A best-kept se­cret inches into spot­light

The Washington Post Sunday - - MOVIES - hor­na­daya@wash­post.com

The ac­tress Rosamund Pike— Bri­tish, blond and ef­fort­lessly chic in skinny black trousers and a blue-black jacket — cooly con­tem­plates the tines of a fork. “Look at all the lit­tle teeth marks,” she muses be­fore or­der­ing lunch at the Ritz-Carl­ton Ge­orge­town. “Think of all the mouths that have bit­ten into it. Do you see that?” A concerned server ap­pears and dis­creetly in­quires whether there’s any­thing wrong.

“No, no, no it’s fine,” Pike says, her voice a creamy purr. “I was just sort of com­ment­ing on the life of a fork.”

With any other ac­tor on the pub­lic­ity trail, it would be easy to dis­miss the episode as care­fully cal­cu­lated ec­cen­tric­ity. But Pike’s in­quiry into the ex­is­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions of cut­lery aptly il­lus­trates the spirit of alert­ness and cu­rios­ity that has of­ten made her the best thing about ev­ery movie she’s in.

Since mak­ing her big-screen de­but as a Bond Girl in 2002’s “ Die An­other Day,” Pike — who just turned 32 a few­days ago— has be­come some­thing of a best-kept se­cret among dis­cern­ing view­ers. Gen­eral au­di­ences­may not know her name, but they­may well have found them­selves cap­ti­vated by her un-showy but in­deli­ble sup­port­ing per­for­mances in “The Lib­er­tine,” “Pride& Prej­u­dice,” “Frac­ture,” “An Ed­u­ca­tion” and, more re­cently, “Made in Da­gen­ham.”

In “Bar­ney’s Ver­sion,” which opened Fri­day, Pike once again finds her­self in a sup­port­ing role, al­beit a juicy one. The film, based onMordechai Rich­ler’s novel, stars Paul Gia­matti as the ti­tle char­ac­ter, a Mon­treal TV pro­ducer who be­comes ob­sessed with the woman of his dreams at the re­cep­tion of his own wed­ding (to an­other woman). Pike playsMiriam, the ob­ject of Bar­ney’s pas­sion, who even­tu­ally suc­cumbs to his dogged pur­suit. Don­ning an auburn wig and wire-frame glasses, Pike breathes wel­come warmth and life into Miriam, a paragon of wis­dom, self­pos­ses­sion and in­ac­ces­si­ble sex ap­peal.

“I was of­ten an­gling to give her more bite,” Pike says, re­call­ing a scene in which Miriam takes a walk with Bar­ney by the East River in­Man­hat­tan, where he has come to woo her. “I wanted it to be messy. I wanted to be eat­ing a piece of pizza and I wanted to seeMiriam get a bit grubby— you know, have tomato sauce un­der her fin­ger­nails.”

She pauses wist­fully. “But the per­fect woman doesn’t have that.”

As it hap­pens, Pike has or­dered a bowl of tomato soup for lunch, and while the per­fect wom­an­may not have sauce un­der her fin­ger­nails, the ac­tress who plays her isn’t afraid to dunk pieces of French bread into the bowl, the bet­ter to lustily en­joy ev­ery drop.

The daugh­ter of clas­si­cal mu­si­cians, Pike joined Bri­tain’s Na­tional Youth The­atre and won the cov­eted lead­ing role in “Romeo and Juliet” at 18 (when Kate Winslet’s lit­tle sis­ter Beth dropped out). Upon grad­u­at­ing from Ox­ford, she quickly landed the Bond film, in which she played the “ice queen” Mi­randa Frost.

She made it all look so easy, de­spite be­ing a “fright­ened lit­tle ex-stu­dent” in­side. “Es­pe­cially in Bri­tain, peo­ple want to limit you,” she says. “So how dare you be so lucky to get a Bond film right out of uni­ver­sity? You’re ob­vi­ously not a real ac­tress.”

But those naysay­ers would be over­look­ing the fact that, no mat­ter what size the role, Pike has been the se­cret sauce in just about ev­ery movie she’s in. Gia­matti says he has been a fan since “Die An­other Day” and the London play “Hitch­cock Blonde.”

When the “Bar­ney’s Ver­sion” pro­duc­ers told him they were look­ing at an ac­tress named Rosamund Pike, he re­calls telling them: “Wait a minute, whoa! Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place? You’re crazy not to just cast her, be­cause she’s great. Don’t waste any more time, be­cause she’s amaz­ing.”

Gia­matti notes that Pike can al­ways be counted on to be “slightly off-cen­ter, off to the side do­ing some­thing.” Nowhere was her oblique ge­nius more ev­i­dent than in 2009’s com­ing-of-age drama “An Ed­u­ca­tion,” in which Pike played a party girl namedHe­len and took the role of dumb blonde to sub­lime heights of dim­ness. “An Ed­u­ca­tion” made Carey Mul­li­gan a star, but for many view­ers, Pike’s nu­anced, flaw­lessly cal­i­brated per­for­mance was the real rev­e­la­tion.

The re­sult is that, un­likeMul­li­gan, Pike has “never, ever, ever” been con­sid­ered fla­vor of the month, de­spite her re­fined beauty and ob­vi­ous tal­ent. “I think I’ll be fla­vor of the month when I’minmy 50s,” she says, only half jok­ing. “ They’ll sud­denly say, ‘Oh, she’s done re­ally good work over the years, we re­ally like her.’ I’ll be­come a na­tional trea­sure be­fore I be­come fla­vor of the month.”

None of this is said with bit­ter­ness. But Pike read­ily ad­mits that she is look­ing for big­ger roles, on both sides of the cam­era. She’s de­ter­mined to ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duce her own ma­te­rial as soon as she can.

“Why shouldn’t I?” she says. “I have a good head onmy shoul­ders. Maybe I should use it, not just be a gun for hire.”

With luck, “Bar­ney’s Ver­sion” will nudge Pike just a lit­tle bit closer to the star­dom she so richly de­serves. In the mean­time, she says, “This is the best moment inmy ca­reer so far, with­out a doubt.

“It feels like I know who I am,” she says, cheer­fully scoop­ing up one last de­li­cious dollop of soup. “And I think other peo­ple are cot­ton­ing on as well!”

JUANA ARIAS FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

NEVER A FLA­VOR OF THE MONTH: For­mer Bond Girl Rosamund Pike has a juicy sup­port­ing role in “Bar­ney’s Ver­sion.”

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