Gemma Arterton: take me seriously
Tired of being a 'piece of ass', former Bond girl Gemma Arterton went in search of something a little more fulfilling – and succeeded with great aplomb
Two years ago, Gemma Arterton declared she was tired of being treated like a "piece of ass" by Hollywood and that she was stepping away from popcorn blockbusters to focus on theatre and small indie movies instead.
It's not a surprising reaction from someone who left the rarified and elite world of Rada, where she honed her craft on Chekhov and Ibsen, and almost immediately became a Bond girl.
She was cast in a run of big-budget films that made use of her sex appeal more than her training. Achieving fame had come easily, but she was creatively unfulfilled.
"I wish that at Rada they'd taught that," she says of her struggles to find her way in the industry. "Because they mostly teach you technique for theatre, and then you are sort of thrust out in the world and you don't know about how to sculpt a career.
"For the first three or four years of my career I was learning so fast, and doing all of this crazy stuff... and really being thrust out."
For a while, she dutifully followed instructions: 'Now you are going to walk down the red carpet with all these people, and now you are going to do loads of press and now ... and you also at the same time are thinking, oh my god, this might end tomorrow so I better do it all."
And so, she was a Bond girl and a sexy journalist in hot pants as Tamara Drewe and a bewitching temptress in Prince of Persia and presumably read a lot of scripts calling for variations on the theme of a beautiful semi-naked girl who meets a sticky end.
Today, she's sitting in a meeting room in a Soho office, legs swung over the arm of her chair, wrapped up warm against the cold in jeans and jacket. Her bombshell beauty is offset by a geeky pair of black-rimmed glasses.
We're here to talk about Song For Marion, her new movie, quite clearly part of her code of quality over scale.
It's an indie flick from acclaimed writer/director Paul Andrew Williams – a moving tale of an elderly man whose wife has terminal cancer, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp. In terms of creative credibility, she's lined all her ducks in a row.
And then there is the role itself, for which, completely against type, she plays a hapless choir leader who has no luck with men. Acting with Vanessa and Terence was easy, she says.
"It just came naturally, a lot of it. Sometimes you work with actors and you're like, I'm not getting anything from you because acting in a scene is about reacting off the other person. You have to be all present and playing, otherwise you're just out there on a limb going aaah, look at me, I look like a dick. So when you do work with really good actors, they always say that, but it's true, they make you better."
Arterton plays Elizabeth, a teacher from East London who papers over the cracks in her floundering personal life by throwing herself into community work, leading a choir of pensioners and encouraging them into local singing competitions. She's chipper but a bit lost; one whose determined positivity is a flimsy veil.
"She's a bit sad, a bit of a loser," says Arterton.
"I always see characters I play as aspects of me. You just reveal that aspect more," she goes on. "This one is definitely the 'wanting to be liked' aspect. She is a little bit like me but she's much more chirpy than I am, and positive, and insecure. And not very confident, so there were things that weren't like me."
It's a measure of her skill that watching her play Elizabeth, you rather forget Arterton's arresting beauty.
It's not that she uglies-up for the role, like Charlize Theron in Monster, but rather that Arterton seems pretty, but her prettiness takes a back seat. She's less goddess, more girl next door.
"It was important for me to make sure that she wasn't sexy," she says. It's because of this, that we believe her when she turns up to see Arthur (played by Terence Stamp) in tears because, yet again, she's been dumped.
"I always do what if..." she explains.
"What if I had been dumped and what would I feel like? You have to remember that feeling in yourself or something similar."
So, has she ever been dumped? "Erm, no," she admits, almost sheepishly. "Maybe when I was like, 15 or something. I need to get dumped! Whenever people are like, I couldn't get out of bed, I was just crying for eight days, I lost so much weight because I wasn't eating. I've never had that. I'm lucky."
It looks more likely, however, that she's side-stepped that hurdle. Arterton has been safely married for over two years now. She was 24 when she got hitched to Stefano Catelli who is Italian and totally un-starry – he works in marketing for a fashion brand. He's also 10 years older than her.
If there remains risk of rejection in her life then, she admits with pragmatism that the danger area is her career, which she describes as "definitely on tenterhooks all the time. It could just not go right or it could go right, it's in that middle place. So you have to make good choices. I always think my gut instinct is right and there have been times when I haven't gone with my gut and it's been disastrous."
She took some time off after getting married, and has come back with a more sanguine view of the Hollywood problem.
Alongside Song For Marion, she can be seen in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters of which she says she "had an amazing experience working on a big budget movie."
"I realised that it's not just us and them all the time, it can be 'we'. It can just be everyone together, because that's what I crave all the time in theatre and film and TV– a collaborative experience.
"I've been quite clear about what I do and don't want to do, since having done the bigger movies. And I think that's helped me. If you are not clear about what you want to do in this industry, then you will get pushed every which way. And trampled on. And you won't know what is going on.
"Now I feel much better in where I'm at with that whole side to my work. Also I'm more secure. I think, if you're secure, you can handle it. But at the time I wasn't secure."
She's not the "shy and young" ingenue she once was, doing what she was told. She's implemented some practices designed to prevent future 'piece of ass' casting pitfalls.
"I always make sure I meet everybody. I meet the director and quiz them about everything. I'm more vocal and interested in the whole thing."
Previously she relinquished control due to "not really knowing that it was my place to do that kind of stuff, that I have a right to know, have a say. It's nice because then you get respect, and people will talk to you like a colleague rather than a girl in a film."
'Song for Marion' opens on February 26th