Gemma Arterton Tamara Drewe Interview
Actress Gemma Arterton has been a Bond girl, a princess and a mythological Greek but in her latest film she gets back to basics as Tamara Drewe, a London journalist who returns to the idyllic country village she grew up in, only to cause havoc amongst the town’s inhabitants. Gemma was recently in London with some of her co-stars from the film and director Stephen Frears, and spoke about testing hotpants, hiding in toilets and getting punched by Tamsin Greig.
Please note, this contains spoilers for Tamara Drewe.
How different is it for the cast to have the graphic novel as a resource, even if the character looks nothing like you?
Gemma Arterton (GA):
I found it really helpful to have the drawing there, as Tamsin did. With Tamara, in the book and in the film, she doesn’t really have any friends or a moment when she’s on her own to reflect. You have these thought bubbles in the comic, so Stephen and I did make sure we put those in so that you’d get an idea of the real Tamara, otherwise it’s quite easy to disconnect from her. And yeah, it’s just a nice place to have such a detailed baseline to start with and then you can go off and elaborate certain bits and make them richer, or change them. We did change quite a bit, the ending is different in the book.
You make quite an entrance over that stile. Was that Stephen’s choice of costume or yours?
No, I actually went in there and said, “Please can you make me the shortest most uncomfortable shorts ever.”
It was actually contractual, wasn’t it? You’d only take it if you could show 48% of your arse.
I was desperate to do a role where I wore those tight... No, it’s in the book, it is a memorable scene, these hotpants. And for the joke, for Tamsin’s wonderful punchline to work they did have to be ridiculously provocative. So we had a screen test where I wore various styles of shorts. As I walked along and they went, “Shorter! Shorter!” and so they became quite short. We’ll be auctioning them for charity at the end of the year.
How do you feel about Tamara’s character, a kind of anti-role model for young women, especially with her misguided need to be beautiful and successful in these fame obsessed times?
I wanted to play her because she’s not really the heroine, she’s very flawed but that’s what makes her real. It’s interesting in the film that these two young girls are obsessed with her, they call her ‘Plastic Fantastic’ and yet she’s probably the most lost. That’s what celebrity culture’s like, these people are made to come across as if they have the most fantastic lives, but they don’t really.
Tamara is struggling really with using her feminine wiles to be successful and actually it doesn’t make her happy, and I think that’s a very current problem, or dilemma maybe. Plastic surgery and things like that. So she’s a very modern woman, and it was refreshing to play someone who was written by a woman who is very modern. It’s a very honest portrayal I think. I remember when we were filming it, there were times when Stephen would say, “I don’t really know why she does that,” and I said, “That’s because she’s a woman, and sometimes we don’t know why we do things.” We’re very complicated. It was good to play someone like that, often roles are too thought through and too perfect, and this one was imperfect. I liked that.
Are you wary of doing too much red carpet stuff?
You have to do that sort of thing, it’s part of the job. I’d be quite happy not to do it. But you have to do it, so...
What were your feelings on the demise of Nicholas in the story?
That’s an amazing moment in the film I think, because it suddenly turns into a Greek tragedy. It’s in this valley and it’s like a big western and you see Tam running down the hill and it’s really dramatic. Yeah, he’s a baddie, so it’s good that he gets killed by the cows.
That’s brilliant, he’s the bad one so he deserves to die, and in a really violent way so that’s good.
And then you get to punch me in the face, which is the only moment that we really connect, isn’t it. When Tam and I worked together in the play [The Little Dog Laughed] we did a bit of work together as well, didn’t we.
Playing another kind of Hardy heroine after Tess did you find any surprising parallels in your approach to the roles?
You know Bathsheba is a very advanced character for that time, very modern, Hardy was very clever and knew women much better than we even know women I think. I suppose they’re both out there doing things on their own, but they are very, very different. Downtrodden in a way. There’s an argument in Tess that she sort of brings it on herself, but Tamara actually does bring it on herself in ways, but she doesn’t really know why it happens and how she gets there. I don’t know, they are different characters but I suppose they’re just both very advanced for when they’re originally written.
Had you watched Terence Stamp and Julie Christie in Far From The Madding Crowd?
There are so many moments in the graphic novel which are indirect hints at Far From The Madding Crowd. Like the three male characters are kind of like the... but they’re not really. They’re kind of archetypal men I suppose, lover figures. I love Julie Christie, she’s one of my all time favourites.
How is it for you when you go home, given the career you now have?
Yeah actually, I went back home, I grew up in a town that was not far from London at all – it’s not the countryside, really – but I went home two weeks ago. I went to a restaurant, and people recognise you more when you’re from there. It’s kind of weird. They put you on a pedestal, whereas in London people are too preoccupied with their own lives to even care. It is weird going back to your home town. Unlike Tamara I sort of go and hide in the toilet, where Tamara goes and puts on some hotpants.