Hollywood Chameleon Rosamund Pike Tackles the Life Story of War Correspondent Marie Colvin
I first met Marie Colvin in 1992, by the photocopier in the offices of the Sunday Times in London. I had just come from reporting on the war in Bosnia and was grubby and disheveled. She was wearing a pale, fitted Calvin Klein sheath dress and very high heels, and her wild hair was tamed into a sleek chignon. She had just come from a wedding, she explained as she extended her hand and in a gruff, cigarette-drenched voice, said, “Hi. I’m Marie."
During most of her working life Marie looked nothing like the sleek woman by the copy machine. As a senior foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times, she worked in war zones in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Her wardrobe usually included a flak jacket, heavy boots in which she could run from danger, and her famous Burberry leather jacket. But she always packed beautiful clothes, and she was fond of wearing Bass Weejun penny loafers—with pennies inserted—in her downtime at whatever bar was nearest the front line.
Rosamund Pike (right) portraying foreign correspondent Marie Colvin (left) in the new film A Private War.
That was the beauty and complexity of Marie. The New York City native led a glamorous and giddy life in Notting Hill, London, where we both lived in the 1990s, throwing some of the best parties I’ve ever been to, complete with some of the most amusing characters in England and a guaranteed hangover the next day. But when the parties were over, she became a different woman: fearless and uncontactable in her professional life. She managed to combine the two, but she nevertheless remained utterly contrarian.
They left everything exactly the way I packed it but stole all my La Perla bras.
“My suitcase just got robbed,” she told me
In real life the 39-year-old British actress Rosamund Pike, who plays Marie in the new film A Private War, which chronicles her life from 2002 to 2012, doesn’t resemble her. Tall and willowy, her blond hair gathered in a so ponytail this afternoon at a Manhattan hotel, Pike is more approachable than Marie was at first. She’s warm and empathetic, hugging me when we meet and pouring mint tea. She wraps her arms around her legs and talks about work, life, and her beliefs. Perceptive, sensitive, committed, you can’t help feeling this is a real woman, a serious actress who is the best possible choice to play the part.
Onscreen Pike uncannily becomes Marie, down to the clothes—including a pale green Oxford I could swear I’d seen Marie wearing. Her posture, her voice, her figure, the angle of her chin when she talks: is is Method acting to the extreme. Marie was feisty and smart but complicated, and she could be mercurial. She was plagued by demons, and she repeatedly chose love and passion above stability. Pike has mastered this mix, but in an unselfconscious way. Before I saw the film, a friend who had caught a preview in London wrote me, “It’s freaky how much she looks like Marie.”
Rosamund Pike at the Savile Club, London. Maison Alaia Dress ($3,700), Belt ($950), Shoes (1,370); Graff Earrings and Rings (price upon request).
Pike, a former Bond girl who broke out in the U.S. in 2015 with an Oscar-nominated performance in Gone Girl, is mesmerizing as my old friend, who died in 2012 while reporting on the Syrian war.
The film begins in Homs, Syria, and follows Marie through tours in Sri Lanka and Iraq, her personal life crumbling as she hops from one war-torn hot spot to another. The actress worked so hard to blend into the character she actually shrank— from hunching her shoulders to mimic Marie’s posture. “When I went for a medical examination after A Private War,” she says, “I was one and a half centimeters shorter.” She has since regained the height, she says, by doing intense spinal stretching exercises.
Marie Colvin attended the book launch party for Janine di Giovanni’s book Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love in 2011.
Pike watched endless footage of Marie to learn to imitate her accent (she was born in Queens), and in one scene, when Marie is lying on a bed in a negligee, smoking and talking to her ex-husband, I had to catch my breath, because everything about Pike—the way she smoked, moved her head, and crossed her legs—was hauntingly familiar.
Above all, the film is about capturing the truth at a time when journalism is under threat and even the president of the United States has called journalists “enemies of the American people.”
Marie was killed by a rocket that landed near where she was staying in Baba Amr, a neighborhood of Homs; in the years since she died, her sister Cat Colvin, a lawyer, has launched a civil suit against the government of Bashar al-Assad, because Cat believes Marie was deliberately targeted.
The daughter of two opera singers, Pike grew up far from war zones but absorbed in the arts, "in a home,” she says, “where we weren’t well off but creatively wealthy.” She learned to play the violin and cello, and with her family she traveled and lived throughout Europe.
She speaks French and German, and at
But it is her delicacy as a performer that has allowed her to take on increasingly challenging roles. In 2017’s Hostiles she played a frontier mother whose children and husband are slaughtered in front of her. The intensity of her performance, alongside a hardened soldier played by Christian Bale, makes for some of the best moments of the film.
