Tamara Drewe/ Gemma Arterton Interview

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Tamara Drewe
An Interview with Gemma Arterton

By Max Evry

October 5, 2010

Stephen Frears has an eclectic body of work, to say the least. From the 18th century parlor seduction of “Dangerous Liasons” to the 19th century horror of “Mary Reilly” to the contemporary hipster comedy of “High Fidelity” to the political intrigue of “The Queen”, Frears thrives on the unexpected and has a keen ear for dialogue along with a knack for showcasing the right actors in the right roles.

The right actor for his current project turned out to be Gemma Arterton, the rising young stage and screen actress who first gained notice as a Bond girl in “Quantum of Solace”, and in more recent big-budget fare as “Clash of the Titans” and “Prince of Persia”. She plays the title role in Frears’ “Tamara Drewe”, an adaptation of British cartoonist Posy Simmond’s graphic novel of the same name.

Tamara is a successful London journalist who returns to her rural hometown and begins stirring up trouble among the local populace, including an old flame (Luke Evans) and a self-involved pop novelist (Roger Allam) who lives and works out of a writer’s retreat. When she begins dating a rock star (Dominic Cooper), she sets off a hilarious series of jealousies and gossip that winds up throwing everything in the sleepy little town into upheaval.

Arterton took the time to chat with Blackfilm.com in New York about the film, working with Frears, and coping with her own newfound fame.

The New York Times said the appeal of the film rises and falls on your performance. Do you agree?

GEMMA ARTERTON: It’s not, I don’t agree that it is. I’ve only ever carried one thing, which was a TV show “Tess of the D’urbervilles”, and that was pretty scary, but “Tamara Drewe” I knew was an ensemble thing. Even though it’s called “Tamara Drewe”, she’s just the catalyst, she’s the centerpiece and everything is going on around her, but she’s not necessarily the lead character, or even the one you care about the most. She’s not the hero of the piece. Anyway, I don’t try to think about things too much in advance, I just try t get on with it.

Were you familiar with the graphic novel?

ARTERTON: No, I was really ignorant and had no idea about Posy’s work before. That’s what did it for me, when I read the graphic novel I was sold. I don’t come from that world so I couldn’t really relate to it when I first read the script. I thought it was entertaining, but when you see it visually, the way the characters look, they actually exist, these characters. Especially when we were there in the countryside filming, Nicholas Hardiment drove past me in a landrover and it was exactly the character. I’ve since read everything she’s done. I’ve met Posy many times, she’s a fascinating woman. Obviously she’s got this incredible eye, she observes everything. She’s very quiet, she just draws all the time. She even did a drawing of me as Tamara which is amazing. She observes character well, she’d probably be a very good actor.

Were you surprised at how much resemblance you bear to the actual character in the book?

ARTERTON: I don’t think I do look like the character in the book, but I would say that. That’s what Stephen said when he first met me, and actually the casting director Leo Davis is quite amazing. She always casts Stephen’s films and she managed to get a cast that looked ridiculously like the characters. The one I’m amazed with is the two girls, who had kind of just come from nowhere. They had this big search for these girls, and when they actually cast them, particularly Charlotte Christie, who plays Casey, she just unbelievably looks like the character and is genius in the role. We all sort of look like the characters, and had a bit of the character in us somewhere.

It says in the press notes that the actors knew which character they were going to be just by reading the script.

ARTERTON: I think it’s true. Even in real life, when we all met, we had the right relationships. For example, Luke Evans who plays Andy Cobb, Luke and I are like best friends now and we have a very protective relationship. My relationship with Roger Allam was very strange because of the content of our relationship in the film. But it all worked. That comes down to instinctive casting, and being thoughtful about not just casting someone who’s right for the role but who is going to work with the other actors in the right way.

Was your nose a big part of what got you the part?

ARTERTON: (laughs) Yeah, I think so. It’s funny, I often get people asking me whether I have had surgery on my nose, because it’s quite small. Why do people do that? But they do. I would never think to ask someone that question. It was ironic that I ended up playing someone who had a nosejob. The nose itself was quite fun to come up with. It started out subtle and ended up being ridiculously big and unbelievable. It’s a joke, that’s the point. I actually still own the nose, it’s in my bathroom with a picture of me scowling while wearing it.

What’s it like going back to your own hometown now that your profile is raised?

ARTERTON: It’s actually really sweet. There’s actually a few really successful people that came from my town, like Paul Greengrass and Andrea Arnold, two brilliant directors, but no actors. They’re very proud, and when I come home it’s really sweet. It’s not like I’m bombarded, I’m not really well known and people are respectful of your privacy when you’re in the UK. I suppose it’s kind of weird, but that’s where I drew from my own experience in playing Tamara. When you go back home with the people that knew you before you can’t actually be anybody but who you really are, otherwise you get found out. It’s quite exposing, you feel like you’re being watched. When Tamara goes back she brings with her the “London Tamara” and that doesn’t work at all. People know she’s being fake, so she has this crisis where she doesn’t know what to do with herself. It’s that pressure of, “We know what you’re really like.” People always say that from home, “Don’t change! Don’t you change!” They’re looking for it, they’re looking for you to become this diva. Of course everybody has to change at some point in their life.

What was Stephen Frears like?

ARTERTON: When you meet these greats you think they’re going to be really horrid or slave drivers or something, but Stephen’s not like that at all. He cast me blind, had never seen anything I’d been in, he just cast me off of instinct, didn’t even let me audition. He just met me and said yes, you should do it. He’s like that as a director, he trusts his intuition, and the way he chooses scripts is the same as well. He doesn’t really have a gameplan, he just says, “Well I liked that one so I want to do that one.” It’s very simple. It inspired me, actually, the way he works. You get so bogged down with decision making, but the way he works is, “This feels right, this feels right.” He casts actors he knows will do the right job. He just steers them in the right direction. He’s not controlling. He trusts that I’m going to come up with something that’s interesting. He lets me do that, he lets his cast do that. If it’s not right, he directs you, but if it is right, he doesn’t. It’s very simple and refreshing. When you work with Stephen there’s no fuss. Everything has the right fuss put in the right place. There’s no fuffing about, which I’ve experienced on other films. It’s unnecessary. It should be like that when you make a movie, it shouldn’t be difficult, or stressful. If you get the right components and the script is right, then why should it be? That’s what Stephen’s attitude is.

“Tamara Drewe” opens in limited release on October 8th.

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