Playing a Bond girl has long been synonymous with career suicide, especially for actresses just getting their start in the business. For British bombshell Gemma Arterton it was anything but. After portraying Strawberry Fields in the critically reviled "Quantum of Solace," the actress has managed to straddle both the big-budget and indie realms in films as diverse as "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" and "Tamara Drewe."
This month she appears in two titles that couldn't be any more different: Neil Jordan's vampire saga "Byzantium," and The Weinstein Company's weepie "Unfinished Song," in which she stars opposite Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave. In "Byzantium" (out this Friday), she plays a clandestine vampire -- and mother to Saoirse Ronan -- who prostitutes herself to get by; in "Unfinished Song" (currently playing in select theaters), she plays a senior choir teacher tasked with bringing a grumpy English pensioner (Stamp) out of his shell.
I sat down with Arterton in New York.
Since Bond you've been so remarkably busy. What's this whole ride been like for you?
Yeah, it's been kind of insane. I feel like I have two or three careers simultaneously. I have my theater career, which is sort of confined to England, and then I have my sort of Hollywood blockbuster career which is sort of international, and then I have my indie career. And this year has been an interesting one, because it been started off with this big blockbuster with "Hansel & Gretel" and then there's these two films, which are definitely down the indie bit. Sometimes I feel like I'm being pulled in so many different directions, but that's kind of nice, I like that. It's been pretty intense. I mean, when it started, I left drama school, I was doing theater and then the Bond film comes out, and then all these different opportunities arose to do all these big movies and I kind of just went along with it. And it got a little bit out of control and I wasn't very happy and I wasn't really feeling it.
What film in particular caused that?
It was "Clash of the Titans." It just didn't turn out the way it was meant to turn out. You know, these studio pictures can be really great, and I had a great experience on "Hansel & Gretel" actually, but it's not really the thing I wanted to do when I wanted to be an actor. I was doing like physical theater and circus stuff, and it was a different kind of circus [laughs] But it's been great, you know, on the flip side having done those films made it possible for me to do something like "Byzantium," which we found very hard to finance.
Which is shocking, giving Neil Jordan's roots in the vampire genre.
I know, it's ugly. Especially British film, the funding is mostly independent and there's no sort of government funding anymore, which we used to have. And so, you know, it's important that you have the sort of box-office credentials to get those things made, so it's a real balancing act. But for me, personally, I got sort of tired doing all that blockbuster stuff, and I've kind of been trying to make conscious decisions to be a bit more grounded with the types of movies I'm making. So "Unfinished Song" and "Byzantium" are very, very different movies, but definitely a lot more in the zone I feel more comfortable in.
What was the film you did immediately after Bond? Was it "The Disappearance of Alice Creed"? That film really put you through the wringer.
No, I did that film after I'd made "Prince of Persia" and between "Clash of the Titans." I went a bit straight on into "Clash of the Titans" right after that, but it was so great to do it though. I mean it was intense, very very challenging, three actors, I mean, a totally different direction. But I needed to do it for myself, because I just felt a bit like, Oh god, you commit to these movies and now I'm committed to them. I just needed to make sure that I could still act, in a way. So yeah.
But, on the flip side, I love the diversity, and I'm fascinated by the art form in general, you know, and it's like going from doing theater to radio, which I do a lot of, you know, with these big movies. You just have to adapt so much, you still have to do the same thing as an actor, but it's just a totally different way of doing. But yeah, I feel a lot more calm within my career, and I've just started my production company, and it's been nice working with people from the conception of an idea and then actually making it happen, is so interesting and satisfying. I'm starting to make films that I really want to make.
You're so active as it is. What were your specific reasons for starting it?
To be really honest with you, there are so many films that I read and I don't get, because I'm not famous enough or whatever, and I'm always like, "Ahh, that's the film that I want to make!" But I just don't get it. So it's like, "Well, maybe if I'm the producer, then I can make sure that I make it." [Laughs] So it was kind of like, selfish reasons at first, for me to be able to be in whatever I wanted to do. But then, alas, I really have a goal that I feel about what I want to say about femininity. And I think, something like "Byzantium," which as I said, was hard to get made because it was a feminine film.
A feminist film.
A feminist film. But, for me, I want to create more opportunities for female directors and female writers. Not just that, I'm not limiting myself to just that, but I think that's something that I'm interested in -- telling stories about that. There's definitely a market for it. And I love writers, you know, a lot of my friends are writers, and I love working with writers. So it's sort of my own personal quest, to do that too. And, you know, it gets to a point where as an actor you a feel a little bit helpless. It's different in theater, because it's a smaller group of people, and you're very much integral to the whole process. But movies, often the work you put in and what actually comes out is so different from what it's originally going to be, and it can be so frustrating. So, in a way, it's being able to be a little bit more in control of the idea and what you really want to say.
It was frustrating for quite a long time, you know, I think on "Clash of the Titans" in particular, because the script was actually really good and they got all these really great actors. And it just went into post-production, and they re-shot everything last-minute, and it's so frustrating to be attached to something that's totally different from the outcome. So for me, it's just to be a little but more in control of what I'm doing, so that what I'm putting out it actually what I mean, I'm really passionate about that.
This interview is continued on page 2.