The NS Interview: Rosamund Pike, actor

“Ignorance mixed with politics is a dangerous combination”

Is it true that you didn't have a TV when you were growing up?
We didn't have one. We certainly didn't have a video player.

Why did you want to act?
I saw a lot of operas from backstage and watched a lot of rehearsals -- my parents were singers. It was seeing all the drama, close up.

Is there a character in literature that you would like to play?
I'd like to do Nicole Diver in F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, if that ever gets made.

Did you worry about being typecast after playing a Bond girl in Die Another Day?
That character was so different from me -- probably the furthest from me of any character I have played. I was a shaggy student coming out of a gap year. At the time of being cast, I couldn't have looked less like Miranda Frost. I had never even seen a Bond film.

What does film mean to you?
It's like food for me, it's brain food. My appetites are eclectic. My body is pretty good at telling me what I want to eat and my brain is pretty good at telling me what I want to see.

You wear ageing make-up in your new film, Barney's Version. Was it disconcerting?
I felt quite vulnerable. Paul [Giamatti] and I became very close because you feel like you have known someone for longer than you really have, in the life of a film. I saw him old and said: "Oh, I remember when we were young!" It is a very curious thing -- you bank these memories and don't remember that they are not real.

Does acting often play tricks with your memory?
It's happened to me before. I saw a film in which someone comes into a room and sees two people cuddled up on the sofa and feels outside of the situation. I thought, "I remember feeling that" -- and then I remembered it was a character I had played that had felt it. But it had been mixed with my own memories.

How do you shed the identity of a character?
I enjoy the blur. I had an interesting experience when I was preparing for this film. I went around Italy with my dialect coach and spoke in an American accent the whole time and was treated as if I were American. In restaurants, people expected us to be a bit more philistine. I felt bad for Americans.

Are you a political person?
No. When I did a film in Israel, I tried to get inside Israeli politics and understand what is going on -- but I didn't know how to form an opinion that was my own and was authentic.

What about British politics?
My best friend's husband is George Osborne's right-hand man. I do ask him about it: I am interested. But I am also terribly ignorant.

Do you wish you were more engaged?
I long for the day when there are things I feel strongly about politically. I know when I loathe something - when I am in America and I turn on the television, I hate the news reporting. Everyone has an opinion; there is no neutrality. It's scary how ignorance is mixed with politics. It is such a dangerous combination.

Do you vote?
I do but, again, not with any great conviction.

What, for you, would be success?
Freedom. Success is freedom -- scripts coming your way and getting to choose the stories you want to tell. Glenda Jackson is one of my icons; she seemed to have a rather irreverent attitude towards the business.

Do you often feel that sense of freedom?
I got snowed in over Christmas and it was like being in a sanctuary. I look back on that period with such joy. I was cut off. I had a payphone but no car. No one could get hold of me. It was heaven. I don't know how people cope with the amount that's demanded of us when it comes to communication.

What concerns you about those demands?
What must it be like to be the president of the US? Who is texting him? Who is emailing him? Can you imagine what is coming in? I worry about that. Freedom comes at a price.

Is there anything you would like to forget?
No way! If there is ever a movie of my life, it will probably be rather like Barney's Version -- some successes, some disasters. Everything is going into the pot.

Is there a plan?
Now there is. I am getting to understand the business. Before, I was grateful for any job that came along. Our business is not all about luck.

Are we all doomed?
You are a miserable paper, aren't you? But yes, sooner or later, earth is going to bite back. People will tear each other apart, and there are the nuclear bombs. All these things terrify me.

Defining Moments

1979 Born in London
1990 Enters Badminton School, Bristol
1996 Plays Juliet in National Youth Theatre production of Romeo and Juliet
1997 Begins studying English literature at Wadham College, Oxford
2002 Stars as Miranda Frost in the James Bond film Die Another Day
2005 Plays Jane in Pride and Prejudice
2009 Cast in Lone Scherfig's An Education
2010 Appears in Barney's Version

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Instagram/New Statesman
Show Hide image

“The guards WANT you to mess up”: meet the prison wives of Instagram

How memes featuring Disney Princesses, Spongebob Squarepants, and saggy jeans have empowered women with incarcerated partners.