Watch the trailer for A Private War:
Next up she’ll play Marie Curie in Radioactive, a biopic of the French-Polish chemist who pioneered research into radioactivity. The film is directed by the Iranian writer/director Marjane Satrapi, who wrote the graphic novel Persepolis. “I went from playing one strong Marie to another,” Pike says. “I wanted to capture her spirit of rebellion. But I also had to dive into Curie’s bitterness.”
In her own
Which is not to say she doesn’t use her life experiences in her work. Her second son was born early, leaving her no time to get to a hospital; she gave birth in her mother’s apartment. “There was no time for pain medication, no time to get to the clinic, so I just let my body take over,” Pike says. “I thought, If I can let my mind go somewhere else, my body will do the job.” Her son arrived healthy, but Pike believes her body absorbed the trauma and can recall it.
Louis Vuitton Dress ($10,900); Maison Alaia Belt ($950); Sergio Rossi Boots ($1,100); Graff Rings (price upon request).
Luckily, she counts on such things for her work. She doesn’t want to dwell too much on how she changed herself, physically and spiritually, to become Marie Colvin, because, she says, “so much of this work is mysterious.” She pauses. “I don’t want to analyze it too much. The body just takes over, and I do it.”
“Rosamund worked hard to be authentic,” says Matthew Heineman, A Private War’s director. Heineman, who made documentaries on the drug cartels of Mexico (his Cartel Land was nominated for an Oscar) and the Islamic State, also strove for credibility. He was conscious of the challenges when he signed on to make his first narrative film, and he wanted to tell the story accurately. “I was aware when I took on this project,” he says
She came to me with the ferocity that I think Marie would have had.
He was also determined to avoid the cliche?s associated with a hard-drinking, cigarette-wielding female war reporter. It was no easy mission, since that was just what Marie was, but according to the director, casting Pike solved that problem, since she so fully embodied some of the character’s other qualities. “She came to me,” he says, “with the ferocity that I think Marie would have had.”
In April 2001, when reporting on the Sri Lankan civil war, Marie lost her left eye after a grenade landed near her and shrapnel pierced her retina. It took her a year to learn how to navigate stairs and pour wine into a glass again, but by 2003 she was back in the field during the invasion of Iraq. She wore a black patch over her eye, though sometimes at parties she wore a glitzy spangled one that her friend Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones's Diary, made for her.
For anyone else it would have been a debilitating blow ("I liked my eyes," she wrote to me after the operation), but Marie kept going, doing some of her best work after the accident, reporting from Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia during the Arab Spring and winning Foreign Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards three times.
While her career–30 years of being a war reporter at a time when female correspondents were rare–was exceptional, her private life was turbulent and painful. She married writer Patrick Bishop twice and in between married her close friend Juan Carlos Gumucio, a Bolivian-born reporter, who killed himself in February 2002.
“He had seen too much,” Marie told me after Gumucio’s death, referring to the misery that a war reporter absorbs over time. She herself battled depression and alcoholism, miscarriages, and mental and physical exhaustion. She wanted children when she was with both Bishop and Gumucio; in neither case did it come to be. She was a complicated character to capture, and Pike fought hard to master the part.
Tom Ford Jacket ($2,950), Camisole ($1,690), Pants ($1,790); De Beers Earrings, Necklace, Rings (price upon request).
This meant filming in Jordan over a period of two months and acting with Syrian women Pike actually interviewed, who played widows Marie had met in Syria. In the film, when a mass grave is opened in Iraq, the Shia women seen mourning are people Heineman found on location. Both director and actress watched and read everything they could find on war reporting, Syria, and the places Marie had worked. “It was an homage to her,” Pike says, “but also an homage to journalists."
Above all, the film is about capturing the truth at a time when journalism is under threat.
A Private War isn’t alone in addressing that topic. In October 2006, Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya, another colleague of mine who tirelessly criticized Vladimir Putin and his security apparatus for their work in Chechnya, was assassinated in Moscow by men believed to be linked to the Russian government. By
I’m not sure what Marie would think of the film, but I believe she would approve of Pike’s sentiment. In 2005 a documentary, Bearing Witness, was made by director Barbara Kopple about both our lives as war reporters; Marie was far cooler with the idea of cameras following her around than I was. Seeing my private life on a big screen, including the birth of my only son, was painful for me. But after the opening of the film, Marie gathered all of us in her hotel room, ordered cheeseburgers for everyone, and produced a gallon of vodka. "Let's celebrate!" she said, and that's just what we did. She always did know how to throw one hell of a party.
Janine di Giovanni spent 30 years as a war reporter and has written eight books. She is currently a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute of Global Affairs.
This story appears in the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.