‘Fear comes later’
British actress Rosamund Pike takes on the role, and the eyepatch, of courageous foreign correspondent Marie Colvin
Marie Colvin was the American journalist known for her fearless reporting for The Sunday Times from war zones across the world. And for the eyepatch she wore for the last 11 years of her life, after a shrapnel injury on assignment in Sri Lanka. She was killed in a rocket attack in Homs, Syria, in 2012. This month, Oscar-nominated documentarymaker Matthew Heineman directs his first feature film, A Private War, about Colvin’s remarkable life and career. Rosamund Pike, herself a former Oscar nominee, talks to Esquire about her staggering performance as the gravel-voiced, chain-smoking reporter, and the effects Colvin’s horrifying experiences had on them both. ESQUIRE: How did you feel when taking on this hugely complex role? ROSAMUND PIKE: At the beginning I felt that if I considered it as a role, I’d probably screw it up before I’d begun, because if I thought of it like a great acting opportunity I’d never go to the places I needed to go or deal with it in the right way. A lot of the film’s tone comes from quite exploratory, long takes that would just be me, Matthew, the DP [director of photography], the sound guy and a focus puller in a room together exploring the dark recesses of someone’s mind. ESQ: What preparation did you do? RP: I spent a long time talking to Colvin’s friends and I watched every piece of footage available of her. I studied the way she moved, the way she walked, the way she sat and the way she smoked. I’m not a smoker but I probably got through 600 cigarettes before we started filming because that was one of the biggest parts — you have to become completely ingrained in the character. I had a teacher to come and talk to me about Middle East politics and all the subtleties of Phoenician disputes. I also went with a landmine charity to Lebanon, which was a chance for me to understand the impact of conflict and meet people recently traumatised by the effects of war. It put me in touch with a fear that then I could kind of tune up to a level that would be appropriate for what Marie would be experiencing, which was 50 times more intense.
ESQ: Did the famous eyepatch add any acting challenges, given you have your face part-obscured?
RP: The eye patch, as Marie knew, was a great asset as well. I think she knew that it became her trademark; when she went to Homs, finally, she was advised not to wear it because by that time it had made her so recognisable. I became very used to it, quite comfortable, but I had to work out what it meant when I studied her physicality. She could really pierce you with that one eye. ESQ: The film leads with Colvin’s quote: “You’re never going to get to where you’re going if you acknowledge fear. I think fear comes later.” Do you agree?
‘If your words can penetrate and prick people’s bubbles then you’re onto a good thing’
RP: Marie was someone who was probably quite aware of her own image, as people are, and when you’re on dry land and in public, you have to utter a statement like that — it means editors have confidence in you. But for me, the really heroic thing about Marie is that she felt extremely frightened at times and went there anyway. Maybe the word is not “acknowledge”, it’s “obey”. ESQ: Colvin had a firm view of her duty as a journalist: “[How] stupid would I feel writing a column about the dinner party I went to last night?” she’d said. Do you agree with her about what journalism is or should be?
RP: What I definitely agree with is that if your words can penetrate and prick people’s little bubbles then you’re onto a good thing. But, you know, there’s a place for all of it. The society journalist has always been there, right? People sharing intimacies, observations on what makes us human, I think it’s all valid; it’s how on earth you edit the jungle of material. How do you decide what you consume? Do we have the patience and the focus and the brain space to read pieces like Marie’s? When you sit down and you read her pieces one after the other, I mean my God, it’s the most worthwhile several hours you’ll spend because suddenly your eyes are opened, your brain is opened, your heart is opened.
A Private War is out at the end of the year
Rosamund Pike as the frontline reporter Marie Colvin in A Private War
Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin on assignment in the Chechen mountains, 1999