During a recent trip to visit her boyfriend in federal prison, 27-year-old Makenzie wore a floor-length black skirt and a grey shirt that completely covered the top half of her body. After a brief inspection, the guard on duty deemed her outfit appropriate and waved her through, and she was able to spend a happy eight hours with her incarcerated boyfriend and her six-year-old daughter. The next day, she came back to visit again.

“I wore the exact same outfit the second day of visitation because I didn’t want to fight with the guards about any other clothing,” says Makenzie, who had to drive five hours out of her home state, Texas, in order to visit her partner. “I was sent away by a guard who had seen me the day before.”

Makenzie felt “belittled and humiliated” by the guard, who forced her to go to the nearest shop to buy a new shirt. “I wore the exact same outfit down to my shoes and earrings,” she explains. When she confronted the guard, Makenzie says he said: “I honestly don’t care.

“All I’m telling you today is you’re not going in there dressed like that.”

Being a “prison wife” can be isolating and confusing. When wives and girlfriends first go to visit their newly-incarcerated partners, the rules and regulations can be overwhelming. When visiting her boyfriend, Makenzie has to place her money in a clear plastic bag, go through a metal detector before a smaller metal detector is used on her feet, and be patted down by guards. If her clothing is too loose or too tight, she is sent home.

“The guards WANT you to mess up,” Makenzie tells me over email, emphasis hers. “They want to make you mad, make you get in trouble.” For wives and girlfriends isolated by these experiences, the internet has become a haven.

***

Makenzie’s Instagram account has 1,123 followers. Under the handle “Texas Prison Wives”, she has been posting memes, photographs, and advice posts for five years. After incidents like the one above, Makenzie can use her account to vent or warn other wives about changes in clothing rules. Followers can also submit text posts to her that she screenshots, overlays on scenic pictures, and publishes anonymously.

One, imposed on a city skyline, asks if anyone wants to carpool to a prison. Another, overlaying a picture of a nude woman, reads: “I’m wondering if I can get some ideas on sexy pics I can take for my man. I’m about 85lbs heavier than I was the last time he saw me naked.”

The prison wives of Instagram recently went viral – but not on their own posts. A Twitter user discovered the community and tweeted out screenshots of prison wife memes – which are formatted with an image and caption like all relatable memes, with the crucial difference being that not many of us can actually relate.

“The life that we live is not widely accepted by families, friends, and the general outside world because people hear ‘inmate’ and automatically assume the worst,” says Makenzie, whose boyfriend was sentenced to two fifteen year sentences for drug possession.

“This account has given women a safe space and anonymity to seek personal advice, ask questions, and seek other women within their area if they want to reach out.” Her account, Makenzie says, also allows prison wives to laugh during tough times. She both makes her own memes and shares those from similar accounts. One, from May 2016, features a collage of four celebrities rolling their eyes. The caption reads: “When you hear ‘Babe, we are going on lock down again…’”

To outside eyes, some prison wife memes can seem flippant or – to those who retweeted the viral tweet – laughable. “My Life As A Prison Wife” is an account with over 12,000 followers that posts a wide array of memes, often using stills from Disney movies to portray emotions. A post featuring an image of a crying Belle – from Beauty and the Beast –  is captioned “that feeling when… when your visits get suspended”. Yet though many online criticise what they see as the glorification or normalisation of a life choice they don’t agree with, Makenzie emphasises that memes – especially funny ones – are important.

“I think it’s fun to have so many people relate to funny memes even though the direct meaning behind it is about being lonely or the hard things we go through to make this relationship work,” she explains. “It’s a reminder we aren’t alone in our struggle and we can laugh through the pain.”

Jemma, a 22-year-old from London who runs an account called “Doing time too”, concurs. Her profile – which has 1,369 followers – showcases memes featuring puppies, Disney princesses, and stills from Spongebob Squarepants.“I'm sure ordinary members of the public would disagree with our light-hearted way of looking at our loved ones being in prison and I would totally understand that,” she says – also over email.

 

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY LADIES  #prisonwife #prisonwifelife #doingtimetoo #inmatelove

A post shared by doing time too (@doingtimetoo) on

“Before I was in the situation myself, I would have probably reacted in the same way to an account like the one I now own. But sometimes you end up in situations you never expected to and you deal with things in a way that others won’t understand.”

