‘I never thought I’d work in film’

Gemma Arter­ton is of­ten pointed to as an ex­am­ple of how tough act­ing can be.Now sheis pow­er­ing ahead with all-fe­male com­pany Rebel Park. She talks to Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - | FILM -

It’s hard to think of an ac­tor bet­ter suited to the lead in Lone Scher­fig’s adorable Their Finest than Gemma Arter­ton. The Ken­tish ac­tor stars as a screen­writer work­ing on a pa­tri­otic film in Lon­don dur­ing the sec­ond World War. Dark, nicely spo­ken with clas­sic English fea­tures, Arter­ton could have been plucked un­al­tered from a pic­ture by Michael Pow­ell or the Boult­ing Broth­ers. The film within a film – a Dunkirk ad­ven­ture con­cern­ing plucky twin sis­ters – looks like just such a project.

“We were so ex­cited about that,” she says. “The tech­ni­cians loved get­ting all the old equip­ment out and shoot­ing in the old style. We even shot all of the Dunkirk stuff in the oldest stu­dio in Pinewood. It even smelt right.”

Yes, I half ex­pected John Mills to pop up in the stu­dio’s wa­ter tank. This is where they shot We can, at least, ar­gue that at­ti­tudes to class have trans­formed since the sec­ond World War. Or can we? To most Ir­ish ears, Gemma Arter­ton, a distin­guished grad­u­ate of the Royal Academy of Dra­matic Arts, stops few glot­tals and drops few hs. But the sub­ject of her work­ing-class back­ground has arisen in in­ter­views over the years. Last year, writ­ing for The

Guardian, film critic Danny Leigh de­scribed her early ca­reer as a good ex­am­ple “of the as­sault course a young Bri­tish ac­tor has to con­tend with. But specif­i­cally, a work­ing-class ac­tor.”

In the new cen­tury, the pub­lic schools have fought back against the egal­i­tar­ian gains of the 1960s. Has she ever failed to

The Cruel Sea, I imag­ine. “Yeah, yeah,” she laughs. “He was in prac­ti­cally ev­ery film at that time. Maybe he was hid­ing be­hind one of those huge lights.”

A lot has changed since those times. A lot has not. Their Finest has much to do with the role of women be­hind the cam­era. Fig­ures sug­gest that the in­dus­try, over the past 70 years, has pro­gressed painfully slowly to­wards gen­der equal­ity. Their Finest may be di­rected by a woman, but we still have a long way to go.

“To be honest, I don’t think it has changed much un­til quite re­cently,” Arter­ton says. “It’s been in the me­dia a lot and it’s now on the agenda. Peo­ple are making an ef­fort. The prob­lem for me has been the lack of fe­male screen­writ­ers. There are great ini­tia­tives out there. But it has been very slow un­til re­cently.”

Work­ing-class­back­ground

I al­ways thought I’d be just a job­bing ac­tor in the theatre. I re­mem­ber in my third year at Rada, I did a bud­get cal­cu­lat­ing how much it would cost to live in Lon­don. You are told you might work once a year. That’s the life

get roles be­cause she wasn’t posh enough? Would she know if that had hap­pened?

“Errr . . . I don’t know,” she says. “Roles my con­tem­po­raries got? I can only speak from my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. There have def­i­nitely been times when I have not got jobs be­cause it was thought I was not posh enough. I know that. But I am about to play Vita Sackville-West, who is the posh­est per­son there ever was. I think maybe it is a bit of a myth. Don’t for­get that ac­tors choose. Not all ac­tors want to play posh. Ha ha!”

Arter­ton was born in Graves- end, the daugh­ter of a cleaner and a welder. She be­gan act­ing at school and fought her way into Rada on a schol­ar­ship. I get no sense that she was ever out of work for long.

“I never thought I’d work in film,” she re­mem­bers. “I al­ways thought I’d be just a job­bing ac-

tor in the theatre. I re­mem­ber in my third year at Rada, I did a bud­get – about the only one I’ve done – cal­cu­lat­ing how much it would cost to live in Lon­don. You are told you might work once a year. That’s the life.”

While still at drama school, she got a role in a Stephen Po­lia-

Gemma Arter­ton

“There have def­i­nitely been times when I have not got jobs be­cause it was thought I was not posh enough”

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