One minute before I am due to meet Rosamund Pike at a restaurant, I receive a text message from a number I don't recognise. "Hello Ben, this is Rosamund," it says. "I am going to be late. Accept this apology please? Order something delicious and a respectable glass of wine for me and I will be with you shortly. R."
Fifteen minutes later, a tall, blond woman in sunglasses is standing by the table, extending a hand. "I knew you'd be easy to spot," she says, triumphant. "The only man sitting alone with two glasses of wine."
Pike takes a seat - and a sip of wine - and, after a few minutes, the conversation turns to acting. "Why, when I am filming a romantic scene where I am about to see my lover - who, of course, is not actually my lover - why, in that situation does my heart start to beat faster, for real?" she asks, looking as earnest as it's possible for a 34-year-old woman in chunky hexagonal shades to look. "Or I'll be filming a fight and even though I know it's a fake situation, my body will experience a pure animal danger response."
How on earth does she deal with sex scenes? "Funnily enough, the sex scene is the only area where this stuff doesn't really apply. That's the weird conundrum: why the sex scene never feels real. Of course," she adds, peeping over the top of her sunglasses, "it can still go very well when one does completely fake it."
Pike, who today combines the crisp diction of Dame Judi Dench with the eyewear of Dame Edna, has been acting almost constantly since she was a teenager. But, she says, more than a decade after her big-screen breakthrough as icy Bond girl Miranda Frost in Die Another Day, it is above all this collision of the real and the fake - "the point where reality is lost and something else kicks in" - that keeps her coming back for more.
On screen, she is known for displaying the kind of composure that can be mistaken for hauteur but which, as she proved to hilarious effect as a dumb blonde in An Education, can equally well express vacancy. In person, she's warm and entertaining - and every bit as arresting as she is on camera.
When we speak, she has just returned from New Orleans where she's been playing an intensive care nurse in a psychological thriller, Return to Sender, opposite Nick Nolte.
She says that Nolte told her about an academic paper he'd read, "which explained that the level of adrenalin experienced by athletes and actors as they perform is the same level of adrenalin that would be enough to propel another person to be very violent, or even kill someone. And I thought, well, that makes total sense ..."
She pauses. "That stuff fascinates me. One day, I would love to make a documentary about it, perhaps when the career slows down." That looks unlikely to happen any time soon. Along with Return to Sender, Pike has five films already in the pipeline (and a handful of other prospects about which she is still "sworn to secrecy"). Among them are a Nick Hornby adaptation, A Long Way Down, that reunites her with her James Bond, Pierce Brosnan; and, alongside Simon Pegg, Hector and the Search for Happiness, the first film written by Lancashire-born director Peter Chelsom since Funny Bones in 1995.
But first is comes another performance opposite Pegg, in The World's End, directed by Edgar Wright, which Pike identifies as an exception to her theory about the "strange biochemical currency" of acting. "It doesn't really apply so heavily in this film," she says.
"While it was a delight to do, you're not going to see me baring my soul in it." You will, however, see her wielding a bar stool as she faces down a killer horde of creepy, track-suited automata in a pub brawl quite unlike any other.
Pike brings a dash of much-needed elegance to a cast that also features Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan as a group of former school friends persuaded by Pegg's character, Dave King - the one among them who has refused to grow up and still clings to memories of their shared youth - to re-enact a hometown pub crawl that they first attempted on the day they finished secondary school.
It is the final film in a loose trilogy from Wright following Hot Fuzz (2007) and, before that, Shaun of the Dead (2004). Like the latter film, it smooshes together a very ordinary British setting (suburban Hertfordshire) with an extraordinary event (an invasion of killer robots). And, as in Shaun, the characters respond to their inhuman foe not with awe and horror, but with something closer to bemused puzzlement. "I love that," says Pike. "It's kind of how I go through life: bemused puzzlement."
When I nudge the conversation towards the subject of Pike's own youth - the only child of two opera singers, she grew up in Earl's Court, West London before boarding at Badminton School and going on to study English at Oxford University - she looks slightly crestfallen. The past doesn't really interest her, she says. Unlike Dave King, she doesn't "remember in minute detail my school years, because I don't think they were the highlight of my life. There were friends of mine who I shared flats with at Oxford who look back on it as the golden years. And I don't really feel that. I don't really look backwards. Do you?"
