Read our roundtable interview with Gemma Arterton, who plays the title role in the upcoming British romantic ensemble comedy ‘Tamara Drewe.’ The movie is scheduled to begin a limited theatrical release on October 8, 2010, in New York and Los Angeles. The film tells the story of London journalist Tamara Drewe as she goes back to her family farm in the countryside of Ewedown, and the infatuations, love and sexual affairs and career ambitions of the people of the small rural town. This is Arterton’s fourth leading movie role this year, after ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed,”Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ and’Clash of the Titans.’
Question (Q): In one of the reviews of the movie, one of the lines reads: “The movie’s success rises and falls with Gemma Arterton.”
Gemma Arterton (GA): Is that a good thing?!?
Q: So when you heard you got the role, was there a real burden that everything was based on you?
GA: But it’s not, I don’t agree that it is. Actually, I’ve only ever carried one thing. It was a TV show, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles.’ It was pretty scary. But with ‘Tamara Drewe,’ I knew it was an ensemble thing. Even though it’s called ‘Tamara Drewe,’ she’s like the catalyst, the centerpiece. Everything else is going on around her. She’s not necessarily the lead character, or even the one you care about the most. She’s not the hero of the piece. So it didn’t feel like that at all. I don’t try to think about things in advance. I just try to get on with it.
Q: Did you know of the graphic novel?
GA: No, I was really ignorant. I had no idea of Posy’s (Simmonds, the novel’s author) work. Actually, that’s what did it for me. When I read the graphic novel, I was sold. For me, 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 then when you see it visually, the way that the characters look, they actually exist, these characters. Especially when we were there in the countryside, filming. When (the character) Nicolas Hardiment (played by Roger Allam) drove past in the Land Rover, he was exactly the character. So yeah, I didn’t know her work, and have since read everything that 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 just observes character really well. She’d probably be a really good actor!
Q: Were you surprised by the resemble you bear to the character in the book?
GA: I don’t think I do look like the character in the book. That’s what Stephen (Frears, the movie’s director) said when I first met him. Actually, the casting director, Lissy Holm, was quite amazing, she always casts Stephen’s films. She did manage to get a cast that looked ridiculously like the characters. The ones I’m most amazed with are the two girls (Charlotte Christie, who played Casey Shaw, and Jessica Barden, who played Jody Long), who have kind of just come from nowhere. They had this big search for these girls. When they cast them, particularly Charlotte, she unbelievably looks like the character. We all sort of look like our characters. We all had a bit of the character in us.
Q: In the production notes, it said all the members of the cast knew which characters they were playing.
GA: Yeah, I think it’s true! Even in real life, when we all met, we had the right relationships. So for example, Luke Evans, who plays Andy Cobb, and I, we’re like best friends now. We have a very protective relationship of one another. My relationship with Roger was very strange, because of the content of our relationship in the film. But it worked. I think all that’s instinctive casting, and being careful of not just casting someone who’s right for the role, who’s going to work with the actors in the right way.
Q: Was your nose the only one that was cast in the film?
GA: Yeah! I think so. It’s funny, my nose. I’ve often had people who have asked me if I’ve had surgery on my nose because it’s quite small. So I ended up playing someone who had a nose job! The nose itself was quite fun to come up with. It started off being subtle. It’s actually ridiculously big and uncomfortable. It’s a joke, that’s the point. Actually, I still own the nose. It’s in my bathroom, with a picture of me wearing it, scowling, next to it.
Q: What’s it look when you go back to your hometown and you actually see people you knew when you were a teenager?
GA: It’s actually really sweet. Actually, there were actually a few successful people that came from my town, two brilliant directors. But no (other) actors. But they’re very proud. When I go home, it’s really sweet. I’m not really bombarded, because I’m not really well known. People are respectful of your privacy in the U.K. That’s when I drew on my own experience while playing Tamara. When you go back home, and the people that knew you from before, you can’t actually be anyone than who you really are, because you get found out. But otherwise it’s quite exposing. It feels like you’re being watched. When Tamara goes back, she brings back the London Tamara. Actually, that doesn’t work at all. People know that she’s being fake, that she’s not really being herself. She has this kind of crisis, because she doesn’t know what to do with herself. So there’s that pressure of “We know what you’re really like.” People from home always say that, “Don’t change!” They’re looking for change, they’re looking for you to have become this diva. But of course everybody has to change at some point in their lives.
