Rosamund Pike’s philosophy of acting is that it’s a process of observing what it means to be human. That way of thinking came in very handy as she tackled the feature film “A United Kingdom,” where she plays Ruth Williams in the true story of a marriage that almost brought down a kingdom.
In the late ’50s, Williams fell in love with Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo). It was tough enough on them that it was a mixed race marriage, but they also had to face the reality the union could block Khama from his rightful place as the king of Botswana. It was Pike’s observations on love, hate, bigotry, politics, motherhood, patience and hope that helped create her performance.
Pike started shaping that viewpoint when she was a child. As the only daughter of opera singers Caroline and Julian Pike, the future Oscar nominee was exposed to a mature and creative world from an early age.
“I got to see my parents doing what they loved with great passion. Seeing grownups having so much fun let me understand what it was like to be able to play someone else,” Pike says. “I was always intrigued by what was going on in the circle of adults my parents knew and absorbed everything I could.”
She speaks in a quiet voice, not out of choice but because she’s been fighting an illness. Despite not feeling well for weeks, Pike has pushed ahead with interviews because she has such a passion for the story she gets to tell in “A United Kingdom.”
Pike’s acting skills were tested because “A United Kingdom” is a complicated political drama as well as a story of love so deep that even the bigoted hatred of nations could not break it. Those are the elements Pike knew would make this tale from the mid-20th century resonate with a 21st-century audience.
“I always knew it would be timeless because of what the story is dealing with. I just didn’t realize exactly how timeless it would be. A lot of the movie is about prejudice and fear,” Pike says. “Ruth was a white woman left alone and isolated in a black world that rejected her before there’s a slow and steady pace to acceptance. I had not seen this before.
“The film looks at the need to trust people and that message has great power.”
With that great power came great responsibility for Pike because she was playing a real person. Her grandmother remembers following the story when it originally unfolded, but there wasn’t a lot of material for Pike to use in understanding the woman she was to play. Most was from news reports after the couple had gone through their long emotional ordeal.
Pike took every snippet of information she could find to get Ruth’s tone of voice. It was her way of paying respect to the real couple.
No matter how much work Pike has done since a child to prepare for acting work, sometimes there are spontaneous instances that come during the work process. One such scene in “A United Kingdom” has to do with a group of women from the village coming to show their acceptance of Ruth.
The scene only called for them to bring in gifts, but while cameras were rolling the women started to sing.
“We didn’t know that was going to happen. That moment showed how far Ruth had come. The scene was both bewildering and powerful,” Pike says. “I remember tears streaming down my face.”
Pike has been working in TV and films for almost 20 years with projects like “Doom,” “Gone Girl,” “Pride & Prejudice” and “Jack Reacher.” “Gone Girl” earned her an Oscar nod and a Golden Globe win. But it was her work in the 2002 James Bond film “Die Another Day” that put her career in high gear.
“It was certainly a turning point. I no longer had to ride the (London) Underground but could afford a taxi. I get to ride above ground now,” Pike says.