Actress Gemma Arterton has thus far had a very weird year at the movies. It's a year that has most accentuated the disparity between the image she'd like to project to her audience and the one she mostly has thus far. Having previously broken through to mainstream attention with British pop comedy St. Trinian's, Arterton has starred in both the Clash of the Titans remake and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time video game adaptation. She's also starred in The Disappearance of Alice Creed, a gritty B-movie. In the film, Arterton ditches her more glamorous roles and throws herself into a character that spends most of the film tied up screaming for help.
Alice Creed has been kidnapped by a couple of ex-cons, played by a towering Eddie Marsan and a very good Martin Compston, with a meticulous plan to ransom her and get away scot-free. Arterton talked to Cinematical recently about why The Disappearance of Alice Creed is the kind of role she wants to gravitate more towards and what it's like to be yelled at by Marsan, most famous as the "Enn raa haa" driving instructor from Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky.
Cinematical: There's a great incongruity between that glamorous, blockbuster-type role that you have in Clash of the Titans and...
Gemma Arterton: Prince of Persia.
Cinematical: Yes. (both laugh)
Arterton: It's all right. They're both the same, really (laughs).
Cinematical: And then you have The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which is decidedly...more sleazy. It (also) seems much more down-to-earth comparatively. How did you get involved with the project?
Arterton: I had just finished making Prince of Persia and it was Christmas. I'd been at it for six months and I kind of lost the will to live because I just...felt like I hadn't exercised my acting ability because it's an action movie, y'know? That goes without saying. I got sent this script from the casting director of Alice Creed. I read it and I thought: 'Wow, this is great, this is my kind of movie.' Which may shock some people considering the movies I've been in.
I read it and it reminded me of a (Michael) Haneke kind of feel, its tightness and its darkness. Haneke's one of my favorite directors so I said, 'I really want to meet for it.' And J (Blakeson) the director said, 'Mmm, I don't really want to play out this because she's too pop.' He told me this later. I went into this and he was quite doubtful that I could do it and I read a scene for him, a quite heavy scene and he offered me the part on the spot. It wasn't later until I knew he wasn't sure I was right for it. That was exactly the reason why I wanted to do it, because I didn't want people to think I couldn't do it.
I also needed to know if I could. I was worried. I needed to challenge myself and test myself. I got a bit like, 'What is acting again?' I felt like I hadn't properly done it for a while. I did something in the UK which nobody's seen here--and I just needed to test myself and I loved it. When I got cast in it, I was thrilled. It was so liberating. As you know, the film's a low-budget movie with three actors, 30 people in the crew, one set pretty much, we shot in sequence--it was opposite to anything else I'd done. We shot in a month. We were churning out scenes like that (snaps her fingers), 2 or 3 scenes a day. And they were long scenes and heavy. There was no pansying around. There were no frill, no special effects to support the film in case the acting was bad. It was just--what it was. It was the most satisfying job I'd done even though it was the most grueling. It took it's toll on me--I was really exhausted by the end of it. I felt like I was properly working, felt like I was earning my money (laughs).
Cinematical: Is the UK film you were alluding to possibly St. Trinian's?
Arterton: No, no, no. It wasn't a film, it was a TV series called Tess of the D'Ubervilles. That was the one I was proud of. I always feel like I'm justifying my career when I talk about things like this but I feel like I've started to--it's only now, since doing Alice Creed, actually that it's started to go the I've wanted it to go. The first couple of years were just trying to get work (laughs). And then kind of being taken along this road and going, 'Why the hell am I on this train? (laughs) This isn't what I wanted to do.'
I took myself and I said, 'No, I'm going to do this,' and (so) I did Alice Creed. It was the best decision I made. Now I've got directors, people I never thought would want to work with me because I was too pop or whatever, saying, 'I saw Alice Creed and want you to do this.' It's been brilliant, a great decision. I always thought it was going to be a film that not many people were going to like and I was quite happy about that (laughs). It's good to be films that people don't like.
Cinematical: Absolutely. When you first read the script for The Disappearance of Alice Creed, what did you think of the character you were going to play?
Arterton: My original impulse was: feral. She's not perfect as well, which is why I liked her. She's not a goody, she's not a baddy. She's not a victim but she is at the beginning. That's the clever thing about the script as well--you don't know who's the hero. And I liked the fact that you don't know if she's lying half the time. That's an amazing thing to act as well. I love acting lying.
I started reading it and I thought at first, 'Woman is hand-cuffed to bed' and thought, 'What the fuck is this? I don't want to play a woman that is hand-cuffed to bed.' And that's what she's called for the first fifteen pages and it isn't until we hear her name, Alice, that we know that she's a person. Ok, so she's a person. Then it develops and she shows that she has this amazing quality to make things happen, to change scenarios no matter what, in a situation of terror, not freezing and thinking, thinking, thinking. I liked that about her; I thought it was admirable. I think she's a heroine but imperfect, really flawed. I like that. It wasn't really the role that I was drawn to though. It was the film in general.
