Rosamund Pike wouldn’t necessarily call her process on A Private War method — it wasn’t exactly a Daniel Day-Lewis texting Sally Field as Abraham Lincoln kind of situation — but the Gone Girl Oscar-nominee wanted to replicate the experience of watching a documentary for her upcoming biopic about slain war correspondent Marie Colvin.
She was inspired by her director, Matthew Heineman, known primarily in the industry as a documentarian. “There’s nothing fraudulent about what we did, and I think that’s a huge credit to Matthew. I think we captured the truth as nearly you can without it being an actual documentary,” Pike tells EW. “As he was a documentary filmmaker, I felt my job was to give him a Marie that he could film at all times — whether I knew he was filming or not. I wanted to try to give him as close an experience as he had with his docs that I stayed in character as much as I could. And so if I was sitting at a laptop or smoking a cigarette, he could film it, which I think he often did.”
A Private War, based partially on the Vanity Fair article “Marie Colvin’s Private War,” compiles moments from Colvin’s life, including how she lost an eye from a grenade explosion in Sri Lankan, how she suffered from PTSD covering wars, and how she eventually lost her life in 2012 from a targeted attack in Homs, Syria.
“By and large every time you see grief in the movie, it’s real,” Pike says. “And that’s what gives the integrity and the fierceness of the film.”
Without the use of Colvin’s journals, the actress, 39, interviewed her friends, who were “understandably quite suspicious having their friend committed to film in this way.” She also absorbed Barbara Kopple’s Bearing Witness and “completely candidate” footage taken of Colvin from Paul Conroy, her photographer-in-arms, played by Jamie Dornan in the film.
“The real Paul Conroy was with us the entire time,” Dornan told EW at the Toronto International Film Festival (shown in the video above). “It was just invaluable to have him there every day, to have that opportunity if at any point I had a question about the situation we were trying to react [to] just ask the real person who was there at the time.”
With Conroy, Pike remembers discussing “everything from the details of day-to-day life, like in Mizrata where you might get a coffee fix by shaking a few granules up in a water bottle,” to “the thrill of finding an egg being sold… dreaming of the different ways to cook eggs when they had no means of cooking at all.”
It was “a lot of the absurdity as well as the brutality.”
The brutality, too, feels real in the film because most of the extras and featured extras were Syrian and they brought with them their own stories of war. One scene that remained with Pike after filming was the recreation of what Colvin saw inside a hospital. Her account to CNN’s Anderson Cooper of a child dying from an explosion would end up being her final report.
“By and large the [extras] who are featured, their life stories are the stories that [we’re] telling,” Pike recounts. “So that man [who] plays the father of the boy, he is someone who has had a child shot off his shoulders in Homs. There was real trauma being relived in that moment and it was incredibly difficult to watch and be around. That’s just one of many, many stories.”
“They’re talking about real pain, they’re talking about real trauma,” Heineman remarks. “One of my dreams for the film is simply to continue what she did, which was to put a human face to war. So often war is relegated to headlines and to stats, to numbers. And I hope this film can be an homage to journalism and to people who are out there fighting for the truth and exposing the truth.”
A Private War opens in New York and Los Angeles on Nov. 2 before going nationwide on Nov. 16.