Deceptive characters, as in the new film I Care a Lot, are the ones Rosamund Pike prefers to play. By Russell Baillie.
Rosamund Pike's crisp voice is on the line from somewhere in the Czech Republic. There, the actor is making fantasy epic television series The Wheel of Time, based on the 14-book series by Robert Jordan. She plays Moiraine Damodred, who, she says, is the saga's Gandalf-esque figure – the one persuading everyone else to go on a journey.
"Often, that character is a man and in this series I actually have that role, as it were."
So, tall, pointy hat and long beard?
"I went for a different direction."
Pike's foray into high fantasy ticks off another genre in what's been a varied two decades on screen for the English actor. She's played some upstanding people in recent biopics – Marie Curie in Radioactive and war correspondent Marie Colvin in A Private War among them.
She's also done period dramas, westerns, comedies and action thrillers as well as voicing the occasional kids' show. When Weta Workshop brought back 1960s puppet TV series Thunderbirds in a computer-animated series in 2015, Pike supplied the posh voice of Lady Penelope.
But Pike's speciality, when she gets the chance, is characters with a deceptive edge.
In her big-screen debut, Lee Tamahori's madly excessive 2002 Bond film Die Another Day, Pike played Miranda Frost, fencing champion and double agent. Having bedded and betrayed Pierce Brosnan's Bond, she ended up in a swordfight to the death with Halle Berry on a burning plane.
But Pike is that Bond-girl rarity – one whose film career went on to greater things.
One of those things was Gone Girl, in which she stole the show in David Fincher's film adaptation of the Gillian Flynn bestseller as Amy Dunne, a woman framing her husband for her murder, then staging her abduction by an old boyfriend. She won Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta nominations for playing the film's steely sociopath.
In the new I Care a Lot, Pike again revels in a role in which she plays a character being duplicitous and chillingly wicked. Her performance in the black comedy-thriller has earned her another Golden Globe nomination, for best actress in a comedy or musical.
This time, she's not plotting against philandering spouses, she's putting old folks into care for profit. She plays Marla Grayson, a woman with a sharp bob, an icy demeanour and a thriving business somewhere in New England. She acts as court-appointed guardian to elderly wards ruled – by an easily persuaded judge – to be too vulnerable to care for themselves and unable to rely on family. In sweeps Marla to have them placed in a rest home, manage their finances and liquidate their assets.
English writer-director J Blakeson wrote the script after going down an online rabbit hole of news stories about predatory guardians.
In his story, Marla doesn't take kindly to having her legal business model challenged by actual crooks after she forces seemingly harmless, family-free retiree Jennifer (Dianne Wiest) into prison-like residential care.
"I've always had a really fun ride with films where you don't applaud the lead character, and, in fact, you're shocked and horrified by them, but they're still really fun to watch," says Pike.
"It's part of the escapism of film that characters who would appal you and you wouldn't want to know in real life can be really fun to spend a couple of hours with on film."
Pikes cites Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street as a good example, but notes such entertainingly despicable roles are rarely written for women.
"Then I read I Care a Lot and I thought, 'Gosh, someone has answered my prayer.' She's awful, but she's really fun to watch. Her hustle is smart, and as long as the person who's doing whatever it is that's appalling is also kind of brilliant, you grudgingly admire them."
Does Pike worry that film-makers see something unsettling in her that makes her suit these roles?
"I thank anybody who sees it in me. When David Fincher cast me in Gone Girl, I felt I knew I could do this but how on earth did he know? My career at that point had never allowed me to unleash such a sort of mad, crazy range.
"A lot of people really enjoyed that film and want a bit of that kind of badness again. I can feel it even across the internet, I can feel the appetite for it."
Amy and Marla required Pike to play characters who themselves are acting.
"Yes, Amy was brilliant. She played the press, she managed to convince everybody that she was the victim, until you realise with a sort of dawning horror that she's driving the whole story.
"And Marla is able to convince and pass herself off as the really nice girl who's apologising that she has to do this and that she's going to make it all right.
"It's very unnerving for people to see the adeptness with which people can perform in their own lives. I think it happens all the time in our society."
As well as playing Marla's mental games in I Care a Lot, Pike is also required to do some strenuous physical performances in its more violent episodes, such as a scene where she must escape a submerged car.
Filming in the 6m-deep tank set at the UK's Pinewood Studios was calm and controlled, she says, with air tanks never far away, and a floating tray of tea and biscuits would be regularly sent out to her and the crew.
Still, they were the most challenging days of filming she had ever done, attempting to stay calm while her body had other ideas – when she was tied to the bottom of the tank, she broke the twine.
It was at Pinewood, too, where Pike filmed Die Another Day in 2002, at the age of 22, having graduated from Oxford and begun her professional acting career two years earlier.
"As well as it being a Bond film, I thought a Bond film directed by Lee was cool – I was completely blown away by Once Were Warriors – but I was certainly the baby."
She says of the decades since: "I knew I'd be an actress, but I always assumed I'd be working and then have periods when I was struggling to make a creative living. I just didn't factor in success or fame. I still think how incredibly fortunate I have been to be able to even just do one of these roles."
Now Pike, 42, certainly has a long and varied list of credits, with I Care a Lot sure to figure in any career-highlights reel alongside Gone Girl.
She would like it to be known that just as she isn't at all like Amy Dunne, she's also no Marla Grayson.
She's nice to old people – among them David Graham, the character actor and voice artist who, in his nineties, returned to voicing Lady Penelope's chauffer, Parker, for the 2015 reboot, having done the 1960s original. "He's funny. He's got tremendous memories and if you don't have access to that range of experience, you miss out."
I Care a Lot is available to screen on Amazon Prime now.