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You may not have heard of actress Rosamund Pike, but she's currently busy stealing movies from stars like Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and, er, The Rock.
In "The Libertine," Pike plays the long-suffering wife of a 17th-century aristocratic rogue (Depp). She turns a blind eye to his drinking and philandering, but when she's about to lose him, she erupts with a blast of emotion that blends all the anger, sorrow and love she has quietly harbored.
Pike's performance in "Pride & Prejudice" is just as deep. While her role as the proper Jane Bennet might be considered thankless beside that of her free-spirited sister Elizabeth (Knightley), Pike finds a well of romantic intensity within the seemingly passive young woman.
"I like to play people who feel strongly, even if they're shy or reserved," Pike, 26, explains. "I'd like to believe that everybody has resources of strength in them."
She says filming her volatile scene in "The Libertine" was "sickeningly frightening," given she had to play against Depp, whom "I've admired my whole life, more than any other actor I've worked with. You don't want to let him down."
"Libertine" director Laurence Dunmore cast Pike for the contradictory qualities he needed in a character required to "go to the extremes of internal emotions. She has this elegance and dignity, and yet there is passion lurking beneath that cool exterior."
British film historian James Chapman says Pike belongs to a category of "very classic English beauties," including `30s star Madeleine Carroll and Helena Bonham Carter. But he says she'll need to avoid typecasting:
"You do two or three period films and then people assume that's where you belong. If she wants to be taken seriously over a long career, she will need to expand into grittier contemporary roles." On the other hand, Chapman adds, "I can't imagine `Doom' is going to advance her career in any significant way."
The Oxford-educated Pike agreed to co-star with The Rock in that action flick, released last month, when she was actually wearing a corset on location.
"I was out in a cornfield with a bonnet on and I got a call saying,
They've offered you a part inDoom,'" she says. "And I thought, `If they could see me now they'd think they'd got the wrong girl!' But it was a great opportunity and a bit of financial security, as well. As an actor, it's all very well to say you're making choices, but you're also trying to make a living."
Pike got her first big paycheck for another role that didn't require her to draw on her classical training: She made her film debut as cold-blooded Bond girl Miranda Frost in 2002's "Die Another Day."
John Cork, co-author of "Bond Girls Are Forever," notes the considerable challenge for any serious actress looking to start a movie career as an object of the superspy's affections. While "there is always a great deal of focus on the newest Bond girl," he says, "that focus rarely has anything to do with acting talent."
And yet, he adds, "there was an uncertainty about Miranda Frost's true identity. She was not a typical seductress. She was very sexy, but not as overtly sexual as many Bond girls."
After "Die Another Day," "I got more and more scripts with characters described as
frigid' anduptight,'" Pike recalls. "The Bond thing is so overwhelming. I had this ridiculous notion I had to be Miranda Frost all my life. I thought, `Oh dear, something's gone very wrong here.'"
So getting cast as Jane Bennet "was brilliant," she says, "because it's so much more the real side of me. Sometimes I do smile."
Asked if she wants a higher profile in Hollywood, Pike chooses her words carefully. "Hmm. I feel I should be answering this question in the affirmative," she says. "To have the support of a studio would be great. But I don't think it's very important - no.
"I'm a strangely unambitious person," she adds, noting that her colleague Knightley "can't go anywhere without being photographed. I enjoy being able to walk around London and go running in the park without people staring."
The pressure of a doing three press tours to promote her movies, meanwhile, has been eased by the fact Pike has been traveling with her boyfriend, "Pride & Prejudice" director Joe Wright.
"We were very professional about it," she says of their getting together during filming. "It didn't really announce itself until the wrap party."
She's currently happy to take each step of her career "as it comes. I'd love to say I was the kind of person who has an outline. But the only outline I have is that I want to carry on doing this all my life."
(c) 2005, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.