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It often seems that if an English actress is of fair complexion and delicate features, and possesses a plummy accent, she is destined for roles that demand an “English rose” — mostly marked by tightly corseted flights through weepy period pieces and the occasional bumbling turn in a romantic comedy. Rosamund Pike, despite boasting all the required attributes — as well as an incredibly apt name and, earlier this week at the Crosby Hotel, a requisite pot of Earl Grey tea — dispels that demure ideal within five minutes of conversation.
“Well, you know, there are no small parts,” Pike says before emphatically slapping the table with an open hand and grinning. “Said the tart to the vicar!”
There is an undeniable appeal to a formally trained and invariably polite actress who does not let an opportunity for a dirty joke slip her by. Cineplex viewers may still be most familiar with Pike for her star-making turn as Bond girl-cum-villainess Miranda Frost in 2002’s “Die Another Day” (“I’ve still got my sword at home, the one I nearly skewered Halle Berry with!”), but in recent years she’s honed her craft in somewhat smaller films. She played opposite Johnny Depp in “The Libertine” and Keira Knightley in “Pride and Prejudice,” and stole nearly every scene she was in as the dim-yet-devious Helen in 2009’s “An Education.”
Her latest film, “Barney’s Version,” a cinematic adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s novel of the same name, opens in limited release today. Pike plays Miriam, the idealized soulmate of Paul Giamatti’s abrasive (though secretly sweet) Barney.
“Miriam is a wonderful character, based on a real woman [Florence Richler] whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Pike explains. “Of course we don’t see her flaws, because it’s Barney’s version of events. I thought people were going to be irritated by her, because she’s so perfect, but I’ve been surprised by this huge amount of men who’ve said, ‘Miriam is the ideal woman.’ She’s not obviously flirtatious or sexy or any of the things we’re taught that women should be to attract men. She’s just forgiving, endlessly forgiving.”
Pike continues: “It’s about adults, love, the chaos of life both well and badly lived. It’s about someone [Barney] who lives irrepressibly and at this crazy frenetic level. I love characters like that. I love people who don’t give a damn about what anybody thinks.”
Dustin Hoffman, who plays Barney’s father, memorably offered Pike some off-camera advice.
“Dustin and I didn’t get a lot of face time, except one bit of very close face time, where he stared into my eyes incredibly closely until we both started crying and said, ‘That’s intimacy,’ and sort of walked off,” she says. “But he’s right! Working with Paul [Giamatti], we were able to be really intimate, and it’s not about touching or sex scenes, it’s about the ability to look someone ‘for real’ in the face. Really looking at someone and being able to see their soul.”
Pike has several upcoming projects, among them a British-produced romp with Rowan Atkinson that winks at the 007 franchise by reimagining the British secret service re-fashioned into an aggressively politically correct organization.
“The sort of agents along James Bond’s worst nightmare,” she smiles, aware of the irony of starring in a film that pokes fun at her first big-budget picture.
Does Pike see a relocation Stateside in her future, along with the inevitable push for bigger projects and subsequent full-fledged stardom?
“I’ve probably been a bit naïve with my career,” she says. “I wasn’t ambitious enough in my early 20s, or I felt it was rather sort of unseemly to go out there and present myself. I was worried about it. You do a Bond film and you’re known by everybody but respected by very few. I didn’t want to put myself out there until I knew people really wanted to see me. Now seems a good time to take it to the next level. I’ve seen people rise and fall, even just in the past eight years. I’ve seen people shoot up and disappear. I’m in it for the long haul.”