TORONTO — Oscar-nominated “Gone Girl” star Rosamund Pike partly inspired famed writer Nick Hornby’s new novel, “Funny Girl.”
The book follows a beauty pageant winner who longs to be a comedy star but is pigeonholed because of her looks in late-1960s England.
Hornby says London-born Pike told him she faced the same obstacles before being cast in a supporting comedic role in 2009’s “An Education,” which earned Hornby an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay.
“She said to me, ‘No one ever lets me be funny,'” Hornby said during a recent stop in Toronto.
“I thought she was alluding in some ways to the way that she looked, because she is this fantastic blond bombshell — icy, English, rosy, you know, all of those cliches about actresses. It interested me because it seems to me that if you look like that then you can’t be other things, because you’d sort of damage the brand — and she was prepared to do that and wanted to do that, but not many actresses do.”
In “Funny Girl,” Barbara Parker abandons her Miss Blackpool crown minutes after getting it so she can impulsively move to London and try to become a TV comedy star like her idol, Lucille Ball.
The story follows her struggles, from having to change her name and accent to disproving naysayers and navigating the rollercoaster ride of TV stardom.
Along the way she bonds with a pair of closeted gay screenwriters, an unhappily wed producer, and the conflicted co-star of the sitcom that makes her famous.
“Beautiful women are really fun to write about … because if a beautiful woman opens a door and walks into a room, things happen in ways that they tend not to for mumbly, unsophisticated blokes who I’ve been writing about before,” said Hornby, 57.
“I thought, ‘Oh, well, this is easy dramatically, because people want to speak to this girl and they want to find ways of getting involved in her life.’ But a girl who looked like that who is also a comedienne seemed like an interesting combination.”
Hornby said he thinks the problem some women face in the British comedy world isn’t as big in the U.S., where there’s “more of a tradition of comediennes.”
“English comedy, for a long time, was very blokey and I don’t quite know why. But I’ve always thought that the great success of Lucille Ball (in the U.S.) was something that inspired generation after generation of comediennes. If you don’t have that original inspiration, then you’re going to struggle, and we didn’t have the original inspiration.”
“Funny Girl” is the first novel in over five years from Hornby, a British literary star whose novels “High Fidelity,” “Fever Pitch,” and “About A Boy” were adapted for the big screen.
He also wrote the screenplay for “Wild,” which is based on the Cheryl Strayed memoir and has earned Oscar nominations for Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.
Hornby’s upcoming projects include the release of the film “Brooklyn,” which he wrote based on the Colm Toibin novel.
He’s also working with the BBC on developing a sitcom inspired by the Nina Stibbe novel “Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home.”
“I always want to work and write something new — and I still think that my best days are ahead of me,” he said.