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Gemma Arterton On Life After James Bond, the 'Clash of the Titans' Nightmare and Why She's a 'Quite a Sexual Person'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire June 27, 2013 at 12:37PM

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 Bond outing "Quantum of Solace," the actress has been on a remarkable roll, managing to straddle both the big budget and independent film realms in films as diverse as "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" and "Tamara Drewe."
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"Unfinished Song"
TWC "Unfinished Song"

That kind of begs the question: have you ever entertained the idea of directing one day?

Yeah, I think that's my ultimate goal, and I have a few ideas. I've always wanted to be a theater director, and when I started out, I was in a physical theater company, and it's all devised stuff and... actually, I watched "Spring Breakers" last night, and it reminded me of how I directed physical theater, because I read the script and thought, I'm far too old for this...

You read for "Spring Breakers"?

Well I just read the script, I didn't go out for it. I remember they sent it and I was like, "I'm too old for this shit." [Laughs]. Even when I watched it I was like, "Oh my god, I feel old." But I remember when I read it, thinking it was a really wordy script, like loads of dialogue. And then I watched it, it felt like they'd highlighted five key phrases and they just kept using that as a theme. And that's how I'd direct physical theater, come up with five key elements and compiling something. So I always worked in this sort of physical way, and I feel really... Theater, for me, directing theater is less pressure in terms of finance and money and if you fuck up, nobody really minds so much. So that's probably what I'd start off doing. I feel a little bit too young to do it right now, but reassuringly I've had really great actors who've said, "If you want to direct, I'll do something..." But we'll see. I think it's sort of in my 10-year plan.

Moving on to the films at hand. I loved both, but in "An Unfinished Song," which broke my heart...

I know! It's so sad...

"Unfinished Song"
TWC "Unfinished Song"

That scene with Vanessa Redgrave singing "True Colors"...

I remember when we shot that, everyone was crying. And the director, he wrote it about his grandmother, and he was in pieces that day. We had to wrap early, because he was crying so much.

So you're the youngest person in the film. What was it like working with a cast of such seasoned veterans?

It was incredible to work with them both. I remember being really intimidated. Vanessa, for me, is possibly the best British actress, especially onstage. I've seen her onstage and she really inspired me, and so I was really excited but so nervous. And also with Terence, because I had heard all of this stuff about Terence being difficult, and actually we ended up becoming really good friends and really good pals. Like even now, we hook up and we talk about food, you know, we're really good friends. And it was really lovely to just have the opportunity to work with them, and they're so different. But it was bizarre, you know, being the younger one. Older actors are really insecure. I don't think Vanessa is, I don't think anyone could make her insecure [laughs] But they worry, you know, "Have I lost it?" I felt like I was sort of the galvanizer, I was the one that was holding everyone together and motivating everybody. Especially with the choir, it was actually really tiring because they were like kids, and I was really having to keep everyone focused. But it was really lovely, it was a really lovely job to do. It was just simple, and I had just come off making "Hansel & Gretel," which was so not simple, so this was like easy-peasy, in a way. It was lovely.

And on the flip side of that, in "Byzantium" you're working with a younger co-star. Now you couldn't be her mother in real life, given your age differences or... maybe? I don't think you could. You're 27?

I think she's six years younger than me [laughs] Unless I was just weirdly, genetically advanced.

But you do make for a believable mother-daughter pair. How did you work on your connection and making it believable?

Well, first of all Saiorse and I just had a really natural chemistry from the get-go. But my own relationship to my sister is uncannily similar in that I'm sort of a mother figure for her. And my mother is actually like the daughter, I'm like the mother to my mother. So I brought a lot of my own experiences in, and Saiorse and I spoke about that, and Saiorse is just so there and so open and giving, she just is able to... She's just very psychologically empathetic and she really gets it, and that's what makes her such a great actress. So we didn't really do much in actual fact to bond, we just naturally did, and she listened to my idea back about this kind of conflicted mother-daughter relationship and weird kind of jealousies and controls and all of these things. But yeah, she was so wonderful, Saiorse. It's incredibly that she's only 19, she's so far ahead of everybody.

Now, in my mind, the character that you play in "Byzantium" is your most outwardly sexual character since the titular one you played in "Tamara Drewe." You seem very comfortable in that element on film. Can you speak to that?

"I think I am quite a sexual person. My friends will definitely vouch for that."

Yeah, I think I am quite a sexual person. My friends will definitely vouch for that. I'm really cool with it as well. I think sexuality is really beautiful, as long as it's for you and you're doing it because it makes you feel good. But at the same time, I didn't want her to be...she's not the heroine of the piece by any stretch of the imagination. As much as she's strong, she's also a prostitute and she kills people. But I wanted her sexuality to be a very important weapon. She was raped when she was younger and then became this prostitute, so there's this sort of horrible contradiction in how she uses her sexuality and it being a trapping as well as it being empowering for her.

With "Unfinished Song," I deliberately wanted to try to play someone who is barely sexual. With the costumes I demanded they must not be sexual. But yeah, I love seeing somebody working it. I'm like "Fuck yeah, you're so cool!" in the street. I don't have a problem with it.

You don't sing in "Unfinished Song," but given that you trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art I'm guessing you have some chops.

I actually started off as a singer, I was in a couple bands. My sister's an actress as well and she's an incredible singer. We were both brought up in a very musical household. I used to sing in folk bands around the country. And then I trained classically so I've done operas and things like that. Next year I'm doing a musical on the stage and it's scaring the living daylights out of me, but I'm going to do it. My biggest passion actually is music and singing.

What musical are you doing?

Did you see "Made in Dagenham"?

I did.

They made it into a musical and it's brilliant. The composer is David Arnold who writes all those scores for the Bond movies and he's a genius. It's great -- it's all '60s so it's got this Beatles-y, Motown-y vibe to it. It's cool.

If it takes off could you see yourself ever coming to Broadway?

Well that's what they always hope. I mean it's kind of weird because it's such British humor and specific to a time. You never know if it will translate, but then "Billy Elliot" did. It's that kind of feeling. I would love to do something on Broadway. It's an absolute dream.

This article is related to: Gemma Arterton, Byzantium, Unfinished Song, Interviews, News






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