Pike bypassed drama school and, at the age of 21, with no prior film experience but a couple of television period dramas under her belt (Wives and Daughters and Love in a Cold Climate), went straight from Oxford to shoot Die Another Day with Brosnan and Madonna. After a debut of that scale - the film was seen by pretty much everyone and took more than US$400 million at the global box office, more than any film she's been in since - she must surely have felt that her future in film was secure? "No, not at all," she says. "I felt as though I had everything to prove - and everything to lose.
"When the eyes are on you for the first time you can't believe that people aren't criticising you. I felt like so many people must have thought I was lacking." She takes a sip of wine and removes her glasses. "I don't think that now. I think, God, if only I could just kind of ... owned it, thought 'Yes, I deserve this role and I'm just going to have a hell of a ride'. I think sometimes I felt as if I should apologise for it."
Film is a notoriously fickle and unpredictable business; as an actress, is it possible ever to feel truly in control of your career? "Yes, I think you can," she says. "At the beginning, you get complimented a lot on your choices and in fact you feel that is a rather unearned compliment. Because, yes you are turning down some things, but really you are just going where the work is. But there were certain things that I did early on that I still am proud of, like going to do a play at the Royal Court right after being in the maelstrom of Bond."
In Terry Johnson's 2003 play, Hitchcock Blonde, Pike played the actress who served as Janet Leigh's body double in the shower scene from Psycho. Stepping straight out of a blockbuster and on to the stage of a small theatre in Chelsea in a role that required full-frontal nudity still looks like a distinctly courageous decision. It was, Pike says now, a deliberate attempt to reclaim her sense of identity.
"The Bond girl image as they create you is very powerful and it does away with whoever you are underneath," she says. "I remember being on the 137 bus, going down to the first day of rehearsals in Clapham, having been chauffeur-driven all over the world in Bond and realising that I was sort of in my own skin again."
Of course, she says, it occurred to her that hardly anybody in the industry would take notice of her performance in Hitchcock Blonde "but, funnily enough, it's amazing how many people ended up coming to see that play. Whether they came just for the third act when I got my kit off, I don't know. I know some people did, who'll remain nameless. You might be able to imagine ..." She smiles naughtily. "Film people are busy people, I know, and they need to know what they're getting if they want to put me in a movie."
In the years since, Pike has never been short of work. She has carved out a strikingly diverse career that encompasses both high quality literary adaptations such as Pride & Prejudice, and Barney's Version and, more recently, multiplex behemoths including Wrath of the Titans and Jack Reacher. On paper, at least, it looks as if having deliberately reasserted her artistic credentials after Bond, she is now happy to plunge back into the mainstream. "I have become suspicious of anything that takes itself too seriously," she says. "I work in the entertainment industry and I like to be entertained."
Away from the screen, she lives a rather blissful sounding life in Islington with her partner, a former speculator named Robie Uniacke, and their 1-year-old son, Solo. She has long since put behind her the rather public humiliation of her split from the film director Joe Wright, who ended their relationship in 2008 just as they were planning to wed. She even mentions at one point how much she loves attending weddings: "I find them so unbelievably moving, probably because I've never had one."
So I can't help asking what's stopping her having a wedding of her own.
"I don't know. I get to have weddings on film ..." Oh come on, I say, that's hardly the same, is it? "It is kind of the same thing, because you get a lot of the same fuss and attention," she says. "But I love the promises, I love the words, and I am big into marriage, it's just I think, for most brides it's this wonderful day where you get to look amazing, like you've never looked before. Whereas as an actress who spends a lot of time dressing up, I get to do that and have those sort of fairy-tale moments all the time, so I think our job spoils it." Marriage or no marriage, she certainly hopes to have more children. "Yes, well, I can't have a single child called Solo, can I?" she laughs.
But first, there are more films to make. The day after we speak, Pike was heading to Glasgow to film a BBC drama with David Tennant by the writer-director duo who created Outnumbered. "I am looking for something new all the time," she says. "Acting is about communicating what it is like to be human: the pain, the laughs, the misery, the joy. I suppose I am searching to have it all." She looks suspiciously like she has already got it.
The World's End is at cinemas now.