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Gemma Arterton On The "Dirty, Filthy Underworld" Of 'Runner, Runner' & The Difficulty Of Finding Quality Roles For Women In Hollywood

Photo of Jessica Kiang By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist December 13, 2012 at 3:18PM

Last week at the Marrakech Film Festival, we got to sit down in a small press group with jury member Gemma Arterton. She’s an actress who for a while seemed to be following a fairly standard route, especially for a British starlet, following up her first film “St Trinian's” with some period TV before landing a Bond girl role in “Quantum of Solace.” However, since that breakout, while she’s done studio fare (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” the upcoming “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”), we’ve also seen her skew more eccentric with some of her choices, taking small, British films like “Tamara Drewe” and “Song for Marion" along with edgy indie thriller "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed," and she boasts a forthcoming lineup that promises much more interesting fare to come.
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The Disappearance Of Alice Creed Gemma Arterton

It gets us thinking about how much she chafes against being cast as the “pretty poster girl”? “I used to be [only offered those parts] and I’ve been very vocal about how I don’t want to do that any more, and now I don’t get offered those parts any more.” But it’s a difficult choice for an actress of her age and profile.

"I need to start my own production company that’s geared around women, and commission female writers and directors."

“I shouldn’t say this but I had a meeting at a big studio about 6 months ago, and she said, “I’ve seen all your movies, I loved you in ‘Alice Creed,’ I love you in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ so how about the hot girl in ‘blah blah blah’ movie? -- I can’t say the film, but just the most awful action movie ever," she said. And I said, ‘Are you serious? Are you joking?’ And she was like, ‘Well that’s all we have for you.’ But that’s what the majority of the parts are for somebody my age, you just have to be really strong and not take them, and hope that the great parts, like ‘Byzantium,’ come along.”

In fact, she has very firm and passionate views on women in Hollywood. “It’s a hard industry to be a woman in. I think it’s changing. It’s a big subject for me, I get very upset about the lack of female representation in the film industry… I need to start my own production company that’s geared around women, and commission female writers and directors.” But she is understanding of the different challenges a female director might face “As a director you have to be so, so strong in your opinions and you can’t succumb… I mean, as actors, we can go off and do a piece of independent theater and then do a big-budget movie to pay our mortgage, and then come back and do an independent film. You can’t do that as a director because you sacrifice your reputation. You have to be so certain and strong and as a female director, the bottom line is it’s sexist, this industry, and female directors are given less opportunities.”

Unsurprisingly, given these opinions, the first name that comes to mind when we ask Arterton who she’d most like to work with (after Michael Haneke) is British director Andrea Arnold, for all the reasons you might expect, but also because of an accident of geography: “I really, really love Andrea Arnold. I’d love to work with her...she’s definitely on my list, and also we’re from the same town, she’s from Dartford too. I met her and she was like ‘Oh, I know your street! I used to have sleepovers in house opposite you.’ And the films that she makes, especially like ‘Fish Tank’ -- that’s the world I grew up in.”

Arterton says she was first turned on to film acting after seeing Bjork in “Dancer in the Dark” (“I’m sure she was very damaged by it. But she was so brilliant in it and it was such an amazing performance. That was what captivated me, the process -- how did she do it?”), and also claims she’d have no fear working for a director like Lars von Trier. “I am not afraid of things like that, I think I kind of crave it, in fact. I like to be challenged and most of the time you’re not. I like the idea of going somewhere else, of being a bit out of control, having to trust the director so implicitly that you are putting your emotions and everything in their hands.”

Prince Of Persia

If there is a major blot on Arterton’s copybook to date, it is probably the bloated, overblown and ultimately totally forgettable would-be franchise starter “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” It’s an experience she’s typically candid about: “I had a really hard time making that film. It was my first foray into very big studio movies, and I lost faith in studio movies, really. I’d done a couple of movies that had just burnt me so bad... Because you are nobody, your opinion doesn’t matter, and I come from theater where everyone’s opinion matters…”

But again, Arterton reveals her pragmatic side -- it was an unpleasant experience for her, but one which she believes helped her grow: “I’m glad it happened early on in my career because I learned how to deal with it, and this time, on ‘Hansel & Gretel’ it was totally different, because I was like, ‘right. this is how it’s gonna be. You’re not going to fuck me over.’ And I’ve also learned with those films, you just have to let them be what they’re gonna be. Because there’s no way I can go along to the edit and say, ‘I think I did better in that take, how about we..?’ You can’t do that, it’s too big a deal, there are too many people involved.”

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” releases January 25, 2013.

This article is related to: Marrakech Film Festival, Gemma Arterton, Interview, Runner Runner, Byzantium, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Close Enough, Paul Andrew Williams


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