February 22, 2013 By David Sztypuljak
Song for Marion is out in UK cinemas today and almost a year ago, I sat down with fabulous British actor Gemma Arternon to chat about her role in the film as choir teacher Elizabet. Gemma is going from strength to strength with previous roles including Disney Princesses, Bond Girls and more recently a Witch Hunter in Hansel and Gretel. She’s also appeared in British independent movies Tamara Drewe and The Disappearance of Alice Creed along with everyone’s favourite St. Trinian’s. In this role, she plays a much more plain an serious character than I think we’ve ever seen from her before and it was great sitting down to discuss what she loved about the role, working on the script and what we can expect from her in the future.
Song for Marion goes in a very different direction but which is guaranteed to make you cry looking at what can happen when a grumpy old man finds himself in a situation where his world is about to be turned upside-down by the terminal illness of his long-term wife.
Song for Marion stars Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston, Gemma Arterton and is guaranteed to make you cry. Our review is up here and you can read my great and frank interview with the brilliant, beautiful and talented actress that is Gemma Arterton below. You can also read our interview with Director Paul Andrew Williams here.
We’re here on set today for Song for Marion, how’s things going?
Great, as you say, it’s very different film to anything I’ve done but I love it and am really enjoying it. Enjoying work and feeling like it’s good work, very natural.
You’re working with screen legends Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp, what’s that like?
Terence and Vanessa’s careers combined is about 100 years! You know what, I’ve worked with lots of legendary actors like Judi Dench and every-time you meet them, they’re just normal. Each job is a new job you know. With Terence, I feel like one’s not more experienced than the other in a way because you’re colleagues and it’s really amazing. At first I was really nervous because Vanessa’s one of the best theatre actresses of all time if not the best and I’ve always been a fan. It’s just great and really nice working with others like Anne Reid and so many others. It’s weird being the young one. Normally I’m the anomaly like the only girl and this time I’m the young one. It’s great because they’re really funny.
It looks like you’re having an awfully fun time on set
Yeah, the script is quiet magnificent and I think everyone is doing it out of some passion for the content. I think it’s great. The stuff that I’ve seen is just brilliant and I think Terrence is pretty amazing in this film. I’ve never seen him do anything like this and it’s a mixed level for him in terms of not playing a villain.
The roles you pick are so varied and I love your film choices, Prince of Persia, Alice Creed etc, how do you pick those roles?
Since I’ve done Prince of Persia and Alice Creed, I’ve decided that I just wanted to do films that I like when I read them. Sometimes there are alterior motives like paying the mortgage but when you read a script like this, it didn’t matter the size of the role or the budget. I just wanted to do it so badly! I said to the director, “I’ll do it for free” and he said “OK!”. I do like variation, my next role is a prostitute so complete opposite in Byzantium that Neil Jordan is directing so I do look for diversity in the role just because I like that. I don’t mind who I work with, and I think because I come from a theatre background, you just get on with it. There is a little bit of thought in there as to what I want to do next. It’s so rare to read a good script, usually they’ve got faults to them or something that’s not write right but this is just brilliant, the characters are so authentic and real. This character for me is very different to anything I’ve ever played and it’s refreshing because she’s not sexy or any of those other things, she’s just a lovely girl and I got to learn the piano.
So singing, playing the piano and choir conducting, are they things you had any experience of before taking on this role?
No, I’m a singer and have sung in choirs during childhood and my teenage years so I’m used to that. Conducting, really hard I have to say. The guy that was in charge of the choir on this (Richard Scott) I sat in on some of his sessions and then one day they asked if I wanted to conduct a song. It’s scary because if you get it wrong, they get it wrong. Then I had to learn the piano because I play one piece in particular, a classical piece and then bits and bobs throughout the film. It’s actually me playing, I learnt this a Tchaikovsky piece but it’s not Tchaikovsky as you’d imagine, not fiddly fiddly, it was quite melancholic. That was good, I like learning things for roles and when you’re under pressure and haven’t got any choice, you’ve got to do it! The biggest challenge was the conducting because I felt a big responsibility for the film and the choir, I wanted them to sound good. I didn’t want to mess it up.
Most the choir aren’t actors, I think there are six actors in the choir and the rest are choir people from this area, because of that we got so much real character and real variation and I think they make the film unique and endearing because you can’t fake that stuff. They were really sarcastic with me and really lovely to work with them. Quite challenging because sometimes they’d be critiquing my conducting during shooting so I’d be freaking out about that and trying not to show it. The choir rapped yesterday and they said “We thought you were really good” and I knew they meant it as well because they’d been harsh.
This role is important for me because it’s not about the film, the show, I just love this script so much. When i read it nobody was attached and that was good as I didn’t imagine anybody. It’s so detailed and I grew up on an estate similar to where this is set so I know these kind of characters and I thought it was so bang on, about old age. We don’t really address it in our culture, it’s just something shoved under the carpet. It’s such rich storytelling and it’s good to tell a story about it because it’s the end of something. We do so many films about the young’ns and I think it’s brilliant. We’ve got all these amazing actors who are old now and don’t get to show that. I can’t wait to play a fifty year old because the roles are better. I always play the young love interest and it’s boring.
So next you have Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, can you tell us a little about that?
It’s Jeremy Renner and me and we play Hansel and Gretel. I have a cross bow, he has a gun. It’s set in the olden day, fairytale world. It’s sort of like Pans Labyrinth and Quentin Tarantino combined. It’s very very violent, very violent like Tarantino violent but also funny. Very very mythical with lots of witches and cool. Very genre movie and it was very fun being bad ass. My costume is all leather and it’s out in March. I hope it’s going to be really cool.
Song for Marion (or Unfinished Song if you’re in the US) is released in UK cinemas today.