Gemma Arterton is poised for a career milestone: a top-of-the-marquee role as one-half of the titular storybook siblings in the big budget 3D action flick “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” opening Friday.
The high-concept movie picks up where the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale left off, with Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) having turned their childhood victory over the witch who tried to eat them into a full time vocation.
Fifteen years later, they’re bounty hunters specializing in eradicating child-abducting sorceresses. Their winning streak, though, is jeopardized when they go up against the most evil and powerful witch of all.
Getting the chance to do some butt-kicking has been a fairy tale come true, so to speak, for Arterton, whose action resume to date has been a murdered Bond Girl in 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” a brooding princess in 2010’s “Prince of Persia” and divine eye candy in the 2010 remake of “Clash of the Titans.”
“Usually you are the girlfriend or the love interest or the damsel in distress or whatever, which is fine,” says Arterton. “But being part of a bother-sister dynamic (in “Hansel and Gretel”) meant we were both the heroes, and I didn’t have to do any of that shmooshy stuff, like crying or going, ‘Help me, help me!’”
Though Arterton didn’t have an action-packed pedigree that Renner boasts, director Tommy Wirkola says he knew exactly whom he wanted to play Gretel when he watched her in the 2009 thriller “The Disappearance of Alice Creed.”
“I knew straight away that she was the one,” Wirkola states. “Gemma shares what some might call my sick sense of humor, so we got along great. She gave Gretel the edge and the toughness that the character needed.”
But the English actress nearly missed her chance to break into the business.
On the most important day of her first 17 years — her third and final audition for London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art — Arterton came down with food poisoning.
For the daughter of a welder and a housecleaner from the unglamorous British town of Gravesend, acting already seemed like a longshot. Arterton had worked hard on practicing for her audition piece, a soliloquy as Hermione from Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.”
“I was really sick,” says the now 27-year-old actress.. “I’d slept for an hour. I had to travel in on about a three-hour journey, really ill all the way. I remember getting there going, ‘There’s no way I’ll get it now.’ It was just funny because the monologue is where Hermione just had a baby, they took the child away from her and she’s absolutely devastated, living in a jail with no food and water. And they said, ‘Can you do this scene as if you’re just about to die?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’”
Arterton is still a pro at the audition process — even without food poisoning. To land her career-making role as Strawberry Fields in 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” she beat out a field of more than 1,000 hopefuls, making Bond star Daniel Craig blush during their screen test.
“I won’t tell you what I said to him,” she says, laughing. “I said something about what he looked like and he was like, ‘I can’t believe she just said that!’ I think that’s what got me the job.”
Her prize? Getting to lie naked on a bed, playing dead and being drenched head to toe in oil in an homage to the dead girl painted gold in 1964’s “Goldfinger.”
“I remember lying there thinking, this is a seminal moment in my life,” Arterton quips. “I had never been dipped in oil before.”
Still, to get her shot at “Hansel and Gretel,” Arterton had to pay her dues in a three-week boot camp with the stunt team before the cameras started rolling. Waking up at dawn, she’d start with an hour of boxing, before moving on to crossbow training — not so much shooting arrows, but rather the more practical skills of learning how to flip and jump while holding it.
All the work was worth it: Arterton is particularly proud of one fight sequence in the film, where she takes on five attackers.
“You have to get the targets right, and I was taking falls and having to get up and getting punched and having to get back up again,” she says. “And I had a lot of nerves about that, because when you’re the girl, you don’t want to f— it up. I wanted to be bringing it like the guys. So I was really proud of myself when I did.”
Photoshoots – NY Daily News (2013)