Gemma Arterton is a stunner, but nothing pleases her more than being the ugly duckling of Tamara Drewe
by LESLIE GORNSTEIN / photographs by SEBASTIAN FAENA / styling by BETH FENTON / produced by KIM POLLOCK
In Quantum of Solace, Gemma Arterton is a redheaded stylista whose curves prove irresistible to James Bond. As immortal beauty Io in Clash of the Titans, she is ogled so feverishly by Sam Worthington’s Perseus she orders him to “calm your storm.” And in the title role in Tamara Drewe, which hits theaters October 8, she sports a pair of shorts so tiny they could be a napkin.
But Arterton is no preen queen. Yes, the 24-year-old beauty may have beguiled Jake Gyllenhaal in the summer popcorn flick Prince of Persia, but this graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art loathes Hollywood glamour. In fact, to hear her describe the parts she finds most desirable, the uglier the better.
Take Drewe, the British comedy based on Posy Simmonds’ long-running comic-strip serial. The lovely Tamara owes her beauty to plastic surgery, and Arterton delights in discussing the massive prosthetic nose she wore in the film’s flashbacks.
She once volunteered to a reporter that she was born with six fingers on each hand, despite the fact that the condition was corrected at birth—and that little detail has now become a nagging press staple.
Arterton is not afraid to take risks...and they tend to pay off. Thanks in part to her tough role as a kidnap victim in the 2009 thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed and her nuanced turn in Drewe, the world now considers her a serious actor.
Well, a serious actor who also happens to look fabulous in short shorts.
Strong female roles aren’t exactly growing on palm trees around here. How’d you find Tamara Drewe?
I was requested to meet with [director] Stephen Frears, and that’s something you can’t refuse, really. To be honest, I wasn’t too sure I could play the character—I wasn’t sure if I liked her. Which is a ridiculous thing to say, because we can’t always play someone we like. But then I read the novel, and that sold it to me. Then Stephen told me, “I won’t do it unless you do it,” and that was very humbling, because at the time he hadn’t seen me in anything.
He cast you in the marquee role completely sight unseen?
Yeah. He had never—and still hasn’t, except for a play I did on the West End—seen anything else I’d done. He doesn’t see silly movies like Prince of Persia, and that worked in my favor. I think he wanted someone who wasn’t famous. He was sold after one meeting. I found that very odd. I said, “May I please at least audition, just so, you know, you won’t be regretting it later?” He basically cast me on a whim.
The movie is essentially about a love-hate relationship with the creative process. When is the last time you struggled over a creative moment?
I struggle with them all the time. I write—but I would never, ever show it to anybody. I think I’m awful. I am very self-critical.
Come on, you know how to pick a good play. You starred in The Little Dog Laughed. Your writing can’t be that horrendous.
I find it hard to show my work to people. I would love to write more. My ultimate goal is to direct theater, but at the moment, I think I’m too naive.
Cast yourself in your next stage project: The phone rings, and a director wants you to play...
Hedda Gabler. The next play I’m doing is The Master Builder—so I’ve been reading a lot of Ibsen. He writes incredible roles for women. Hedda is complicated, dark. Often, you read scripts, and it’s hard to find a role that isn’t just the arm candy. Hedda is a driving force—the constructive and deconstructive force—in the play. I don’t relate to her. And that’s why I want to play her. Maybe three years ago I would have said Juliet, but now I’ve missed that boat.
“If you play eye candy, people think that’s all you can do... We should be able to play all kinds of roles, whether we’re getting in bed with James Bond or being hacked to pieces.”
Uh, you’re 24.
Juliet is a teenager! I’m in this weird space at the moment where I’m cast for older parts—often women in their late twenties. Tamara Drewe is meant to be 32. Playing someone young, it can feel so fake and twee. The roles get more interesting when you get a bit older. Older women have something to say.
I hear you aren’t too fond of red carpets. How come?
I honestly just hate it. You have to say things you don’t mean because you’re sometimes selling something you don’t believe in. It’s all so fake. Honestly, I would rather have a cup of tea.
I hear you kept a prop from Tamara Drewe, and it’s now in your bathroom. Do enlighten.
Makeup artist Daniel Phillips gave me my prosthetic nose. It’s framed, with a picture of me next to it so people know why there’s a nose in my bathroom.
Did your role as a Bond girl make it harder for you to land the lead in Alice Creed?
You do have to deal with prejudgments—that if you play eye candy or whatnot, people think maybe that’s all you can do. The director of Alice Creed [J Blakeson] was a bit unsure about me, but then when I auditioned, he offered it to me on the spot. It’s silly, really. We should be able to play all kinds of roles, whether we’re getting in bed with James Bond or being hacked to pieces.
Has the fight gotten any easier since you nailed that part?
Yeah. I honestly believe Alice Creed was the turning point in my career. I was speaking to a director recently—and he’d only seen me in Alice Creed. That was a film I really thought I needed to do because I felt like I was starting to lose myself in this weird machine. I had to make myself do something opposite of what I’d been doing—grimy and dirty and not glamorous, shaking off the shackles of Hollywood in a way.
Have you read any of the press on Tamara Drewe? There are so many mentions of your short shorts you’d think they’d get their own acting credit.
They’re probably a better actor, too. They’re definitely getting more attention.
I’m sensing you’re not a hotpants sort of girl.
I have been known to wear hot pants but not ones like that. The short shorts here are such an iconic part of the story. The director just kept saying, “Shorter, shorter!”
Okay, I have to ask—how many times a day are you asked about your fingers?
In interviews, every time. It was my error. I mentioned it first, saying it was something I am very proud of. And I am proud of it—my unique oddity. Now everyone is obsessed.