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  M.   October 19, 2008

From working-class drama student to new Bond girl, Gemma Arterton has enjoyed a remarkable rise in fortunes. She talks to Andrea Hale about ‘the best job ever’ in the latest 007 blockbuster, kissing with confidence and Daniel Craig’s ‘phwoar factor’

EVERYONE gets a few butterflies on their first day in a new job, but for Bond girl Gemma Arterton, the experience was especially intense. “When I saw Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, I was just like: ‘Phwoar!'” says the 22-year-old. “I went to see it last year and thought it was fantastic. I remember thinking: ‘Well, I never thought I’d end up acting with that person coming out the water in their trunks, let alone giving them a kiss.’

“I was quite nervous on the first day with him, because he’s someone you see acting so well on screen and to actually meet him is quite bizarre.”

If meeting Craig proved bizarre, their first scene together was positively nerve-racking. The moment Arterton arrived on the set at Pinewood Studios to begin work on the first Bond sequel, Quantum Of Solace, she was asked to disrobe and shoot a love scene. “Can you believe that?” she says. “On my very first day. I was just a giggling fool. We had a kissing scene and when we were done I mumbled something silly like ‘We just kissed’. But Daniel was so lovely. He just said something like ‘Yes, we did. And now we’re going to have to do it again.'”

And is Craig a good kisser? “Incredible,” she says. “And he has such lovely skin. Honestly, this is just the best job ever.”

In Arterton’s best job ever she stars as Agent Fields, an MI6 operative who falls in love with 007 before coming to a rather unpleasant end. The film picks up one hour after the last instalment finished, with Bond and M (Dame Judi Dench) seen interrogating Mr White, the man to whom Bond’s lover, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), had passed on her beau’s gambling win in Casino Royale.

The film is directed by Marc Forster, the Oscar-winner behind Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner. His film will be greeted by high expectations: Casino Royale took almost £350m at the international box office.

Craig helped reinvent the 007 franchise, and the competition among the actors vying for supporting parts was intense. Arterton beat 1,500 other hopefuls to secure the role, and when the film opens it will round off an exceptional month for the young starlet, who also graced the small screen during October, playing the leading role in the BBC adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess Of The D’Urbervilles and before that as Elizabeth Bennet in ITV’s Lost In Austen.

“I once played the character of Hope, Tess’s younger sister, in a school play,” Arterton says. “Coming to the drama again almost 10 years later was a very different experience. I was too young to really understand it first time around. Tess is a straightforward country girl, very pretty, but unaware of her beauty. Although people chip away at her life, she grows stronger, which is the incredible thing about her. I definitely didn’t want to play her as a victim.

“I’m from a working class background and always felt that Tess would have had this awkwardness to her, particularly as she’s put in a situation that she’s not comfortable with. She’d have found it intimidating. What makes the story so intriguing is every character has its faults and there are different elements to Tess too, that’s why people like her, they can relate to her today.”

Arterton was raised in Gravesend, Kent, and says she was born with a number of “oddities”, including extra digits on each hand, which had to be removed, and a “crumpled ear”. “I like my little oddities,” she says. “They make me different.”

Her single mother, who worked as a cleaner, raised her. “She’s very proud of me, but she doesn’t go on about it. She was never that into film when I was growing up. When I got to drama school at Rada, there were all these people going: ‘Oh, my dad used to watch Ken Loach films,’ and I would be thinking, ‘Who is Ken Loach?'”

Once she left Rada, Arterton began working straight away, securing the role of head girl Kelly in the updated version of St Trinian’s, which was released at the end of last year, before going on to feature in the Mackenzie Crook comedy Three And Out, and then Guy Ritchie’s latest offering, RocknRolla.

Speaking on the 007 set at Pinewood, she is a breath of fresh air, unassuming, honest and very giggly. “I don’t feel like a rising star at all,” she says. “For a start, I still have student debts to pay off. I’ve used most of my earnings so far to buy bits and bobs from Primark.

“It’s been so insane, I was at drama school and working in a make-up shop, now I’m lying here, jetting there, working with actors, directors and top people, it feels proper unbelievable. It still doesn’t feel real.”

She says she heard about her Bond casting when shooting Three And Out. “We were doing the last scene in Gibraltar on a diving boat in the middle of the ocean, in scuba gear. The producer got a phone call from my agent and passed the phone over and he just sang the Bond theme down the phone to me. And I was like: ‘Oh, my God’. It was so sweet – Mackenzie shed a tear because he’d witnessed such a big moment in my life, which he found very emotional. Then I had to dive off the boat. I had to pretend that I wasn’t overflowing with happiness, because of the scene I had to shoot. Then we had dinner and lots and lots of champagne to celebrate. It’s just a privilege. And more than anything, now my grandkids can say their gran was a Bond girl. They’ll be like: ‘Look at her now, you’d never know.'”

Quantum Of Solace‘s primary Bond girl is Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, who stars as the sultry Camille, but Arterton certainly qualifies. “I’m actually an agent and I work with Bond, though I think I’ll automatically be called a Bond girl. But in that way I suppose you could call M a Bond girl,” she says. “My character is very typically Ian Fleming because in the last Bond, and this Bond with Olga‘s character, Camille, they’re very independent and strong women out there for themselves. But my character’s very cute, like a homage to the 1960s Bond girls, which I love.”

Arterton says her neat, bob-style haircut references the character played by Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), but insists that Agent Fields is more of a girl-next-door. “She works for the British consulate in Bolivia where Bond is and it’s nothing too complicated; it’s an office job, quite high up but nothing too fancy,” she says. “She’s not a gun-wielder, that’s for sure. In fact, she’s quite strait-laced, and very professional, or at least she tries to be.

“She’s quite a comic character as well, which is refreshing. She’s quite self-conscious, too, which is cute and funny, and she comes out with some funny one-liners, which is rare in Bond – not one-liners, but having a funny female. I’ve had some stunt training for the role, but she’s more words than fisticuffs.”

Throughout our conversation, Arterton keeps referring to the fact that she can’t believe her luck. The word “surreal” pops up more than once, and she can’t praise Craig enough. “Honestly, it’s just how focused he is, and he never takes the energy out of the room; he’s got a very earthy quality about him, and he’s complimentary and nurturing.

“We have the same agent, and I’m sure she told him: ‘You look after Gemma, she’s only a baby.’ He kept saying things to me like: ‘You look great’, things like that make you think: ‘Yeah I’m supposed to be here.’ He’s kind of like a big brother, although I guess that might sound weird as I have to kiss him. But as I said, on that first day he was so lovely. He’d look at me and giggle rather than say anything, which reminded me of a big brother or your big brother’s friend; he’s very aware of how you feel.”

And what does Arterton’s boyfriend think about her being a Bond girl, sharing passionate scenes with a bona fide heartthrob? “He can’t believe it, he’s very proud,” she says. “I think he’s wary – you know, who wouldn’t be? But I love him very much, so I’m not interested in getting that attention. Anyway, I think Olga will be the one that everyone’s pining over. I met her for the first time today and thought: ‘Oh, my God – she’s gorgeous’. I had no make-up on either.

“So yes, I guess my boyfriend is a bit daunted, but at the same time, he can tell all his mates that he’s going out with a Bond girl. Actually, I doubt he would say it, but I’m sure he thinks it though.”

– Photoshoots: Scotland On Sunday (2008)