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.

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State