Q: Have any of your former teachers been in contact with you?
GA: Yeah! Letters of support, it really is nice. They’re very supportive and proud.
Q: This past year, you’ve had a bit of everything. You’ve had a big-budget action movie, a couple of independents, a British independent, countryside romance. How have you felt, how has your experience been moving so quickly between those worlds?
GA: Well, I actually made these movies within three years, two-and-a-half years, but they all came out at the same time, I suppose. For me, it didn’t feel as though it was as frantic. At the same time, I did plays in between. That’s where my interest lies, actually. So over the past three years, I’ve been able to learn all these different aspects of acting, which you don’t learn at theater school, you can’t learn about it. Even though sometimes it’s been hard and it hasn’t been enjoyable, and other times it’s been amazing. Over the three years, I’ve had this intensive course. I kind of know what I want now, having experienced all these things. But it’s amazing how different a job can be when all you have to do is act. It’s amazing how different it can be. That’s why it’s exciting, this job. You just never know. You could do a massive movie, or a play, and it’s all about the acting and the relationships.
Q: You said you know what you want now. What do you want?
GA: It’s quite simply to do things that I’m passionate about, and that’s it, really. I think when I first left drama school, with a lot of student debt, I kind of just took anything. I really didn’t think about a career plan. I was very grateful for anything that came my way. I thought it would be rude to turn stuff down, because someone’s offering you a job. So I just used to take anything, and not think about it. Now, I can actually be selective. Also, you have to live with it for a long time. You have to promote it, and sit with it for about half-a-year. You have to like it, otherwise it’s hard. I find it very difficult to lie, considering I’m an actress. In real life, I’m awful at it. If I’m not passionate or feeling good about something I’ve done, and I find it very hard to promote it. Then I would have to lie all the time, and I would hate it. I want to do stuff I’m proud of.
Q: What was it like working with Stephen?
GA: When you meet these great directors, you think they’re going to be slave drivers or something. Stephen’s not like that at all. I mean, he cast me blind. He never saw anything I was in, he just cast me off of instinct. He wouldn’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 works off of that, in the way he chooses scripts. He doesn’t have a game plan. He just says, “I want to do that one, so I’ll do that one.” It’s all very simple. It’s kind of interesting, and he kind of inspired me, actually, in the way he works. You get so bogged down with decision-making, and what’s the right thing to do. Well, it’s very simple, and “This feels right.” That’s how he works. He casts actors he knows will do the right job. He steers them in the right direction, and he’s not controlling. He trusts that I’m going to come up with something that’s interesting. He lets his cast do that. Then if it’s not right, he directs you. If it is right, he doesn’t! It’s very simple and refreshing. When you work with Stephen, there’s no fuss. The right fuss is put in the right place. There’s not fuss, which I haven’t 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, that’s the main thing. If the script is good, then why it be (fussy)? That’s the way Stephen is.
Q: You talked about being inspired by his instinctive way of working. Can you think of a particular scene where your instincts served you well?
GA: There’s one scene, it’s with me and Luke, where we shot it, and he finds out I’ve been sleeping with Nicolas. He asks, “Why are you doing that?” We actually shot it twice. We were doing it, and Stephen was directing me, and was like, “Can you cry at the end?” I said, “Okay, if you want that, I’ll cry at the end.” He’s so frank. The next day, he was like, “You were right, I was wrong. Go with your instinct, that’s what’s right.” But with my character, I’m not the right person to ask that question, because it’s not a comic character. With the girls, for example, watching him direct them was a different way of directing. He’d just see them do something, and say, “Oh, that’s really good.” He’d encourage them. With me, it was much more of an internal, emotional thing. It’s more the comedy stuff you see him doing his stuff.
Q: Well, Tamara really isn’t a sentimental person, so with the crying stuff, it probably would have been a little off.
GA: I think you’d go, “Oh, just shut up!: If she was too in your face, “Oh, my life is a mess,” you’d just go, “Yeah, it is.” You know it, because she does it herself. She;s the one responsible for it. There were moments we had to make the audience aware of the fact that she’s a bit of a mess. But it wasn’t to be done shoving it in their face. So there were moments in the movie where you’re in her world.
Q: She does cry when she sees Andy with the barmaid, so is that the moment she realizes she doesn’t love him?
