Interview: Rosamund Pike on how she picks movie roles and new movie 'Radioactive'

Interview: Rosamund Pike on how she picks movie roles and new movie 'Radioactive'

Rosamund Pike has delivered another phenomenal performance in her latest feature, 'Radioactive'. The biopic sees the Oscar nominee play the ground-breaking scientist Marie Curie. Rosamund Pike plays opposite Sam Riley in the feature, who plays the love of Marie's life, Pierre Curie.

'Radioactive' is a different kind of movie, not the straightforward adaptation you'd expect. We discuss this as well as other draws for Pike to the feature.

The actress also reflects on how she has played other real-life figures, such as war photographer Marie Colvin in 'A Private War' and Ruth Williams in 'A United Kingdom', of late. Pike also talks of being attracted to characters with "courage" and considers her career overall.

Read our interview with Rosamund Pike below or listen to it on The Filum Show podcast.


What I was really surprised about with 'Radioactive' was that it was not like your straight-up biopic. It was very stylised, almost quite artistic. I was wondering if for you, was that part of the draw to the movie, that it is quite different and unexpected?

Rosamund:Yeah, I mean I have no interest in doing a conventional biopic because in a way, lives, however interesting, don't always lend themselves to drama. A life, however amazing it is, often doesn't have narrative structure. And you couldn't make a film about Marie Curie that was conventional because there was nothing about her that was conventional, in the least. So this seemed to make sense to me.

This was like an explosion of someone's brain, that's what it felt like to me, like the movie kind of takes this big brain and blasts it apart and of course it jumps forward to things she could never have experienced because that's how her mind works. It was always forward-thinking, and it seems that in the whole sort of being or DNA of the movie, it had at its core the energy and force that was Marie Curie. So yeah it was definitely a draw, and a higher risk, to be sure, but then I don't really play it safe.


What was the biggest thing that surprised you to learn about Marie Curie over the course of making the movie?

Rosamund:Oh I mean, everything, so many things. I didn't know that she had won two Nobel Prizes. I didn't know that her and Pierre Curie had a daughter who also won a Nobel Prize. I mean, she thrilled me. She was like a rock star.

She was so hard-working, which I think is such an inspiring trait, especially in this day and age where everyone thinks that fame and fortune should somehow come easily. She put in hours and hours of labour into her discoveries, hard, manual work and obviously the brain work too.

Rosamund Pike in Radioactive

I didn't know that she had this tremendous tragedy, I didn't know that she was such a passionate person, that love she felt for Pierre Curie, I think it's one of the most beautiful marriages I've ever depicted onscreen, for my money, the coming together of these two beautiful minds who were both incredibly intelligent.

Marie Curie was odd. She was not an easy person to know, she was very direct, she had no filter, and here was a man who found that charming and endearing and he totally understood her. And then I think to have this complete, perfect soul match, and then also to change the world together, I find that just so intoxicating, to make a discovery that rocked the whole 20th century together. I think their marriage was something very, very precious.


I loved seeing the various facets to Marie Curie's personality, and you capture them so beautifully - her genius; her creativity; she was also a very stubborn woman, she had a bad temper; but she also had this deep, deep love for her husband and children. Then later I think that you capture her heartache and her grief so beautifully. Did you find this to be one of your most challenging projects, because there's a lot going on there?

Rosamund:I found it challenging because I felt her very deeply. You know, there was a point very early on when we were doing the Nobel Prize speech that she gave after her second Nobel Prize win - the first time, she didn't go, obviously, and Pierre went alone - and then, when she went after he died, the way that the script's written, it's almost like she sees him there, with her.

And I was doing that speech and suddenly I was completely overcome with emotion that I of course had to bury because I was her and I had to hold it together as she would have done. And I thought, excuse my French, 'f**k me, this is powerful, she's here. I feel like she's here.'

And Sam [Riley] was there too because originally that was conceived that she sort of felt Pierre over her shoulder and then we cut that. And we looked at each other and we thought, 'My God.' This is only on day two of filming and we thought of this connection between these people, and how these people are very real. You know sometimes you feel that the people you're playing that their energy, their essence is very present, and I really felt that on this job.

I know I'm wandering into dangerous, I don't know, what's the word, arty farty territory or something, but it doesn't feel like that. Sometimes you're telling these powerful lives and the energy that's kind of contained in that life and in that story sort of erupts all around you while you're telling the story, and I felt that. And so I've lived and breathed and felt her pain and difficulties and loneliness and obsession very deeply making the film.

I suppose that's a challenge because it's all consuming. For those months I thought more about Marie Curie and her hopes and fears and wants and desires than I did about any of my own life.  I think that's what acting can be. It can be like this very sort of deep meditation on another person's life, to the point that your life is less vivid to you, during that time, when you're making the film.


Recently, between 'A United Kingdom' and 'A Private War' (in which you play another Marie, Marie Colvin), you've chosen to play these highly influential, larger than life, real-life figures. Has that been a conscious career decision or did it just work out that way?

Rosamund:I was definitely drawn to those big lives because I think I'm drawn to courage almost more than anything, as a human trait. I think my characters are linked by their courage, if I was to sort of look back. I don't realise I'm doing that, but when I look back and try and evaluate why these women have all come into my life, that's the unifying theme: courage.

Rosamund Pike in A Private War

But it comes with a cost, you know. You believe so totally in these people, you feel a tremendous responsibility when someone really lived to embody them truthfully and honestly. It takes its toll emotionally because when you feel things very deeply, I think the mind knows you're playing a part but I don't think the body doesn't always. And I think the body experiences pain, like when I did that scene of Marie Curie's grief over Pierre's body. I mean Marjane Satrapi [the director] gave me a hug and said 'You're completely soaked to the skin. Your whole body is soaked.' And I didn't really know what she was talking about, but clearly some reaction had happened in the body.

So on a cellular level I think your body often doesn't realise it's not real. It's never that your mind thinks 'Oh I'm somebody else.' But you're asking your body to produce a chemical reaction, aren't you? You're asking it to feel anger or love or fury or grief or whatever. And I think it responds with chemicals. There you go, we're back to chemistry again, talking of a great scientist! [laughs] I don't know if any of this is true, of course, I've never had it proved. But it's what I've come to believe after years of doing it.


Looking at your career and the roles you've taken so far, you've covered an incredible range of genre - comedy, period dramas, biopics, action - across theatre, film and television. You spoke a bit there about how courage links all your roles..?

Rosamund:Well, in recent years. I'm not saying that, you know, my character in 'Johnny English' was bound by that. [laughs] I think one can get very pompous very easily saying that but recently I have made some good choices. I'm not saying I always have.

I think it's a bit of a myth - as a young actor, you're often flustered, when people ask your choices. I'm like 'what are you talking about, my choices? I'm just lucky to be offered a job and I'll take every one I'm offered!' But no, recently I have been making choices, and of course, you have to do comedy. It's vital, it's part of entertainment. When I got to do 'Save the Union' with Chris O'Dowd, that was so essential, like some essential life force that needed to be responded to. You've gotta laugh, you've got to be funny at some point.


'Radioactive' is available to buy on demand from Amazon, iTunes, and other on demand platforms now.