Gemma Arterton

She may have be­gun as a Bond Girl, but has since es­chewed stereo­typ­i­cal roles in favour of strong fe­male char­ac­ters with com­pelling sto­ries to tell.

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Gemma Arterton - By Juliet Ni­col­son Pho­to­graphs by RICHARD PHIBBS Styled by MI­RANDA AL­MOND

Iam sit­ting in the base­ment of a glam­orous Lon­don ho­tel chat­ting to Gemma Arterton over pa­per cups of tea. She is make-up free in black jeans, a jumper and a pair of ‘an­cient old Chelsea boots’, and is mes­meris­ingly beau­ti­ful. We are sup­posed to be con­cen­trat­ing on her as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mance as Tara, a mar­ried mother of two in The Es­cape, a film in which the di­a­logue was en­tirely im­pro­vised and for which Arterton, also a co-pro­ducer, has won Bazaar ’s cov­eted award. But her joie de vivre makes it dif­fi­cult to re­mem­ber we are not just there to have fun. And Arterton is fun, whether ex­claim­ing over home­made cof­fee cake or choos­ing a de­li­ciously sparkly pair of Jimmy Choos for the up­com­ing fash­ion shoot. This is not to im­ply that she doesn’t take her work se­ri­ously; a good word to de­scribe her ap­proach to act­ing is ‘ded­i­ca­tion’. She re­searches, she reads, she vis­its lo­ca­tions, she asks ques­tions, she lis­tens. Her in­ter­est in ev­ery­thing she takes on, her sin­cer­ity and her warmth all in­form the in­tel­li­gence with which she ap­proaches her work.

Although only 32, Arterton is a pro­fes­sional life­time away from those in­evitable post-Quan­tum of So­lace, lace and lip­stick of­fers to play what she de­scribes as ‘sexy girl in this and sexy girl in that’. Over the past decade her roles on both stage and screen read like a cast-list of fac­tual and fic­tional fe­male stand-outs, a mul­ti­fac­eted pageant from the past, a se­quence of the tragic and the tri­umphant, the mis­un­der­stood and the wise. They have in­cluded Tess of the d’Ur­bervilles, the Duchess of Malfi, a Da­gen­ham Ford-worker ac­tivist, Joan of Arc and Nell Gwynn. Her gor­geous de­pic­tion of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe’s in­no­cence and know­ing­ness in Sky Arts’ ‘Ur­ban Myths’ series fo­cused on the 47 takes Mon­roe needed to say ‘It’s me, Sugar’ in Some Like It Hot. More re­cently, Arterton has played the poet Vita Sackville-West and a reclu­sive writer in World War II in Sum­mer­land, and will soon take on the enig­matic 1960s singer Dusty Spring­field (Arterton loves to sing).

But The Es­cape is very much a story of to­day. In her anony­mous uni­form of jeans and a parka, Tara is a young-mar­ried, stay-at-home mum, who Arterton says ‘you would not look twice at if you passed her in the street’. She lives in Gravesend in Kent, the town where Arterton grew up, in a nice house, with two nice cars and a well-stocked fridge. Ma­te­ri­ally she wants for noth­ing. But she is not happy. Her boor­ish hus­band Mark, su­perbly played by Do­minic Cooper, just doesn’t get her. He loves her in his own selfish, on-the-brink-of-abuse way, a re­la­tion­ship that Arterton says is ‘past its sell-by date’. Phys­i­cal sat­is­fac­tion is a one-sided process in Mark’s favour. The op­por­tu­nity for a woman to say no to sex does not present it­self eas­ily within mar­riage, the back­lash too great

to risk. So Arterton’s Tara gives in to early-morn­ing ‘con­ju­gal rights’; in one ag­o­nis­ing scene, she splays the fingers of one hand be­hind Mark’s back, stretch­ing up­wards in a silent yell of de­spair. As the cam­era lingers in an un­for­giv­ing close-up on Tara’s face, de­void of cos­metic gloss, the sub­tlest shift of ex­pres­sion re­flects an in­ner de­spair, then her full beauty emerges when a rare smile il­lu­mi­nates her face, a cur­tain drawn back, sun­shine flood­ing a dark­ened room. But the script be­longs to the ac­tors. Arterton found im­pro­vi­sa­tion lib­er­at­ing and ex­cit­ing. ‘It is up to you to re­act, and that can change ev­ery­thing in a mo­ment.’ The tran­si­tion she makes from act­ing the part to be­ing the part is seam­less. It is a brave, dis­turb­ing, pro­foundly mov­ing piece of cin­ema. As the Guardian re­viewer said, in a film with ‘no wrong notes’ it was also ‘un­bear­ably painful’. When I saw The Es­cape alone, in the mid­dle of the week, in the mid­dle of the day, I was grate­ful for the cover of dark glasses even be­fore I emerged into the street.

The con­trast with Arterton’s next film (Vita and Vir­ginia, out next spring) about the love af­fair be­tween Vita SackvilleWest and Vir­ginia Woolf (played by Eliz­a­beth De­bicki) could not have been greater. Arterton went from a story where lan­guage is some­times not needed at all to one in which ‘lan­guage was ev­ery­thing. Vita and Vir­ginia’s way of se­duc­ing, of get­ting to the nitty-gritty, of pre­tend­ing to be some­thing else’.

But there is a con­sis­tency in her choice of parts. ‘It is all about the com­plex­i­ties of a char­ac­ter,’ she ex­plains. ‘ Every time I do a pro­ject now, it’s a cre­ative ad­ven­ture, an ex­per­i­ment in see­ing what I can do.’ And it is her fas­ci­na­tion with the process of cre­ativ­ity, the bal­ance be­tween fac­tual and emo­tional re­search that gives such depth to her per­for­mances. ‘I can have all that tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion in my brain and yet in the end it’s go­ing to be some­thing that comes through me.’ As a pro­ducer on her last three films, as well as on the BBC’s Time’s Up-in­spired com­edy short Lead­ing Lady Parts, she is an ac­tive sup­porter of ERA, Equal Rep­re­sen­ta­tion for Ac­tresses. She is not sure yet if she wants to write, but she def­i­nitely plans to di­rect. Her pas­sion for be­ing part of a col­lec­tive of women, work­ing to­gether, bounc­ing ideas off each other, is ‘what we are all striv­ing for: mak­ing great parts for women and giv­ing women di­rec­tors and writ­ers more voice’.

As she changes out of her jeans into a slinky mini-dress for the raz­zle-daz­zle of the Bazaar photo-shoot, I watch the way she zones out of the buzz of ac­tiv­ity from cam­eras, lights, hair, make-up that hov­ers around her. She is to­tally fo­cused, in the mo­ment. Noth­ing will dis­tract her. As ever she is play­ing her part to per­fec­tion, a role model to ap­plaud.

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