In Scott Cooper’s harrowing film Hostiles, Rosamund Pike plays a mother who suffers a brutal tragedy right from the start. After witnessing an unspeakable horror. Devastated, her character joins Captain John Blocker (Christian Bale) on his mission to escort a dying Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) to his exile in New Mexico.
Pike’s performance is stellar and moving. We spoke recently to discuss what it was like filming that opening and how her own children played a memorable part in her first video call with Cooper.
Your character goes through quite an experience in the first five minutes of the film. What did Scott Cooper tell you about Hostiles?
He said, “This is, I promise an experience that will last a lifetime.” That’s exactly what he said. He told me he didn’t need acting and he wanted me to live it. I took it to heart. I realize for anyone whose experience of grief and family tragedy might come close to what Rosalie experiences, it was very vital that I communicate what they suffered and how they process in a way that they would recognize. I knew it was going to be a physical, bodily experience, this role in the film.
Not only were we going to be in Santa Fe with all the wonderful challenges of being at a high altitude, working in the blazing sun, being on horseback, of being exposed to the elements all day every day, I knew it was going to be a role that would have to inhabit my body and take it over.
Scott talked about the Skype conversation when he introduced the film in Middleburg.
We were talking about the film over Skype. He always laughed at me because usually when you do an interview with an actress, the lighting is nice and their hair is just so and there’s a bit of front light and he said that I hadn’t paid any attention to that and I was constantly being interrupted by my kids. I was saying, “Mummy’s having a meeting and this is Scott.” I didn’t really even think about it because it was just a chat and it turned out to be much of an audition. He asked me not to have read the script before we spoke which is really unusual for me. We talked and I loved his films very much. He described it and afterward, I stayed up until one in the morning that night reading the script and I suddenly had a vision of Rosalie’s courage, strength, and resilience. My brain was on fire with it because I couldn’t sleep. I wrote to him and got all my ideas down and I was up until at least 4 a.m.
What did you have to do in order to find and play Rosalie?
The main thing, at first, was that you had to research into the life, in terms of the drudgery and the physical labor of daily life in the 1890s for someone who had moved west from Illinois. And then the other very vital thing was creating the reality of the family who was about to be lost. It’s a very brief moment that they’re in the film, but it’s very vital because I carry their memory with me for the whole film. I spent time with the baby who was playing baby Jacob who we see very very briefly. I took Scott’s daughters out several times in Santa Fe because they were playing my daughters and also with Scott Wilson, he was playing my husband and it was important we had a connection so that the family idyll that was about to be broken was very real in my head.
I suppose the other thing was finding a way that the experience of grief could occupy my body in a very physical way and that I’d know how to let it in and that was a lot of time in a rehearsal space, feeling, thinking and talking about loss and birth. Thinking about what part of your body your love for your children occupies and what that would feel like if that is torn away. I was imagining many things about the things that I’d read. I’d read about how mothers would say their bones and their arms ache if they lose a child. They have this pain in their bones and I was trying to imagine that. I was trying to imagine how many days after that was when Blocker finds Rosalie. She’s still in that intense stage of denial with her brain trying every avenue to find a different outcome and squeezing the hands of those little girls, trying to stave off rigor mortis and keep them supple, breathing air into the baby. Everything was a physical manifestation of the stages of grief. It was sobering work I can tell you that much. It was educating and life changing.
Even those first five minutes and how he shot that opening, you know it’s not your typical Western. What do you recall about shooting that first day?
I think we just did the actual lesson and running out of the door. We went from bliss and I remember my heart racing. I remember the sight of the Comanches coming across the Plains and that feeling hasn’t left me. That feeling still repeats when I watch the film now. I watch it and my physical response is the same as it was on the day.
What was it like working with Scott Cooper? Because his body of work is one incredible piece after another.
He’s such a supportive collaborator. His friendship with Christian gave such a big amount to the movie. I think people should work together more often. They’ve got tremendous trust. They have these great lines of communication and I was privy to it. He loves his characters and he’s written them. He’s always questioning himself. He’s very unprecious about his own work and very open to ideas while having strong visions.
He’s also the architect of a very beautiful carefully envisioned film. He’s also down and dirty with the actors and will look you in the eyes and be there with you.
What was the interaction with Christian?
We were very much in character all the time. When you have an actor like Christian you don’t need to plan anything and whatever you throw at him, he’ll work with. He’s the best actor out there in my book and he’s amazing to work with.
You’re playing Marie Colvin next.
We’ve been in Jordan for six weeks which is standing in for the war zones she covered. It’s been a really intense experience and I’ve immersed myself in her completely and the process of discovering her has been like a journalist.
you have to build trust when you’re approaching people who knew her. It’s a very sensitive thing to be doing. I’m so excited to tell the story about the fearless telling of truth through the power of investigative journalism. I’m so excited to tell this story.
Was there a scene in Hostiles that kept you up at night?
I had nightmares during the filming and after. Particularly of those early incidents in the film. I knew they would not be easy scenes. I knew it was going to be a harrowing experience.