By Michael Gingold
British actress Gemma Arterton’s career has seen her literally running the gamut, from big-ticket actioners like the 007 film QUANTUM OF SOLACE, CLASH OF THE TITANS and PRINCE OF PERSIA to the intense, confined thrills of THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED. Now she’s kicking butt again as one-half of the heavily armed sibling team in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (opening Friday from Paramount). Arterton spoke to Fango about her most adventurous role yet, as well as her upcoming vampire drama BYZANTIUM and a reunion with her DISAPPEARANCE director.
In HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, directed and co-written by Tommy Wirkola (who broke out with the Nazi-zombie film DEAD SNOW), Arterton and THE AVENGERS’ Jeremy Renner play the sister and brother who defeated a predatory sorceress in childhood, and have since devoted their lives to exterminating her kind. Their chief nemesis is evil witch Muriel (Famke Janssen), who has been stealing the children of a small village in preparation for a sacrifical rite during the impending Blood Moon. Mixing period and fairy-tale tropes with updated weaponry, HANSEL & GRETEL is a true genre-blender, as Arterton explains…
FANGORIA: Were you familiar with DEAD SNOW before you did HANSEL & GRETEL?
GEMMA ARTERTON: Yeah! When I heard about the project, I did watch it. I’m not usually one for gore [laughs], so I watched it with hands over my eyes, but it was a really clever film, tonally. Tommy has a great sense of humor and knowledge of film, so I was excited to work with him.
FANG: On the set, was he oriented more toward the actors or toward the technical and visual side?
ARTERTON: No, he was very much oriented toward the actors, because he’s a scriptwriter too, so even though this film is set in a fantasy world, the characters are very, very strong and really root the piece. That was his prerogative on set, to make sure we felt comfortable. He was very collaborative, and hands-on. Even on day one, which must have been the scariest and most nerve-wracking for him, he was very much with us, directing us, giving us intelligent notes.
We had such a good time making the movie, and I think you can see that when you watch it. There’s a lot of fun within the film, a good energy. We shot it in Berlin, and it was a departure from anything else I’ve done; it was a very strong character with a lot of physical action, and a big challenge for me in that regard. But we had a great team around us—great design team, great special effects, and the actors were wonderful. The whole thing was just a blast.
FANG: How was it working with Jeremy Renner as your brother?
ARTERTON: Oh, it was wonderful. It was a gift; I couldn’t have asked for more. We had a very natural brother-and-sister-type relationship from the word go, which is something you can’t really work on; it’s either there or it’s not, that kind of natural chemistry with somebody, and rapport and looking after each other and being very close. He’s lovely, a wonderful actor, and I was very lucky I got to work with him.
FANG: You square off with another former Bond girl, Famke Janssen, in the movie; what was that experience like?
ARTERTON: [Laughs] Yeah, we didn’t really think about that at the time! We have this fight scene, and I think I head-butt her or something [laughs], but Famke is wonderful in the film, really formidable and arresting. She’s great to work with.
FANG: What can you tell us about Gretel’s character in this film, as derived from the fairy tale?
ARTERTON: She’s very damaged, both of the kids are; they’ve grown up emotionally scarred by what happened to them when they were kids. She has developed this tough exterior, though inside, she’s a delicate little flower and very vulnerable. But she’s not to be messed with; she’s fearless, and doesn’t take any nonsense from anybody. She’s more the brains behind the operation, and Hansel’s the brawn and the humor, though Gretel does have a good sense of humor too; it’s just not so outward.
FANG: Would you say the movie has more of a fairy-tale spirit, or a tone more akin to modern action films?
ARTERTON: I think it has got a fairy-tale spin to it. It vacillares between many different genres: horror, comedy, action…adventure is maybe the best word to describe it. But the fairy-tale element in this fantasy world is very prevalent, and not to be mistaken for a typical action movie.
FANG: Was the story of Hansel and Gretel one of your favorite fairy tales as a child?