Cinematical: You did mention thought that the role is essentially a woman defined as 'woman handcuffed to bed.' It must've been so grueling to play that character considering how much of the film revolves around you being put upon by these two other characters...
Arterton: Yeah, you're right, it was awful to film but completely necessary. We needed to see her really mistreated and humiliated and scared. She thinks she's going to be raped; she thinks she's going to be murdered. And that's what justifies her to do what she does later on in the film. People always talk about those things because I suppose they're controversial but they're not controversial in Europe. In European film, it's just part of the film. To me, it was part of the film and that's how I treated it as well. And that's how I treated it. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it. I was really worried about the acting side (laughs). I was just petrified that I wasn't going to be do it each day. 'Oh fuck, I've got that fucking full-on scene now and I don't even know how I'm going to do it.'
But actually it was the actors I was working with and the director and everyone I was working with that helped me do it. Everyone was so passionated about it because it's this tiny film and J got really good quality cast and crew. He got people together that were that not for any other reason than they wanted to make it. That was the best thing about making this movie, having made blockbusters.
There was no intention to make money with this film. It was never going to be a blockbuster so there was this pressure that was alleviated. We were free to do what we wanted to do, to an extent. We could only have two 'cunts' in the film because it's an 18 (the British equivalent of an R rating) (laughs). Oh no, one and that's mine. You can only have this amount of whatever but that was the only limitation, really. I felt so free because, God, when you have to make $200 million budget back, of course people are going to be freaking out about it. But thee was never about that here. Everyone was just really into it.
Cinematical: How did you get back into that mindset day-in and day-out? It has to be a real--not just a chore but a real--
Arterton: It grinds you down, it really does. I've never been in a situation where I've been terrified or even close to anything like that. I would get myself into a state and I mean like a physical state. I made sure that I felt claustrophobic and restrained because that created a fear in me. Or I'd listen to music which would make me feel nervous or on edge and then I'd do a scene with that feeling inside but I wouldn't try--I would never do anything from personal experience. I end up incorporating personal experience but in this film, I couldn't. It was all to do with the actors, the other actors and that was what made it--every day when I freaked out about not being able to do the scene, the other actors would come in, Eddie and Martin and they would enable it to work (laughs). Because they'd give me everything they had and I'd give them everything I had and then (claps her hands together) it worked. I think it's a lesson for acting, in a way. It's all about the other person.
Cinematical: What was it like being yelled at by Eddie Marsan?
Arterton: Petrifying. Honestly, I've never worked with anyone who actually made me feel like I wasn't acting. I really felt petrified. He's a really lovely guy, I don't know if you've met him; he's really gentle and sweet and then he'll just turn on (laughs) like fucking hell, full-on.
I remember one day we were doing that scene where he's going (lowers her voice), 'Tell me, tell me.' And he's punching me--he actually punched me by accident because it was a really close stunt punch. And he actually did punch me. I was in shock but I was hand-cuffed so I couldn't do anything. Everyone freaked out because this was the worst nightmare on-set (come true): Gemma's gonna get hurt. So everyone freaked out and I was a bit like, 'Whoa.' And J said, 'Well, we won't shoot.' Eddie was absolutely devastated (laughs), so devastated. 'I can't continue, I've got to give it a rest.'
But then we hadn't completed the scene so the next day, we had to pick it up from 'Tell me, tell me' (laughs). Because I remembered the feeling of being punched in the nose, I was so petrified of him actually going to do it again. In the scene, I really am scared and he runs to the other side of the room and then (gets up from her seat and fakes a sudden attack) runs at me like that and I went (screams) to the other side of the bed and I was so convinced that he was going to get me. I was so convinced. I love that as well, that he didn't budge. He went for it, he didn't relent.
As soon as cut was said, he would really try and make sure I was ok. He would (snaps her fingers) snap right out of it. He's an amazing actor in that respect because he can (laughs), he can just go in and out. Another scene where he flabbergasted me was at the end when he's saying, 'Danny, my boy...' It was heart-breaking. Unbelievable actor; I really learned a lot from him. But yeah, he is terrifying as well (laughs).
Cinematical: I can imagine. If you had to choose another role like this over, say, a sequel to Clash of the Titans, would you do it?
Arterton: Yeah. In a heartbeat. That's where my heart is. I'm not condemning those movies because I'm in them and people love them and I love them as well sometimes. But this is it for me, this is what it's about. This is acting. I though do say that anyone that can make dodgy scripts come to life in some sort of life is a really good actor, even though they may not look it. Sometimes some of the scripts you receive...I mean, God. Even the greats can't make them good but we have to (laughs). But this sort of thing is what I love, what I love doing.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed comes out today in NYC and select other cities tomorrow, August 6th.