https://www.vogue.com-By Liam Hess
Rosamond Pike as Marla Grayson in I Care a Lot, now streaming on NetflixPhoto: Seacia Pavao / Courtesy of Netflix
“There are two types of people in this world,” says Rosamund Pike’s character with deliciously twisted vim in the opening scene of her new Netflix film, I Care a Lot. “The people who take, and those getting took. Predators and prey. Lions and lambs. My name is Marla Grayson, and I’m not a lamb—I am a fucking lioness.”
For all of the ferocity that bubbles under the surface of Pike’s Golden Globe–nominated performance as this self-proclaimed lioness, it’s her icy exterior and the businesslike efficiency with which she executes her ruthless grift that feels most terrifying of all. Marla’s modus operandi is as follows: Through a network of doctors and nursing home managers whom she keeps on payroll, she targets lonely senior citizens with false diagnoses of dementia, gets herself appointed as their legal guardian, locks them up in a home, then cuts herself outsize checks from their savings under the guise of care. But things take a turn when Jennifer Peterson, an elderly woman who at first seems to be the perfect mark, ends up having a more complicated backstory than Marla bargained for. (Dianne Wiest plays that part with equally vicious, foul-mouthed glee.) To explain any more would be to spoil the delights of the film’s head-spinning twists and turns, but highlights include Peter Dinklage as a Russian mobster, Eiza González as Marla’s younger girlfriend and partner in crime, and multiple scenes featuring Pike puffing away on a comically enormous silver vape pen that looks like a weapon in and of itself.
“It’s a dark comedy about the American dream, and a satire on the system of care in America,” Pike explains from her current base in Prague, where she has spent the past year with her family, after initially being stuck there while filming a TV series during last spring’s lockdown. “Not all care is bad, but we do see the very unsavory side of elderly care being big business. I’m sure most care homes are run very responsibly, but I’m also sure there are people being cut in left, right, and center in others, money being siphoned off all over the place. In doing this film I didn’t take a deep dive into the politics of it; I needed to let Marla tell a story. It’s a fiction, but as we know, it’s based on something that can happen.”
While Pike might have first emerged as a quintessential English rose, an image burnished by her breakout role as the upper-crust Bond girl Miranda Frost in 2002’s Die Another Day and memorable turns in British period dramas like 2004’s The Libertine (opposite Johnny Depp) and 2005’s Pride and Prejudice (as Jane Bennet), it was her 2014 appearance in David Fincher’s Gone Girl that opened up something of a new chapter in the actor’s career. Playing the frosty sociopath and anti “cool girl” Amy, the film’s twisty thrills gave Pike her meatiest role to date, and one that she dove into with visible relish.
There are obvious parallels between Amy and Marla, and her role in I Care a Lot has earned her similarly glowing reviews. Why, I ask, does she think audiences seem to take such delight in watching her play terrible people? “For me, the parallel with those two characters is that both of them are artfully able to manipulate traditional feminine tropes and play with them and convincingly deploy them to their own gain,” says Pike. “Amy manages to make the whole of America think she’s the victim of a terrible plot, and she becomes America’s sweetheart. Marla is able to pass herself off as very reasonable and caring and disciplined and conscientious and all these things that she’s not. The performative aspect of these characters is what appeals to me, and the fact that they take a Machiavellian pleasure in their own cleverness.”
For the past few years, Pike’s performances have explored a very different kind of cleverness, as she’s played a series of important women from history in acclaimed (if not always box office–smashing) roles, including Marie Curie, war reporter Marie Colvin, and the inaugural first lady of Botswana Ruth Williams Khama. “I’ve been taking myself quite seriously for good causes over the last few years,” says Pike. “This was a chance to have a character that didn’t screw with your chemical makeup in a way that those big emotional characters do. They go very deep, they linger, they affect you very deeply—their stories and the fact that they existed. You feel a great responsibility. It was a chance to dance on the dark side again and have some fun.”
It makes sense, then, that the sources of inspiration for Marla’s character were ones Pike found curiously entertaining, including Nicole Kidman’s murderously ambitious weather girl in To Die For, Gus Van Sant’s criminally overlooked 1995 satire of celebrity culture, and the disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, with all of her preening self-obsession and careful image building.
“I was curious about Elizabeth Holmes as a study in the art of conviction—what she does to deploy something that people unilaterally found totally convincing,” Pike explains. “In America in particular, people are so beguiled by wealth. Wealth can cover for an awful lot of evil and wrongdoing. If you have a fortune, that’s enough in and of itself. You hear that someone’s received a $2 billion investment and that’s a good thing, that must be a good thing because they got that investment. If the end of our movie hadn’t been what it was, in a couple of years Marla would’ve been on the cover of Forbes, she would’ve been bequeathing a certain portion to charity, and all would be squeaky clean again.”
It’s this questioning of how money, power, and image interact in contemporary America that slowly emerges as the film’s ideological core. There’s both Marla’s weaponizing of her gender, which she exploits by cloaking her misdeeds in girlboss-lite rhetoric—who wouldn’t believe a white woman with an impeccably cut blonde bob and a gleaming smile, the film dares you to ask—as well as its revelation of the money-grabbing rot that festers in certain corners of privatized health care. Yet even in a game where everyone is looking to make a buck and every player is pretty much as evil as the other, you somehow find yourself rooting for the walking moral vacuum that is Marla to succeed during the film’s thriller-like second half.
It’s this underlying indictment of late-stage capitalism that first drew Pike to the project. “Maybe the real villain of the piece is the system, which is set up for people like Marla to win,” she offers. Still, what ultimately makes the film such a riot to watch is the fun that Pike seems to be having playing a “fucking lioness” once again: “If people like watching me play these characters, why should that mean I should run away from it? Why do we tell ourselves we should never revisit territory that we’ve visited before? Not every year, but it’s certainly fun to explore it. So I thought, Make a note to self: If I’m getting too earnest, look for an antiheroine every few years.” With Marla, Pike has found the perfect (and perfectly horrible) antiheroine for our times.