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By Vicky Roach

ENGLISH actress Gemma Arterton challenges stereotypes in a blood-soaked Brothers Grimm retread, writes Vicky Roach.

> Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia … you’ve done a few action films, but this is the first time you get to take centre stage.

I have always enjoyed being physical – I did a lot of physical theatre and fight training at drama school – but you rarely get the opportunity to do that in film. Usually, it’s about helping the guy, or you pick up a dagger (mimics a feeble, limp-wristed grip) and go: ‘Eeewww, I suppose I had better hit somebody with this.’ I am always looking for strong female roles so this fitted the bill.

> You do look pretty confident with that crossbow.

It was quite nerve-racking. There is one particular sequence where I have to fight five guys. It was all hand-held, so there was not really much room for error. I had to get punched and then I had to get back up again, and then punched and back up again. Choreographically that’s quite difficult. I was so nervous I wouldn’t get it right – not because I would have to do it over and over again, but because my ego would have been bruised. It would have been like: ‘Oh, the girl can’t do it.’ But I pulled it off and there was something so satisfying about that.

> The film is being promoted as ‘candy-coated carnage’. Did it bother you that in this case, gender equality basically boils down to being given the same opportunity to be seen kicking people’s heads in?

Because it’s not the right to be cool politically or intelligently, but the right to kill and wreak vengeance? I guess it’s more about the film industry world – there are so many action movies with men in them, it’s just nice when a woman gets a chance to do it, quite simply. And the contradiction of a woman that fights, the combination of the feminine and those stereotypical masculine traits, is really fascinating for me.

> What about the theory that screen violence has the capacity to desensitise audiences?

We have had a lot of questions about that, particularly recently with what has been going on in America. I am not standing up and saying ‘well, our violence is OK’, but it’s not a reality-based film the way they shot it. It is ridiculous. I have another film, (Neil Jordan’s) Byzantium, coming out soon which is much more brutal … but it’s wreaking vengeance on bad people (laughs).

> Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed?

We’re telling a story, not saying this is what I believe. If it were Hansel and Gemma, that would be a different matter. Films and theatre paint a different reality – even with Shakespeare or the Jacobean plays, it’s all about vengeance and violence and gruesome things. Titus Andronicus is disgusting. I think there should be more stringent laws (in terms of gun control), but I think people will still find a way to be violent because it’s, for some reason, a part of human nature. It’s always been there and people will always find a way – boxing, gladiators … It’s a deep part of the human psyche.

> Gretel is hardly a traditional fairytale heroine – a la Cinderella. Did you see her as an opportunity to challenge the ‘Bond girl’ tag?

When we were shooting it, I do remember feeling really relieved that I didn’t have to kiss anybody, and that I didn’t have to be all perfect. I loved not having to be the pretty one – we had other girls for that. I didn’t have to go into hair and make-up and have people fussing over the fact that I had a blemish.

> You have been quite outspoken in your views on feminism. How does that sit with having to frock up for the red carpet – and, say, the resultant media focus on your cleavage, as was recently the case?

Feminism is such a broad term – for me what it means is support of women. I am definitely a woman, even if I put a sack on you would see my boobs. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a fine line, but as long as you are not making yourself feel cheap … I think sometimes feminists can be quite harsh on other feminists. On the red carpet, it’s an awkward time because you don’t dress how you would dress in real life. Ever. I find it quite an uncomfortable place to be, to be honest. I always can’t wait to go home and put my jeans on.

> Now that you have kicked butt successfully, your next challenge is reported to be a musical – Walking on Sunshine – with Samantha Barks and our very own Kylie Minogue.

I was attached, but I dropped out recently. I think it is still happening, but I just felt it wasn’t the right next move for me. It’s fun and it’s glossy but I think now is the time for me to get down a bit and get serious. I want to do more independent, dramatic roles.

SEE Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters opens Thursday 7 February

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