Thursday 18 January 2018

Princess of Persia strips down for Disappearance act

Gemma Arterton stars in two titanic blockbusters this year, but Evan Fanning discovers that the Bond girl hasn't lost the common touch

Evan Fanning

GEMMA Arterton has barely started speaking before she is admonishing herself for her seemingly common ways. "Not me neither," she says in agreement with writer/director J Blakeson's statement that he has never been involved in anything like the story of The Disappearance of Alice Creed. She repeats the statement almost mockingly. "Not me neither," she mutters before cackling with laughter.

Most interviews you read with Arterton have mentioned how the 24-year-old Essex girl's accent is not one that you expect to come out of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. But it did.

There is something real about Arterton which perhaps, in class-obsessed Britain and the world of drama, could be mistaken for an excessively common touch. Her laugh: loud, harsh and warm, is displayed frequently. She finds a lot of things funny.

And despite her truly stunning appearance there is warmth to her that is so welcoming it is almost disarming. Down-to-earth is what it is most often described as, but she describes herself as "fiery".

She needs to be too. On her first day on her new job, Arterton had a black sack placed over her head, was dragged kicking and screaming by two men into the back of a van, thrown on to a bed in a dingy flat, stripped naked, bound and gagged. All the while the camera rolled.

It has been quite a year for the girl from Gravesend who just three years ago was working part-time at a make-up counter. She had always acted at school in Kent while living at home with her mother Sally, a cleaner, but, in the space of two days, she saw Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark as well a TV interview with Sean Penn, and her eyes were opened to what the profession could lead to.

She moved to London at 18 and attended RADA and subsequently had roles in the kind of movies that barely make it out of the UK, such as St Trinian's and Three and Out. Then came Quantum of Solace where she played Agent Strawberry Fields whose liaison with Daniel Craig's 007 meets a messy end. All of a sudden, she was a Bond girl -- with all the attention that that entails.

Her new film, the cleverly executed The Disappearance of Alice Creed is sandwiched between two titanic blockbusters which could well cast her to the very forefront of Hollywood's leading actresses. Clash of the Titans is already in cinemas and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, where she stars in the lead role alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, will be released next month. She also has finished shooting Stephen Frears's Tamara Drewe, due for release next year, in which she plays the title character.

"If I'm really honest I never imagined myself in those Hollywood movies," she says. "I never thought I'd ever get work. The films that I go to see at the cinema aren't Hollywood blockbusters. I'm in them but I don't go and spend my money on them. I'd much rather go and see a Haneke film or this kind of movie."

This kind of movie is an ultra low-budget psychological thriller made by first-time director Blakeson. It features just three cast members. Arterton plays Alice Creed who is kidnapped and held hostage by two men while they seek a hefty ransom from her rich father. Made for a relative pittance, the role is almost unrelenting in the misery it inflicts on her. There's full frontal nudity, extreme violence, degradation and Arterton is barely off-screen.

"I had just finished Prince of Persia and I wanted to do something stripped down," she says. "It's one of those things where you read it and go 'Oh yeah, she gets naked' or 'I've got this scene with this guy'. It's something that you just skim over at first, but then you think, 'F***, I've got to actually do this'.

"When I read it I thought, 'Yeah, I can do this' but nobody else thought I could because they've seen me in Bond and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. But I thought this is the type of stuff I thought I could do because I'm quite fiery. I actually find the other stuff harder, like in Clash of the Titans where you're saying lines like 'This is your destiny'."

Given the nature of her role, a lot of energy on set was focused on making sure she was alright. Blakeson admits he spent a lot of time apologising to her for writing the scenes she was about to film. Arterton is more laissez faire about the process.

"It was obviously demanding stuff and there weren't many girls on set either so it could have felt really awkward. But there was so much attention on making sure that I was feeling OK that it felt like I was in control. I was the one going, 'Chill out, everyone, it's fine'. You don't want to cause a fuss.

"These characters are in a state of tension all the time and thinking on their feet. We were all going 'Oh f***. What are we going to do next?'"

What Arterton is going to do next remains to be seen. In six months, when the balance sheets of Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia are totted up, she could find herself one of the most in-demand young actresses in town.

In the meantime there is a wedding to plan. As we speak she sits twisting her engagement ring, but the identity of her fiance is such a closely protected secret that no one can say for sure who it is. She has referred to him as "he" in interviews and laughed off suggestions that he was Daniel Craig's body double in Quantum of Solace.

"All I can tell you is that he is my significant other and he's not even in the industry," she has said. "Nobody knows anything about him and that's how I want it to be."

They're literally queuing up outside the door to speak with her and for now she must get on with promoting a film her heart is clearly in.

"Often you start out on a film and then you see the finished thing and you think 'That wasn't the film I signed up to do', but with this there was no room for budging. I think I lend myself better to this sort of on-your-toes filmmaking than the luxury of having lots of time. You do get nicer food on a big film though." And then that laugh again. Common or not, you could never tire of hearing it.

'The Disappearance of Alice Creed' opens on Friday

Sunday Independent

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