Rosamund Pike Takes on Another Complicated Character as Marie Curie in ‘Radioactive’

The British actress talks science, curating her career, and burying awards in the backyard

When Rosamund Pike pops onto a Zoom call with wet hair and no makeup, it’s a bit of a shock. She has the crisp accent one would expect from an Oxford-educated Brit, but she’s also delightfully warm, candid, and unself-conscious. The 41-year-old first made a name for herself playing a predictably beautiful Bond girl in 2002’s Die Another Day and a swinging ’60s sexpot in 2009’s An Education. She’s gone on to portray a series of bold, complicated, unpredictable women, including the titular Gone Girl (2014), war correspondent Marie Colvin in A Private War (2018), and, now, Nobel-winning chemist Marie Curie in Radioactive, premiering July 24 on Amazon Prime Video. Here, she talks to Los Angeles from Prague, where she moved last fall with her family—longtime partner Robie Uniacke and their sons, Solo, 8, and Atom, 5—to shoot the Amazon fantasy epic The Wheel of Time.

You’ve been playing these complex women, many of them brittle, bristling. Why would an actress who’s been described as “one of the great beauties of all time” choose those?

When I was a teenager, it was my friends whom the boys liked. I blossomed later, at 18. I’d never identified as beautiful. And when that happened, I thought, “Oh, God, I don’t necessarily even want this.” It’s never been my mojo, not what I’ve traded on. I value personality—in my friends, in my roles. I don’t have any precious fear around my looks. Like everything else, it’s a phase. It will pass. I’m primarily interested in people. Women have had to trade and compete with each other on youth and looks. It pits women against each other and doesn’t get anyone anywhere, does it? I bought a book recently called The Rise of the Unruly Woman. An interviewer in Paris asked me, “Why, after all Marie Curie’s success, was she such a bitch?” Ha! Being nice wouldn’t have gotten her anywhere. She trusted her own brain, was happy to own her intelligence. I find that entirely charming.

And you’re very much the genre jumper, aren’t you?

When you’re younger, people always ask about your choices. I’ve always laughed: “My choices? I’m just taking what I’m offered.” In recent years there’s been a progression post-Gone Girl. That character, Amy Dunne, [ran the] whole gamut: cozy friend, fun-loving cool girl, smart and sophisticated. After that, floodgates opened—it was full permission to let out the crazy—and I’ve had a lot of fun playing antiheroines. I’ve attempted not [to] be typecast—to play with multiple shades. I’d still love to do something else with the commercial clout of Gone Girl—a film with huge buzz that adults want to go to a movie theater for. But, alas, my tastes are not always commercial.

rosamund pike

Dave J. Hogan/Getty Images

In Radioactive, you toy with beakers, mix chemicals, and speak in scientific jargon. Did you take a crash course?

There’s the school of thought for actors that if you look completely neutral, people will project any thought on you. But I needed to have an idea of her mind. A chemistry teacher came to my house after my kids went to sleep. It wasn’t just studying chemistry—it was about the turn of the century. Electricity was just discovered, X-rays. That’s the first time anybody had seen inside the human body. Curie’s work was also about the phenomenon of what you can’t see with the human eye.

We’re in this anti-science moment in the world, but have you noticed since the pandemic, all one reads about is science?

Doing home school for my kids, I suddenly watch a lot of science on Nat Geo Kids. Everyone’s learning about this virus, grappling with ideas they haven’t thought about. I think our film shows [that] with a scientific discovery comes great responsibility. When I read the Radioactive script, I thought it was a punk-rock version of science. Marie Curie was a rebel. To me it felt right that [director Marjane Satrapi] put in flash-forwards of the atom bomb going off in Hiroshima, of the radioactive meltdown of Chernobyl. I didn’t want to make a commercial biopic of this woman: I wanted a rock and roll look at science.

The movie starts with Curie at the end of her life. How did you react to the old-lady makeup?

It was like a plastic surgeon doing everything no one wants: deepening your furrows, giving you smile lines, jowls; my teeth were aged.

If you could have made any scientific discovery in the past, what would it have been?

Hmmmm. DNA—to find the code of life and realize how it works.

For last year’s Stephen Frears Sundance series, State of the Union, you did a deep dive into how marriage and relationships work. What was that like?

Chris O’Dowd and I had a great time playing a couple analyzing their relationship. Nick Hornby’s scripts are very clever. He gets the absurdity of relationships, but Nick’s humor is never mean-spirited. The piece is so personal. I think all good drama has to be personal really.

You won an Emmy for it—then missed getting it!

I’d gone to Toronto to screen Radioactive, which seemed more pressing. I landed back in Prague to the news I’d won an Emmy. Then it was held in customs, described as “bronze statue.” I replied, “I didn’t order anything like that.” Now it’s downstairs. Some of the awards I’ve won we buried in the garden in London. I thought it would be funny if someone buys the house and some day digs them up—I just don’t think you can have them displayed in your house. Sometimes there’s a bit of them sticking up out of the soil. But the Emmy’s so beautiful, I couldn’t do that.

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