“There are two types of people in this world,” says the coolly assured voice of Rosamund Pike, playing Marla Grayson, in the opening voice-over of “I Care a Lot” as the camera slowly pans over the dazed-looking inhabitants of a nursing home. “The people who take, and those getting took.”
From the first shot of the back of Marla’s razor-sharp blond bob, it’s clear which category she belongs to. A ruthlessly amoral and icily self-assured con woman, she plays the role of a conscientious, court-mandated guardian perfectly, all while deftly separating the elderly wards under her care from their families and bank accounts.
Pike, the British actress best known for her Oscar-nominated performance in “Gone Girl,” is the blazing star of “I Care a Lot,” written and directed by J. Blakeson, arriving on Friday on Netflix. Pike has already earned a Golden Globe nomination for the role, in which she is both chillingly villainous and seductively fearless, a true antihero doing very bad things with relish.
“Marla is like a scrappy street fighter in designer clothing,” Pike said in a recent video interview from Prague. “It was a deep dive into finding a place where I could own the hunger for money, the hunger to win, the conviction that your own goal is more important than anything else.”
All are traits “that aren’t often portrayed by women in film,” she added.
Pike, 42, is disarmingly beautiful with flawless peaches-and-cream skin and smooth blond hair. Articulate and thoughtful during the interview, she considered questions carefully, occasionally going off-piste: “I wish I could ask you some questions,” she said at one point.
Pike, who found early limelight at 21 as a Bond girl in “Die Another Day,” has had a successful acting career for more than two decades, but she has never acquired — or apparently aspired to — the mega-fame of some of her peers.
Perhaps that’s because although she might have successfully specialized playing the English rose (see her turn as Jane Bennett in Joe Wright’s 2005 “Pride and Prejudice”), Pike has never allowed herself to be pigeonholed by prettiness. She has spoofed the British spy film in “Johnny English Reborn,” acted opposite Tom Cruise in the action thriller “Jack Reacher,” and played a hilariously clueless socialite in “An Education,” the hard-bitten reporter Marie Colvin in “A Private War” and the enigmatic Amy of “Gone Girl.”
“I think she sometimes gets a bit bypassed because she rarely goes showy in her roles,” Blakeson said. “It confounds me that she didn’t win the Oscar for ‘Gone Girl.’”
Blakeson added that he had long wanted to work with Pike. “She is different in every part; you never know what you are going to get,” he said. “In ‘I Care a Lot,’ playing a character that couldn’t be more unlike her as a person, you are reminded of just how good she is.”
Pike grew up in London, the only child of two opera singers who spent a lot of time on the road as they traveled from job to job. She said she knew that she was going to be an actor from about the age of 4. “You grow up in a creative household and you assimilate that,” she said. “Adults to me were people who could play and tell stories in compelling ways. I would sit for hours in rehearsals for operas and work out why I believed things, or why I didn’t. I found a kind of magic in the theater; it felt like a good place where I belonged.”
She did not do much about it, she said, until she was 16, when she saw a flyer at her school for the National Youth Theater, a British institution that has built a reputation for producing actors like Daniel Craig, Colin Firth and Helen Mirren. Pike auditioned, was accepted and spent the next two years performing with the group, eventually playing the heroine in “Romeo and Juliet.”
Her performance as Juliet won Pike an agent (who she is still with), a fact she kept quiet when she went to Oxford University. “I would secretly go to London to audition for things I mostly wouldn’t get, and wonder, ‘Is he going to give up on me?’” she said. Pike also acted at university — “a hotbed of opportunities to fail,” she said dryly.
She traveled for a bit after graduation, returning in time to audition for the Bond movie. “I was all shaggy haired, in a cardigan and old jeans,” she said. “I couldn’t have been less appropriate, but luckily they could see beyond that.” But although she was praised for her part in the movie — her first film role — Pike said it opened few doors.
She returned to stage work, performing in Terry Johnson’s “Hitchcock Blonde” at the Royal Court, which she described as a career highlight. Since then, however, she has mostly worked in film, and has been drawn to characters based on real-life figures, including Ruth Williams, the wife of Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana, in “A United Kingdom,” Marie Colvin in “A Private War” and Marie Curie in “Radioactive.”
“She could have easily kept playing a beautiful blonde, the object of desire,” said Marjane Satrapi, the director of “Radioactive.” “That would have been easy for her, but instead she has taken on roles that are each more challenging than the other. She is an actress who is not scared of getting old, who thinks this is interesting.”
Pike said that studios rarely saw her as a comedian, but she showed she can be one in the recent BBC series “State of the Union,” for which she won an Emmy. “Perhaps people will notice now,” she said.
“Things are funny because they are true, and someone like Rosamund who plays so truthfully can be very funny,” said David Tennant, who co-starred with Pike in the British dramedy “What We Did on our Holiday.” For comedy, he added, “you need a lightness of touch, a deftness, you need to come to work with a bit of joy — all qualities that Rosamund has.”
It was 2014’s “Gone Girl,” though, that proved to be Pike’s breakthrough role. “It gave me the chance to learn more about screen acting than I ever had before,” she said. “I was allowed to show every part of being a woman — to be extreme, dangerous, sweet, compliant, vulnerable. It was the first I could achieve a freedom onscreen that I had only previously felt onstage.”
The character of Marla Grayson in “I Care a Lot” shares certain traits with Amy — notably the deployment of femininity as both a weapon and a performance — but Pike was slightly indignant at the suggestion that the characters were similar.
“I saw them as totally different,” she said. “I would never want to do a sub-‘Gone Girl.’ To me, Marla was more a shoot from the hip, think on your feet person.”
“It was important to us that this was fun for audiences and that the darkly comedic side was rooted in truth,” she added. “What are the values in America? What earns you respect? Money.”
She thought for a bit, then smiled: “Being able to relish and watch in appalled horror and glee — people like that.”