When Rosamund Pike speaks about Marie Colvin, the subject of her new movie A Private War, she looks to the corner of the room, almost wistfully, like she's speaking about a friend she admires, a friend she misses. "I wish I could’ve known her," Pike told Refinery29 at the Whitby Hotel in New York City. Colvin died in 2012 while reporting on the Assad regime's violence against its own people in Homs, Syria.
Since she didn't know Colvin, Pike became her. She morphed into Colvin's stature — literally. Pike revealed she actually shrunk a centimetre-and-a-half after contorting herself to Colvin's specific gait, posture, and idiosyncratic, cigarette-soaked rasp. More importantly, Pike began to see world through the eyes of a woman who had really seen the world — the worst of it. Colvin was a celebrated war correspondent for The Sunday Times who, again and again, would embed herself in dangerous regions so she could bear witness and make complacent folk in peaceful areas read her articles and wake up. From 1985 to her death in 2012, Colvin was relentless in adhering to her mission of truth-telling. Case in point: In 2001, she lost an eye due to a blast in Sri Lanka. She put on a patch. She went back into the field.
A Private War is an extension of Colvin's mission. The jolting, difficult film brings audiences into the field until the sounds of war are too loud to ignore. Sure, you might leave the cinema and emerge back into the cocoon of bomb-less region. But you'll remember those women wailing in shelters, the ground shaking from bomb sieges. You won't be able to turn off those images, which occur in life as well as the film. Marie wouldn't want it otherwise. "Marie’s whole credo was bringing the realities of war to a broad audience," Pike said.
We spoke to Pike about playing influential Maries (Colvin and Curie), war journalism, and the cost of being a trailblazer.
Refinery29: At what point did you know Marie's was a story you wanted to tell?
Rosamund Pike: "Right from the start. Right when I heard a film was being made and I discovered the really passionate Vanity Fair article that Marie Brenner wrote. It painted a portrait of this charismatic, courageous woman who wore La Perla underwear in war and supported younger women. Every stereotype was flouted by Marie. Was she a 'pseudo man?' Absolutely not. Was she competitive with younger women? No, absolutely not. Was she competitive for herself and ambitious? Yes, she was. Was she fearless? No. She had tremendous fear and went anyway, which is real courage. I thought, 'I want to know her.' I wish I could’ve known her. I wish I could’ve hung out and drunk a martini with her."
She was the ultimate dinner party guest.
"Totally. She was very aware of it. She thought, 'Oh God, I don’t want to be the person who enters the room, and people say, here come the stories about Beirut again.' She also had stories about Arafat and greeting Gaddafi at three in the morning when he’s wearing green silk pyjamas and lizard shoes."
Much of A Private War is devoted to exploring why Marie is compelled to put herself in danger, over and over again. After making this movie, do you feel you understand her more?
"Yes. Marie was of the mind that if you don't get as close to the narrative as you damn well can, then another reigning narrative can take control of the situation. She went into Homs [in 2012] and said, ‘This is a lie. The Assad regime is saying he's is going after terrorist gangs, but there are no terrorists here. This is a city of cold, hungry people starving and under siege.’ She wrote to a friend that it’s so anger-making it’s worth going. Of course, she also had a sense that this was something she was good at. She was unique in her ability to penetrate. She would go beyond. She entered Syria illegally without a visa. She was smuggled down a 4km storm drain. There, her life made sense in a way that it didn’t all the time at home. She had great friends and a close family, but when your reality has been so heightened in war, it can be a hard adjustment."
By bringing this movie to the public you’re furthering Marie’s mission. Do you ever feel connected with her in that regard?
"Definitely. We filmed in Jordan and were not in danger, but most of the of the background actors of our movie were people who had fled imminent danger and suffered untold tragedies in their lives of loss and heartbreak. The two women I interview in the basement where women and children are being sheltered [in the Homs, Syria scene] — one of those women tells her own story. Suddenly, there were no cameras in the room. That was one woman telling me. I think she believed, in that minute, that I was a journalist totally, and her story would go out there. And it will, because it's in the movie. I carried that with me. I can picture that right now. I can see her like it was yesterday."
You changed your voice significantly for A Private War. How did it help you get into her character? At the end of the day, was it hard to shake her off?
"Marie was such an interesting physical study. I wanted people to feel as passionately about Marie as I did, to see the passion that stokes the fire of her whole body. It’s in her gestures. It’s in her laugh. It’s in the way she handled her eyepatch. The way she walked. The way she felt like her body was almost always a coiled spring, primed for attack. The heavy smoking, the dependence on alcohol and cigarettes. It was all so part of the one thing. I thought if I did her voice and it came out of my own physicality it would be weird. It had to come out of her physicality. It had to come out of that body. That jerky, fascinating, complicated body language she developed."
Were you able to see out of the eyepatch?
"No, no. I was seeing with one eye."
When you finished shooting as Marie, did you straighten up and immediately become Rosamund again?
"No, no. It was only because I went for a medical for my next film. They measured me and wrote down 172 cm. I said, 'No, I’m 173.' She said actually, 'You’re 171 and half. I rounded it up.' I said, 'Sorry can we just check that again?'
It must’ve been uncanny for her friends to see you as Marie.
"It was a very sensitive process, getting the trust of her friends. There were times when I realised it was very upsetting for them that a film was being made about her. At one stage, I thought maybe I should give up. Maybe this is too painful for people. A couple of days later, a taxi arrived at my door with a sweater of hers and a jacket. One of her friends wrote, 'These were Marie’s. I’d like you to wear them in the film.'"
And you did?
"I totally could imagine them having something in common. They’re both outspoken. They’re both direct. Marie Colvin would've taken an intense interest in what Curie was doing — through the discovery of radioactivity, she led the way warfare to change as well as did great good medical field. I think Marie Colvin would’ve drunk Marie Curie under the table."