In “A Private War,” Rosamund Pike gives a committed, convincing performance as intrepid, eyepatch-wearing war correspondent Marie Colvin, who died in 2012 on the job, reporting on the siege of Homs in Syria.
During a recent visit to The City, with director Matthew Heineman, Pike discussed interview techniques. The most effective one, she learned, is to “keep silent and wait for someone to carry on talking. You don’t engage too much. Don’t make eye contact. Get yourself out of the picture.”
“A Private War” — based on a 2012 Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner — uses documentary techniques Heineman perfected in his excellent “Cartel Land” and “City of Ghosts.”
Filming in Jordan, Heineman hired Syrian refugees to play in scenes set in Syria: “They’re either from Homs or places like Homs, and telling real stories, and so their tears are real tears,” he says.
Pike remembers a day in which she, in character as Colvin, was interviewing a Syrian woman for a scene.
“She looked at me and said, speaking in Arabic, ‘I don’t want this to be just ink on paper. I want people to know my story,’” Pike says. “Now, she’s not an actress. There isn’t a script. So I thought, this is really blurred now. She thinks I am a journalist.”
Pike assumes Syrians showed up that day expecting to see a movie set and earn a bit of money, but were sideswiped by the realism of the shoot, bringing back dark memories. “The people in the room were re-living trauma for real,” she says.
“We had a lot of conversations about the morality of it,” says Heineman. “Are we exploiting these people? It was very difficult.”
“But at the end of the day, these people wanted their story to be told. They wanted people to feel the outrage of what’s happening in Syria, to this day,” he adds.
Pike found herself experiencing bouts of anger: “I didn’t know what it was about, but it was an overwhelming confusion of feelings. I wanted to leave the room. I didn’t know who I was, didn’t know if this was okay. Sometimes I wanted to walk off, I wanted to run, I got furious at Matt without knowing why,” she says.
Dedicated to the role, Pike even hired a dancer to help her move authentically and used pipe cleaners to spread her fingers apart so that she could hold her hands like Colvin did.
“She’s always at funny angles,” Pike says. “She’s really a product of her life and everything that happened to her. The eyepatch changed her physically. It does mean that you scan a room in a different way, because you turn your head more.”
Heineman, working in his feature debut, for the first time with actors, says watching Pike was “uncanny.” Her level of care had him convinced “she could have easily gone and written a story for the Sunday Times.”
Pike, who played “Bond girl” Miranda Frost in “Die Another Day,” appeared in “An Education” and “The World’s End” and earned an Oscar nomination for “Gone Girl,” says despite the rage and pain involved, she found Colvin “fun” to play.
She loved the way Colvin could be funny one moment, then laser-focused and with purpose the next.
“That’s the joy of being someone who’s more extreme in every way,” says Pike. “She’s fun because she’s everything that I’m not! That’s why I do what I do.”
IF YOU GO
A Private War
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander
Written by: Arash Amel
Directed by: Matthew Heineman
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes