Rosamund Pike plays the villainous Marla Grayson in the new Netflix film “I Care a Lot.” The role just earned the actress her third Golden Globe nomination and her first victory on Sunday night.
Pike recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Riley Chow about what she thinks of her character, what brought her back to playing a character like Amy Dunne in “Gone Girl” and what projects she has coming up. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: There are a lot of films about anti-heroes, but “I Care a Lot” really stood out for me because I found myself actively rooting against the main character. I find that usually in these movies, you still kind of want to see how far they go but I feel like this one disturbed me on a deeper level. I think maybe the only other example of something like that for me has been “Vice,” the Dick Cheney biopic. So I’m wondering if you had a similar response.
Rosamund Pike: I still found myself appalled by Marla, but yet, found her utterly compelling. I think sometimes there’s escapism in watching someone be very, very bad and knowing that they can’t actually touch you. But you can, I wouldn’t say enjoy their bad behavior, because in this case, Marla is making a victim of one of the most vulnerable sectors of society, which is the elderly, and that is shocking and disturbing whichever way you cut it, but nonetheless, as nobody else in the film is really any more decent, we soon discover, J Blakeson‘s been quite clever in that he hasn’t really given you anyone else to root for. So I don’t know, who did you end up rooting for, Riley?
GD: I guess Peter Dinklage, actually. I mean, he’s bad, but at least I feel like I know he’s bad, whereas your character is a bit more insidious, I think.
RP: I see. So you don’t like the fact that you could’ve been duped by Marla.
RP: That probably says more about you than Marla. I’m interested in that (laughs). I think it is disturbing when somebody is good at playing, and I think some of the most interesting villains are villains who can act because it’s very unsettling when you see somebody you know to be ruthless and cold-hearted suddenly pull off a very convincing act of being reasonable and sweet and pretty affable, and I think that’s what Marla does when she goes to the door of Jennifer Peterson, played by Dianne Wiest. She’s plausible in her role and sympathetic and seemingly empathetic, which she’s not, but I think it’s always unsettling when you see somebody be very adept with the tools of the trade as far as an actor goes. I have fun playing female characters who enjoy playing different roles themselves within a story, especially something like this with this tone, which is ironic and satirical. There’s no part of this film that’s really allowing you to go as deep as a sort of serious drama made about this subject would go. Our author, writer-director, J, what motivated the writing of the film was deep shock and horror at the fact that this can go on in America, in the America that we know today, this fraudulent pretense at being a legal guardian. And yet, he thought, “If I make a serious film where the hero or the heroine is the victim, it’ll be so upsetting. No one will want to watch it. And in fact, probably my best bet at getting an audience and getting awareness for this subject matter is to make a dark comedy.”
GD: You’ve said that you and J Blakeson watched a number of films to kind of deduce where the line is between an awful character that you still root for and an awful character that kind of loses the audience. You’ve named “To Die For,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Last Seduction.” So I’m wondering what you can tell us about what you learned in your analysis.
RP: Well, one of the things that I came to realize is that you can’t really have it both ways. In order for a character to remain fun to watch in their badness, you’ve got to never try to have a moment where you ask an audience to deeply empathize with that character. As soon as you try and get emotional or try and cut the other way and beg some kind of deep understanding from the audience, I think you lose them. I think we sort of teeter on that brink for a minute. We toy with that idea, and when Marla’s wife, Fran, we see her filled with panic at the thought that Fran has been killed, and then we see the aftermath of that and what has happened to Fran, which is upsetting, you almost cross over a line where Marla is suddenly asking for sympathy, which an audience is never going to give her. And then she pulls back from that and is immediately, even though Fran has been a victim of her plot as well, she keeps on going. She’s not going to give up, and I think it’s something to do with that. If you want a character who’s bad, they’ve gotta stay bad. They can’t suddenly ask for your empathy as well as asking for your attention on a fun and dastardly ride. That’s my theory. I don’t know what you think of that.
GD: That’s good. The film makes the point a few times to talk about how men underestimate women and the relevant power dynamics there. Can you talk about how gender informs your character and story overall?
RP: Funny enough, before we did the interview, I was thinking about that idea of I wondered if you were going to talk about whether Marla was a bitch. It’s a very easy sort of comment and criticism to lob at an unlikable female character and I think of Marla’s own line when she says, “You can’t convince a woman to do what you want while you call her a bitch and threatened to kill her.” And then she says, “Do you know how many times in my life a threat has actually turned into something?” And she says two. I imagine Marla is the kind of woman who’s been threatened a lot. So I think J very deftly plants those kinds of ideas and J is very quietly defiant on gender stereotypes in himself, in his writing, in his characters. I mean, he doesn’t make a meal of it and he’s never going to hammer it over the head and that’s why I really enjoy his writing and I enjoy the story of this film. I mean, similarly, Marla is in a queer relationship, but that’s not made a meal of either. That’s just a fact planted in as casually as we’ve seen 100 cis relationships, straight relationships planted into movies over the years without any introduction or need for explanation.
Traditionally in casting, if there’s been a character who’s just called the director or the doctor or the detective, traditionally, it’s been assumed that those characters are male and I think any time J wrote a character like that, he had a sort of knowing understanding of his own mind that those characters would all be women. Hence we’ve got Alicia Witt. We’ve got [Celeste Oliva], who plays the detective. Obviously, we’ve got the wonderful Isiah Whitlock Jr. as the judge. But he’s just quietly confident in his gender politics, J Blakeson, and you just think, “Oh, thank goodness.” Nothing is handled with a kind of sledgehammer. It’s just inserted and understood. He plays happily with the fact that a woman can tower over a man sometimes, like I do over Macon Blair in that first scene after the courtroom. A lot of the onscreen relationship of man and woman is turned on its head as well. I mean, we’re going into deeper territory here, but yeah.
