In the topsy-turvy comedic thriller “I Care a Lot,” Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a ruthless hustler who takes advantage of the elderly by becoming their legal guardian and bleeding them dry of their retirement funds and assets.
Written and directed by the British filmmaker J Blakeson, the movie premiered last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was acquired by Netflix, and is now streaming on the platform.
Marla, along with her business and romantic partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez), come across Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who they consider to be the perfect victim — wealthy, healthy and without family. After they have her placed in a home, heavily medicated her and begin to pillage her assets — discovering a secret stash of diamonds — they find themselves on the wrong side of a vicious crime lord (Peter Dinklage).
Yet even in the face of grave danger, Marla holds steady, one-upping anyone who thinks they can intimidate or outwit her.
Many reviews of the film have compared Pike’s performance to her turn as Amy Dunne in “Gone Girl,” a role that earned her nominations for the Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe and more. Considering the film had not yet been seen very broadly, Pike was also something of a recent surprise Golden Globe nominee for her role in “I Care a Lot.”
Alongside Marla Grayson and Amy Dunne, Pike has of late portrayed a portfolio of formidable women with roles such as photojournalist Marie Colvin in “A Private War” and scientist Marie Curie in “Radioactive.”
“I think I’m very drawn to courage in all its many forms,” said Pike on a recent video call from Prague, where she has been shooting the upcoming Amazon series “The Wheel of Time.” “Marla is courageous, not in the heroic way that Marie Colvin is courageous, but Marla has mettle and I think I’m very drawn to characters with mettle. Maybe they just don’t come to me for the nice, simple, sweet girl.
“I liked the sort of deliciously irresponsible nature of it,” Pike said of her part in “I Care a Lot.” “I liked the fact that I’ve been playing these very morally worthy women and I liked ... the chance to be reprehensible. And I thought it was a challenge. Can I be totally morally reprehensible and still be fun to watch? That was the territory I wanted to work in.”
The film marks the first as writer and director from Blakeson since his 2009 film “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” a kidnapping thriller starring Gemma Arterton and Eddie Marsan. In the years since, he directed the feature film “The 5th Wave” and worked on the series “Gunpowder.”
“They both felt very much like me,” said Blakeson of his two films as writer and director. “They sort of cross genre about bad people doing good things, good people doing bad things. Nobody’s particularly the likable person in the movie.”
In describing the nasty but fun tone of “I Care a Lot,” Blakeson mentioned films such as Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole,” Alexander Mackendrick’s “Sweet Smell of Success” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
“The tone that I like to strike is looking at that difficult ugly thing, but doing it through genre and through cinema at the same time,” said Blakeson. “Rather than just ‘Here’s a terrible thing, let’s watch a realist drama about somebody whose parents have been whisked away on drugs to an old people’s home,’ which would be unbearable to watch.”
Chris Messina — who has made strong impressions in supporting roles in recent films “Birds of Prey” and “She Dies Tomorrow” and the HBO limited series “Sharp Objects” — co-stars as a fast-talking mob lawyer, who arrives on a cloud of fine clothing and vague menace, representing interests concerned for Jennifer Peterson’s well-being.
In particular, the lengthy dialogue scene when Messina’s character first visits Marla’s office — which moves from smooth talk to offering money to overt threats — is a microcosm of the movie and its roller-coaster of mood that often turns on a dime. The chance to share such a long scene — it was some 12 pages in the script — with Pike was a real highlight for the actor.
“I’ve had that experience so many times with great actors where you’re not quite sure how they did that,” said Messina. “It’s the best seat in the house. And they’re discovering it right in front of you. ... I love the movie and I’m proud of that particular scene, but being front row to Rosamund and seeing all the different variations that she played, it was like a master class.”
Wiest had previously read about this particular type of elder abuse in the guardianship system and so was intrigued to see it portrayed in the film. And she had never done a thriller before, another selling point.
Wiest also has most of her scenes opposite Pike, and the two-time Oscar winner used the same word to describe Pike as Messina did — surprising.
“She’s an incredibly gifted woman,” said Wiest. “She’s not looking to control anything. A lot of actors don’t want to be surprised, they say ‘that’s not in the script’ if you’re spontaneous with a line or something. And so you sort of walk this narrow, boring line. But Rosamund’s up for anything. I mean, she’ll go anywhere. ... An early scene we shot, she said, ‘I never expected you to do that. And it’s so wonderful.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, how great.’ ”
Pike would say the same thing right back about her fellow actors. She recalled her first scene with Wiest, in which Marla turns up at Jennifer’s house unannounced and describes how the older woman is now legally in her care and will move to a senior care facility.
“I think that’s what I ask for really in actors I work with, I want to be surprised,” said Pike. “There were many ways that [Dianne] could play that character. Particularly in that first scene, when I come to the door, there would be a way of playing it that would make it much easier for Marla to extract her. But Dianne sort of laughed in my face. She just laughed at me. And I had to turn that.
“It’s a bit like we had the lyrics, but not the music. We had J’s script, but the actual dynamic and the rhythm of the scene, I never knew which way it was going to go,” said Pike. “If you cast strong people, you’re going to get strong reactions. It’s like chemistry.”
Before shooting began, Pike would go over to Blakeson’s house in London to watch films such as “The Last Seduction” with Linda Fiorentino and “To Die For” with Nicole Kidman, digging into other female anti-heroines and what made them so appealing.
“I remember that J’s wife, was always like ‘Are you kidding me, you two, this is work?’ ” said Pike. “We’d be in their living room watching another film, but it was really important groundwork for seeing Marla in the history of women like her who’ve come before, unlikeable heroines and trying to see what made these characters, how are they fun to watch while they’re also appalling?”
Besides being involved with costume designer Deborah Newhall in crafting Marla’s sharp haircut, smart suits and mix of stiletto heels and designer sneakers, Pike also was involved in deciding on the ostentatious vape pen that Marla seems to rarely be without.
“There was a selection and I chose the biggest and most obnoxious one,” said Pike proudly.
She added that the vape pen actually had to do with a backstory that didn’t make it into the final edit involving Marla once owning her own vape store until it was run out of business by a bigger store, providing her final push to ruthless self-interest.
“It was that point that she thought, I’ve tried to live the American dream fair and square, tried to be the small business owner. I got screwed, fine. I’m now going to play dirty. Like everyone else, I’m going to screw people too,” Pike said.
“I Care a Lot” turns the tables on audiences repeatedly, establishing Marla as a despicable person, which puts the audience in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Dinklage’s brutal mob boss before upending expectations again and again.
“I like that in movies — I like it when you’re not quite sure what ground you’re standing on,” said Blakeson. “If you think about it for five minutes after the movie, you’re thinking, ‘Is that what I wanted?’ This sort of leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth like, ‘I really enjoyed that, but should I enjoy that?’ And I think that’s the sort of territory I’m interested in poking with a stick.”
“You keep expecting the person to root for to turn up, for the good guy to turn up and then the good guy never does turn up,” said Pike. “And then you’re like, ‘Hell, everyone’s awful. There is no such thing as good people. So I’m just gonna get on the bandwagon, I suppose and allow myself some sort of moral indiscretion and enjoy it.’ ”