Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie all photos: PA Photo/STUDIOCANAL/Laurie Sparham
Rosamund Pike was charmed by her latest character – the intense, eccentric, brilliant scientist Marie Curie. Georgia Humphreys finds out more...
When casting the role of Marie Curie in new biopic Radioactive, film-maker Marjane Satrapi knew she needed an actress “who would be fierce”.
In 1903, the remarkable scientist, who was born in Warsaw, became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.
She was awarded it jointly with her husband Pierre (who she met whilst studying physics and mathematics at the Sorbonne in Paris) following their discovery of radioactivity.
After Pierre’s sudden death, Marie continued her work and won a second Nobel Prize, in 1911; she became known as a pioneer not just in the field of science, but also because she worked within a man’s world, whilst women were still campaigning for the right to vote.
Upon meeting Rosamund Pike, Iran-born artist and writer Satrapi, famed for her work as a graphic novelist, decided “it was her or nobody else” for the part.
So, would Pike say Marie’s ferocity is something she could relate to?
“Yeah, I’m fierce! F****** right,” the London-born actress retorts unabashedly.
“Especially if you come across as quite ladylike, I think a bit of ferocity is very vital.”
Pike, 41, is an Oscar-nominated actress with many memorable films under her belt: 2002 Bond film Die Another Day, to thriller Gone Girl, to emotive drama A United Kingdom.
Discussing her approach to this latest project, written by Jack Thorne, Pike recalls her and Satrapi “weren’t too worried about Madame Curie being likeable, in the sort of traditional sense of how you’re supposed to have your female heroines in a movie”.
“We find her intensely likeable, because of her intenseness, her abruptness, her oddity, eccentricity, her brilliance, her sort of implacable, direct manner,” she continues.
“We find all that really charming and very likeable, for us – but not necessarily likeable to everyone.”
Pike became obsessed with knowing more about Marie’s life story, which she gushes is “just fascinating”.
“Right from when she was in Poland; her parents were under Russian rule and you couldn’t speak Polish and girls couldn’t go to university.
“She was part of this thing called the Flying University, so she was a rebel and she was finding her own route through – that’s why she was so remarkable.
“It certainly doesn’t faze her to be one of only a few women at the Sorbonne; by the time she got to the Sorbonne she’d already been studying in secret for years – and learning when it was forbidden for women to learn, and speak Polish.”
The other thing Pike is clearly in awe of and wants to make clear is the amount of hard work Marie put in.
Her and her husband discovered two elements, radium and polonium, which went on to have both good and bad consequences for the world – nuclear weapons, nuclear energy and radiation for medical treatment (her research was a huge contribution towards the fight against cancer).
“So many people think that fame and success should come very quickly; she put in hours and hours,” she notes.
“It was hard labour doing what they did. They could see the phenomenon existed, but then you have to prove it, and you have to isolate the elements, and that means she had to retrain from physics and re-train herself as a chemist.”
A huge part of the film, which is based on a graphic novel by Lauren Redniss, called, is the exploration of Marie’s marriage and her working relationship with her Pierre (played by Sam Riley), with whom she had two daughters.
“She found the perfect partner,” suggests Pike, who has two children herself, with her partner, mathematical researcher Robie Uniacke.
“Pierre Curie was a very, very modern, forward-thinking man, he wanted to share equal stature with his wife – or even let her take the stage. And that was very rare. It’s still rare now.”
She continues avidly: “I think we were all very inspired by their marriage. It was a very important part of the film, and for me, it’s the dream, is to have a total soul connection with someone and also create with them.”
Satrapi is full of admiration as she recalls watching Pike and Riley play a scene together.
She was “looking at Sam, and all the oddity of Madame Curie really amuses him – he doesn’t seem to be bothered one bit, she found that very attractive.
“And because he finds her amusing, we find her amusing… We fall in love with this woman the way he does.”
“Not all guys do that,” follows Pike thoughtfully.
“Not all guys will allow themselves to be charmed by a woman.
“Some people are so busy thinking about how they’re coming across, and Sam is just himself and as Pierre, that comes across, with that sort of amused, go with the flow… [attitude].”
Marie and Pierre became celebrities for their achievements, but after Pierre’s death in 1906, Marie had an affair with a married man and had to face her reputation taking a blow.
Discussing how women were vilified regardless of their achievements – and still can be today – Pike explains part of the reason she thinks Marie was shamed for having an affair.
“An averagely intelligent woman would have been fine, would have gone unnoticed, but it’s not OK for a sort of a remarkable woman to have an affair, or for the object of the passion to be a remarkable woman,” she elaborates.
“Suddenly she’s very threatening, she’s breaking up families… Affairs were going on all the time! Especially in France.”
It’s well known that Marie, who died aged 66 in 1934, did not enjoy the attention that came with fame, which is something else Pike can relate to.
The star confides she used to find walking the scrutiny that comes with walking the red carpet “unbearable”, but that she has now trained herself to handle it.
Elaborating on her experiences with being in the spotlight when she was younger, she says: “Pierce Brosnan first warned me about it, because the first ever photocall I had to do was for the announcement for the 20th Bond film, 40 years of Bond.
“We went up on the stage and I nearly fell over… The force of these people, the photographers, the flashbulbs.
“He just put his arm around me, and I thought, ‘God, he realises I’m about to fall over’.
“It is a shock; it feels like you are being eaten alive for a minute. And then you start to realise that you can put up a shell.”
Radioactive is available to watch on digital platforms now.