On Wednesday night, Rosamund Pike’s latest film — A United Kingdom, directed by Amma Asante — opened the London Film Festival, with the actress starring in a powerful true story of the romance between the first president of Botswana Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and his English wife Ruth Williams. “I felt excited to put a story on the big screen of a love story between a black man and a white woman,” Pike told Women in the World founder and CEO Tina Brown in London on Thursday. Shockingly, no such story had been told since the 1967 American comedy-drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. “When I was a teenager looking for representations of love, this was not one available to me.”
The 1948 marriage between Williams and Khama, when Botswana was still a British protectorate named Bechuanaland, had deep ramifications. Khama, who had met Williams at a missionary society dance in London, had been supposed to return to assume the kingship of the Bamangwato people, after completing his time at Oxford University and subsequent legal studies, but instead returned home with a white, English bride — just as neighboring South Africa had made interracial marriage illegal under the apartheid system. Williams’s family also opposed the marriage, and the British government reacted angrily at what they saw as a threat to their regional relationships.
Asked what Pike thought motivated the headstrong Englishwoman, the actress said she believed Williams’s boldness came from her experiences during World War II, in which new opportunities had opened up for women. Williams had driven a crash ambulance at a flying field, she explained — an occupation that would have been unthinkable before the outbreak of conflict. “You see a potential for a life that’s bigger,” she said. “I felt she had a yearning for a bigger life,” ill-equipped as she was to play it out on the world stage.
After graduating from Oxford University, Pike also had a yearning for a bigger life, and with 27 films now under her belt she is living up to all her potential. Although the British actress’s Hollywood breakthrough came precociously early at 23 — as ‘Bond girl’ Miranda Frost in Die Another Day (2002) — Pike is probably best known for her role as Amy Elliott Dunne in David Fincher’s 2014 psychological thriller Gone Girl, for which she garnered her first Academy Award nomination. “As a Bond girl, you get a lot of recognition and very little respect — and that’s not a great feeling,” she told Brown.
Hollywood may have embraced Pike, but the feeling is not mutual. “I definitely couldn’t live in Hollywood,” she said, describing it as detrimental to the soul. “It eats away at you, that city.”
At the heart of its toxicity for female entertainers is the fact that “women have traditionally competed with each other on the levels of looks and youth,” she said, with ambition being considered “unpalatable.”
Under Fincher’s direction in Gone Girl, however, Pike says she finally got “the chance to be every part of being a woman,” from sweet to demonic and callous. “I was prepared to go to certain extremes — I’ve always been prepared to — but people don’t always allow you to,” she told Brown.
The outcome of taking that risk has been a slew of more interesting roles, from music videos to A United Kingdom — in which she described the chemistry of acting against Oyelowo as “completely magnetic and beautiful.”
“It’s the extremity of human experience I’m interested in exploring, and that’s coming my way,” she said.
Watch the trailer for ‘A United Kingdom,’ starring David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike and Tom Felton:
Watch the complete conversation with Rosamund Pike in the video above. Her interview begins at the 01:41:00 mark.