ARTERTON: Yeah, I remember that quite vividly. It’s actually one of the darker fairy tales—I mean, they’re all pretty dark, but this one’s all about abandonment and temptation. I remember it being a scary one; that candy house is such an iconic idea.
FANG: And we’ll see an updated candy house in the movie.
ARTERTON: Yeah, that’s actually one of my favorite scenes. The original fairy tale is told, and we see all of that, and the witch who lives inside. I remember being on set the day with the candy house—the exterior was built for real in this beautiful forest in Germany, and it was really quite something to see.
FANG: In general, how much of the film’s FX are prosthetic, as opposed to CGI?
ARTERTON: I’d say about 85 percent is real. The only stuff that isn’t is transformations and things like that. But everything else was pretty real, like the animatronic troll, and Tommy was very insistent about how he wanted everything to be there in front of us, and making the effort to rig things, so we wouldn’t have that kind of fake look to the film. It looks very real and tangible, and that adds a great sense of reality to a fantasy film.
FANG: You’ve had a lot of experience on big-scale action films; was there anything especially challenging in this one, or were you used to all their requirements by this point?
ARTERTON: Well, each of those movies has been very, very different. On this one, I had a lot more stuntwork to do than I’ve ever done, so that was the big challenge for me—waking up in the morning and knowing I had to do that, and being very sore. But that was all part of the fun, and I absolutely loved it.
FANG: HANSEL & GRETEL’s release was delayed for nearly a year. Did you go back and do any reshoots during that period?
ARTERTON: We did; there were a couple of things. We had quite a lot of time, and there were a lot of little moments that we didn’t manage to get while we were shooting, so we thought, “Why not use this time?” Little bits and bobs, so that was good. It was just character things between Jeremy and I. We shot a little bit in the [California] desert, actually, because we couldn’t get to do that in Germany, and it was actually good to revisit it.
FANG: You went from playing a witch hunter to being a vampire in Neil Jordan’s BYZANTIUM last year.
ARTERTON: Yes [laughs], that was a wonderful experience for me—one of my favorite characters I’ve played. She’s a 200-year-old prostitute vampire who’s the mother to Saoirse Ronan. A very physical character, again. She’s quite a femme fatale—lethal—and yet she’s also a mother, a very protective lioness type. And the film is beautiful; I would say it’s art-house horror. It’s very much Neil Jordan’s trademark kind of film. It’s sort of a new feminist vampire tale.
FANG: There have been so many vampires on screen; how did you approach making your character specific and different?
ARTERTON: We actually worked quite hard on that. They don’t follow the vampire rules, and they aren’t really vampires. Neil likes to call them “sucreants,” which means people who drink blood. They can live in the daytime, they have reflections, it’s just that they’re ageless and live on blood. And also, they don’t bite into people, they cut them with their thumbs talons that grow out of their thumbs when they want to kill. It’s quite different from the usual vampire clichés.
FANG: I’m a big fan of THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED; can you talk a bit about your experience on that one?
ARTERTON: Oh, yeah. It was very—as you can imagine—intense. We shot it in four weeks, and it was basically one room for me and three actors. It was a very rewarding process; I really felt like I accomplished something on that job, with wonderful actors and a director I’m working with again; we have become great friends. As much as it was grueling and painful and a very difficult shoot, it was one of the more satisfying projects I’ve done.
FANG: Can you talk about the new movie you’re doing with J. Blakeson?
ARTERTON: It’s called BAD BLOOD AND TROUBLE, and it won’t be till next year. It’s a wonderful noir-type film. It’s a big departure for him, and very ambitious; it has a huge cast and a sort of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL feel, set in Florida in the early 1950s. I’m thrilled that he wrote a part for me. It’s very exciting.
FANG: Are there plans to do more adventures of Hansel and Gretel if the first film is successful?
ARTERTON: I’m sure that’s what they’re setting it up to be, but we’ll see how this one does first!