Gemma Arter­ton


The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -

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!”’

See www.madeinda­gen­hamthe­mu­si­

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

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