GD: I wanted to ask about the vaping. I saw another interview where you said that your character has a backstory as vape shop owner. Was that in the film?
RP: No, you’re not the only person to miss it, it was something that J and I talked about and it’s important for me to know why Marla is like she is. She’s not born like that. I don’t believe anyone is. I think we all have the capacity to behave badly if circumstance and the upbringing and what life’s fallout means for you, engenders in you. So I needed to know that Marla was a very particular type of person who has tried to play fair in her time. I imagine she had this vape shop, a kind of boutique, pretty cool, bespoke vape shop, and then she was Walmarted out of business when a massive discount vaping store opened across the street. Marla is the kind of woman who, just like she says when she has a go at Jennifer Peterson, her mind is bringing guns into a care home. She’s like, “You don’t do that. If you want to beat me, you come at me fair and square.” So she felt that that was just not fair play, for someone to challenge a small upcoming business, which is supposedly the icon of the American dream. It just wasn’t playing fair.
I think she has the kind of pride to say, “You can’t do that to me, and fine, I’ve tried it now, I’ve tried to play fair and square, and now, sod it, I’m going to play as dirty as I can. I’m going to play dirty like all the rest of you fuckers,” is what she thinks. And so we get this extraordinary business idea that is only possible because the American system is set up for people like Marla to win and that’s why we get this. You’re watching this kind of crime thriller where the main criminal is not actually breaking the law. I mean, she’s cleverly bending it and she’s cleverly having her meaning willfully misunderstood in her favor. But she’s not actually breaking the law.
GD: This role strikes me as the closest that we’ve come to seeing you kind of do “Gone Girl” again. I feel like you’ve played more serious, heroic characters in recent years. So why are we seeing this performance from you six years later instead of, say, two?
RP: I think I’ve always been someone who, it’s always about change. It’s always about exploring new parts of oneself as an actor. I think it’s always about seeing what character will push you, will reveal more. I feel that acting is a process of revelation, revelation to an audience and self-revelation. You learn more, you grow, you’ve got more to give, you’re pushed into a zone that’s uncomfortable, something surprising happens. I think since “Gone Girl,” I’ve had some extraordinary roles and when Marla came along, I just thought, “I just really want to do this. I want to be bad. I want to say these speeches.”
I feel she’s like a scrappy street fighter dressed up in designer clothes. She’s not quite like Amy Dunne because she hasn’t got that privilege that Amy had. She has the trappings of it now, but that’s not where she’s from. Whereas Amy is a sort of type A super-planner, Marla is a much more of a think on your feet, hence the way she comes back after a very near defeat. It’s interesting, I was thinking about that scene in “Gone Girl” when Amy gets mugged by the two kids in the Ozarks and Amy Dunne, with all her self-centeredness and egotism, can’t bear that anybody has not only done that, but has done that to her. She can’t bear that, whereas Marla will see someone who’s ready to fight her and she’s like, “Game on. I kind of respect.” She sort of respects the act of someone coming at her with such a good plan. So she’s going to come back at him with an equally good one.
But there’s emotional fallout from playing these very big lives of people like Marie Curie and Marie Colvin and they linger with you a long time after the end of shooting and the end of the life cycle of the film. These are people with trauma and life experience and damage and it all lingers, and sometimes, you’ve got to get back into fiction. You have to. You’ve got to tread the fictional line and have that freedom that comes with a fictional character. And also, I think people have an appetite for it. Amy did strike a chord with many, many people, and it was very exciting to be part of that, and if Marla appeals in a similar way, it can’t be the same, but if Marla appeals in a similar way, then that’s exciting to me.
GD: Finally, I wanted to ask about your move into producing. Right now you’re in the Czech Republic making “Wheel of Time,” that you’re also starring in. I understand you’re also producing and you’re also attached to “The Three-Body Problem.” Can you speak to moving into that arena?
RP: Do you know “The Three-Body Problem’?
GD: I haven’t read the book or anything.
RP: It’s a trilogy. “The Three-Body Problem” is a science fiction trilogy by Liu Cixin, who’s a brilliant Chinese science fiction writer and we’re very, very excited to have partnered with David Benioff and Dan Weiss and Netflix to bring something which I think is really totally extraordinary and totally unlike anything we’ve seen, because it’s a story that originates in China and I think it’s about time that we took our attention to China in terms of the stories that that culture has to tell. I mean, it’s a totally different culture, and therefore, the stories have a sort of exhilarating quality that feels new and feels disarming and alarming and very exciting. That’s not a vehicle for me and not a book that I fell in love with and wanted to produce because I thought, “This is great for me.” It’s just a book that I fundamentally believe needed to have a life on screen with very brilliant minds attached.
“The Wheel of Time,” again, it’s another genre that I just don’t know, fantasy, and it felt like an exciting opportunity and I thought, “If I’m going to be here for a long time, then I want to be involved in a very deep way. I want to understand all the elements of this and contribute, contribute more than just as an actress.” It’s a real interest in other things. I’m looking for other books and most of them, funnily enough, are not vehicles for me. It’s just a love of literature, which is another of my passions and I suppose a chance to be involved with stories that I never otherwise would be.
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