THE BOND GIRL ON TURNING HER BACK ON TINSELTOWN FOR THEATRE, AND PUNCHING PRESUMPTUOUS MEN
She doesn’t get on with Hollywood, preferring karaoke at her local pub. And she’d rather play a striking worker than be a Bond Girl again.
Adrian Deevoy meets the intriguing Gemma Arterton
The mere mention of Hollywood has Gemma Arterton wrinkling her famously freckled nose. ‘I haven’t had great experiences in Hollywood so far,’ she frowns. ‘Maybe I don’t fit in there. I really don’t feel that I do. It can be quite intimidating. ‘The film industry really gets my back up sometimes,’ she bristles, not for the first time this afternoon. ‘It’s silly money for what you do. But you have to be careful saying that you get paid too much because you still take it, don’t you?’
She’s only had a single espresso, but for a moment it would appear that the ‘brunette bombshell’ is about to explode.
The Rada-trained actress laughs drily at the out-moded expression and quietly detonates. She has played the Duchess Of Malfi and Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost in theatre and has a portfolio of films to her name: Tamara Drewe, The Voices, Gemma Bovery, St Trinians, Quantum Of Solace, Byzantium, Clash Of The Titans, Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time and The Disappearance Of Alice Creed.
But Arterton has temporarily turned her back on Tinseltown to take the lead in an ‘honest and huge-hearted’ theatre production. Made In Dagenham is a musical adaptation of the 2010 film, written by Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors) with music from the brilliant James Bond and Sherlock composer David Arnold.
Starring Arterton as Rita O’Grady, it tells the story of an all-female equal-pay strike in the sewing machine room at Ford’s Dagenham plant in 1968. With strong songs and its own brand of sexy Sixties socialism, the musical, helmed by award-winning director Rupert Goold, promises to be a roaring success. Rarely has the prospect of an industrial dispute led by ladies in overalls been so appealing.
And this is largely down to the magnetic charm of Arterton. With minimal make-up and jewellery comprising one pinkie ring and two small sleepers, she is a natural beauty with warm, brown eyes. She offers a firm handshake, inherited, she says, from her welder dad Barry. Her mother Sally Anne works as a cleaner and passed her ‘incredible work ethic’ on to both her daughters, the younger of whom, Hannah, is also an actress.
Intriguingly, Gemma was born with polydactyly, meaning she had six fingers on each hand. ‘I was two days old when they got rid of them, so I can’t remember having them there. But it runs in my family,’ she shrugs. ‘I’m proud of it.’
The 28 year old retains her Kent accent, swears like a docker and regularly forgets to use the diplomatic default setting favoured by her fellow luvvies. ‘I don’t really enjoy fame,’ she confesses. ‘I know I should enjoy it more because a lot of people want to be famous, but I don’t really like it.
‘Quantum Of Solace put me on the filming map. I never thought I’d be a Bond Girl. Although it was the only film that, when I got the part, my parents were really excited. Usually they say, “Oh, you go the part, that’s cool,” but with Bond they were thrilled. High fives all round.’
Sitting in the glass- ceilinged canteen of the Made In Dagenham rehearsal space in south London, she has just completed today’s runthrough and is dressed in simple work clothes, a scoop-necked strawberry top, denim jeggings and white Converse trainers. She has quit smoking (‘I was only on four or five a day anyway’), and, for the duration of the production, has given up alcohol and aims to be in bed by 9.30pm each night.
This has meant cutting down on her karaoke sessions, a passion that developed when, aged 19, she ran the singalong nights at a London pub, called Honest Dave’s Karaoke Bar.
‘I cycled past there just this morning!’ she hoots. ‘I used to work behind the bar but at weekends I became Karaoke Queen. I’d start it off with Total Eclipse Of The Heart, and sometimes finish with Nothing Compares 2 U. And all the leery old train drivers who drank in there – it was around the corner from Waterloo – would always insist I did Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking. Curious, that.’
Arterton’s own musical history is equally curious. Her
mother’s grandmother was a German Jewish violinist, but her mum was a punk and her second uncle is Eric Goulden, better known as Wreckless Eric, notable for the 1977 Stiff Records single ( I’d Go The) Whole Wide World.
‘So I was raised listening to The Damned and The Clash,’ she says. ‘I still love that music.’
In her teens she formed her own band, Tourniquet. ‘It was that Marilyn Manson time. We were terrible – but I loved it.’
For her theatre singing debut, Gemma has been working with Mary Hammond (voice coach to, among others, Coldplay’s Chris Martin) and re-learning to sing in a pop style. ‘ I’ve worked really hard and I’m pretty confident about my voice now,’ she smiles. ‘I know you shouldn’t be confident, but I am. It’s sounding good.’ Made In Dagenham will come hot on the heels of the year’s other landmark musical theatre event, Kate Bush’s Before The Dawn. As ‘a serious fan’, Arterton was asked to review Bush’s opening night for the BBC alongside the singer Anna Calvi.
‘Anna was so cool but I came across as a bit of a d***,’ she laughs now. ‘I was all, “It was amaaazing!” But it was inspirational just to see Kate Bush getting out and performing after 35 years. Her bravery was the most moving thing for me.’ Bravery has also been a key factor in Arterton’s own career. Witness her role in The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, a brutal, twisting drama in which the majority of her screen time is spent in tears of terror. She also appeared naked in the thriller but says with professional briskness, ‘it didn’t concern me at all’.
Such is her dedication to the job that earlier this year she learned to speak French in order to co-star in the Gallic romance Gemma Bovery (which opened to great acclaim at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival). She became fluent and now keeps an apartment in Paris and even a new beau in the shape of dashing French assistant director Franklin Ohannessian.
‘We have a very weird way of speaking. He wants to practise his English so he speaks in English, but I’ll speak in French. Then sometimes we’ll have a completely French day, if I need to brush up. It must sound very strange.’
Arterton divorced in February from fashion consultant Stefano Catelli – they married in 2010. ‘Obviously no one gets married to get divorced,’ she says.
In a case of Arterton imitating life, she recently played Idris Elba’s estranged wife in the forthcoming densely layered tale A Hundred Streets.
‘We’re a good match, me and Idris,’ she says. ‘He’s real – a boy from Hackney – and we’re both completely no bulls***. We speak our minds.’
She admits she can be physically violent, when pushed. ‘Ever since I was young, if anyone touches me and I haven’t authorised them to, I always get a bit...’ she launches a right hook. ‘It’s like an impulse in me. I remember a boy in Gravesend pinched my bum when I was 15 and I walloped him and said, “You’ve got no right to touch me!”
‘And I was at a cashpoint in Berlin, years later, and this tramp touched me up and I just, well, punched him. I didn’t even think about it. I was shocked at myself and he was shocked. He chased after me – I think he felt humiliated. But sometimes I worry about that instinct,’ she frets. ‘I really smacked him.’
This unfettered frankness continues while discussing why so many musicals don’t survive, as was the fate this year of I Can’t Sing!, Spamalot and Stephen Ward.
‘Some of them close because they’re a pile of s***,’ Gemma states bluntly. ‘Then again, some run for ages and they’re absolute b*******, so it’s a bit of a mystery.
‘But when you see a good musical, it is breathtaking,’ she enthuses. ‘It’s all the art forms at once and it smacks you around the face in the most magical way.’ She downs her coffee excitedly. ‘You think, “I’m totally OK with spending money on that!”’
Opposite page and right: Gemma in Made In Dagenham. Above, with Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time, and as Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost