do you keep your mind free, able to adapt, and ready to be the sponge or whatever it is.
Q: Or you get your bone saw out.
A: Yeah. If all else fails, you get the bone saw out.
Q: You come to the director and say, “Look, I have a little idea about this scene, and I’ve prepared.”
A: [Laughs] Yeah.
Q: Thank you for sharing the absurd and the sublime with me.
A: Yes, the absurd and the sublime, there you go. I think if you lose the sight of the fact that yes, it is absurd, but yes, is it goddamn profound sometimes? You know, that’s the crazy beauty of it.
Q: Yeah. Well, you are a steward of that philosophy, and I think your work’s great. It’s been really lovely meeting you and talking to you.
A: It’s really so nice. Thank you, Sam.
Q: Thank you.