GA: That’s the moment she realizes nobody loves her, and that’s why she cries. She just needs that all the time. I think she goes to see him because one guy’s messed her about, and then she goes to the one she knew always loved her. She then realizes that he doesn’t love her.
Q: Is that why she sleeps with Nicolas more than once?
GA: Yes. That, for me, was the big problem for Tamara. But I do understand why she slept with him more than once. She’s needy, she needs a man in her life, she wants to be protected, she wants to be cherished. Why she continues it, it occurred to me she’s a writer, and writes what’s autobiographical. After the first time, it’s exhilarating and really naughty. When she’s in bed with him, she thinks it’s exciting. She likes to be caught up in the drama of it. She creates her own drama, for artistic reasons, I think. So she gets caught up in it, and it goes out-of-control. She doesn’t have any control over herself. It’s kind of the wanky artist inside her, saying “I’m going to create my own drama.” I know people that do that, that manipulate people and lead people astray, so they can write an album. I know somebody that does that.
Q: The characters seem so complicated in the movie.
GA: I think that’s the great thing about this piece. If you watch it with a lazy eye, you see these characters that are having messy lives. But, if you really watch it really carefully, it’s got so many things going on. The characters are so complicated. Tamara, especially, is very complicated. It was the problem I had when I first read it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do the project. In the screenplay and in the book, she’s not a likable character. She never redeems herself, I don’t think, and you don’t know why she does these things. At first, I didn’t want to play her. Then I realized that’s probably why I should play her. I wanted to figure out why somebody who’s not me would do these things.
Q: What did you discover?
GA: Well, there’s the obvious. Her major motivation in the piece is that she wants to be cherished. She wants somebody to cherish her. In many ways, she wants her work to be recognized and be loved. Sometimes, Stephen would say to me, “I just don’t get her.” I would say, “Neither do I.” A woman wrote this, and in a way, I think it’s a very modern telling of a woman, with all her imperfections. No character is black and white. I still don’t think I worked up Tamara Drew. I don’t think you’re completely supposed to, she’s strange.
Q: In this movie, someone is impersonating someone else by e-mail. For many people in the public eye, other people make phony Facebook pages, pretending to be a celebrity. Have you ever encountered anything, where you heard someone was impersonating you?
GA: Yeah, loads! Apparently, there’s about 20 Gemma Artertons on Facebook. I’m not on it, because why do it to yourself? I don’t get it, why would you give everybody access to you? Actually, I got a letter the other day from a fan, asking “Why don’t you speak to me anymore on Facebook,” and I was like, “I never did.” There was one girl, who apparently found pictures of me. This was in the beginning of my career, and not many people knew me. She found pictures of me on holiday somehow, through somebody else’s page. She posted them and wrote “Look at me! I’m with my boyfriend…I’m having a great time, girls…be back soon!” I thought it was funny and silly and not worth worrying about, but I thought it was funny. Again, it’s very modern, this piece, dealing with things like that. There are new things, like Twitter, and I don’t get that.
Q: Can you talk about your new play?
GA: I actually start on Monday (October 4), which is scary because my head’s been in this. It’s the ‘Master Builder.’ It’s one of my favorite-ever plays, and it’s another character that’s completely mysterious and strange. I’m petrified, actually, of doing it. But it’s going to be a big challenge, which is good, because I’m going to need it. For me, I actually haven’t done any movies this year, I’ve just done plays. I’d be interested to see how I act in a movie next year, because I haven’t done one in ages. I’ve just done stage work. We’ll see how I progressed, or not!
Q: How do you get into the right mindset for the characters you play? Tamara seems so different from Alice Creed.
GA: I take elements of my own life, things I can relate to. I also base my characters on people I’ve met or seen out and about. Actually, Tamara Drewe is based on a friend of mine.
Q: Does she know?
GA: No, she doesn’t know. She’s probably seen it and said, “I bet that’s based on me!” She’s so like that. Very much so. I base them on people I’ve met. With Tamara, I wrote a book, a good four chapters of her book, which was really, really helpful for me. I’m not a writer, but when I was writing Tamara, it was actually quite good! It was funny and sad at the same time. Usually I do that, write some kind of journal or something. That helps me immediately snap into it.
Q: Do you write it before?
GA: It depends. Like with Tamara, when I was in it, I was writing her book. It just really depends.
Written by: Karen Benardello