***

Prison wives don’t use Instagram just for memes. Makenzie’s account helps women in need in an array of ways: they can find out if there have been riots in their partner’s prison; get advice on gifts to send a loved one; and even find out how to appeal sentences. Alongside her Instagram, Jemma also runs a website called www.doingtimetoo.co.uk

Via @TexasPrisonWives

“I started the website because I was in a relationship with someone a couple of years ago who ended up going to prison. It was totally out of the blue for me and something neither of us saw coming,” she says. “I had no idea how to deal with it.” Her site provides information about individual prisons, what to expect from a prison visit, and what to do after release. She also provides tips on how to send creative gifts made out of paper to incarcerated loved ones.

“I believe the internet has been a massive help in supporting prison wives,” says Jemma, who finds most people don’t understand or relate to her situation. Her boyfriend was charged with GBH (grievous bodily harm) and sentenced to two years in prison, after getting into a fight.

Jemma also feels that Instagram can provide prison wives with information that the prisons themselves withhold. “I can't speak for everyone but in my experience, prisons and the visit centres are far from helpful in providing any information, support or advice,” she says. “Sometimes people won’t hear from their husband when they expect to but through interacting with other ‘prison wives’ they may find out that that particular prison is currently on lock down, providing an explanation and reassurance as to why they hadn’t heard from their husband. Without the internet, this wouldn't happen.”

 

Advice! @mothafukn.irvin

A post shared by OFFICIAL N. CALI SUPPORT (@north_cali_prisonwives) on

When Jemma reached out to prison visitor centres in the UK to promote her website to those in need, she never heard back. When she emailed her boyfriend’s visitor centre prior to her first visit to ask what to do, what to wear, and what to expect, she also never received a reply. “There is no communication with family and no support offered… It’s important to remember that the families themselves did nothing wrong or illegal and so don’t deserved to be punished or treated like criminals themselves.” In such circumstances, information shared online is crucial.

Makenzie also believes that the US prison system has it faults when it comes to visitors. “While I know and understand that inmates are being punished for a crime they committed, the guards treat their families disrespectfully and unfairly almost as if we are being punished as well,” she says. “Being a larger woman, I have gotten in trouble for my clothes being too tight AND for my clothes being too loose. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

Makenzie explains that sometimes visitors are forced to wear gowns similar to those worn in hospitals if their clothes are deemed unsuitable. In the past, she has even been sent away to buy a new bra after she wore one without underwire in order to get through the metal detector. In one prison her boyfriend was incarcerated in, visitors had to wait outside to be signed in, one-by-one, regardless of the weather. “We had to wait two hours several times, sweating, drenched in rain, they don’t care…

“The guards degrade your loved ones right in front of your face, they are mean, hateful, and over the top rude, even to the inmates who are the most well behaved and respectful.”

For these women, Instagram has become an invaluable network of support.

***

There are hundreds of Instagram accounts just like Jemma and Makenzie’s. Many often take memes from each other, but Jemma explains there is no competition. In fact, she says, the network is incredibly supportive. “I spoke to one lady regularly about her situation and I remember counting down to her boyfriend’s release date with her,” she says. Jemma and Makenzie also use their accounts to help lonely prisoners find pen pals.

Instagram allows prison wives to find likeminded people, free from judgement. Yet the accounts can also be incredibly informative to outsiders. By using the “When…” format, memes provide a detailed insight into the lives of prison wives. “When you’re kissing baby towards the beginning/end of the visit and the CO yells ‘enough’,” reads one. “When you check your phone and see… not only did you miss 1 call, you missed two,” is the caption on an image of a crying child.

 

A post shared by doing time too (@doingtimetoo) on

“Nobody understands this long distance, no physical intimacy, and then the added stresses of dealing with prison politics, corrupt guards, and the worry of riots, lock downs, and retaliation like women who are living through the same thing,” says Makenzie. Yet thanks to these Instagram accounts, outsiders do have an opportunity to understand.

For prison wives, memes are an easy and fast way to talk about a topic that many deem taboo. The fact that Jemma and Makenzie wished to communicate with me over email, and the fact many more prison wives didn’t want to speak to me at all, shows how difficult it can be to talk about these issues. For many, memes are just a bit of fun. For prison wives, they can be a lifeline.

 

A post shared by doing time too (@doingtimetoo) on

 “None of us enjoy prison visits or being treated like we are criminals ourselves. We don't enjoy waiting for phone calls that never arrive or having to deal with situations all on our own but if we can laugh about it, that’s something,” explains Jemma.

“Memes allow us all to laugh at the situations we are in, rather than cry.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.