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  M.   May 19, 2010

Gemma Arterton may be the talk of Cannes with her starring role in Tamara Drewe, but director Stephen Frears has admitted he had no idea who she was and required her to attend the casting like everybody else.

Arterton plays the lead role in Frears’ charming comedy about a former ugly duckling turned sex kitten who moves into a sleepy Dorset village. Critics have raved about her “smouldering” performance.

But Frears, the British director whose credits include The Queen, High Fidelity and My Beautiful Launderette was clueless about the former Bond girl’s credentials.

“I hadn’t heard of Gemma Arterton, who’ll be upset to read that,” he said.

“But she came to see me and she sat down beside me and I said to my casting director, ‘Is she any good? Because if she is – book her.’ It was there to see. She was clearly gorgeous, warm and witty and likeable.”

The film is adapted from Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel. Simmonds, also in Cannes for the film’s premiere, said: “It’s completely astonishing, because it’s so true to the book. I look at some of the shots and I think, blimey!

“What’s weird is that I took from three-dimensional life and made it two-dimensional, and then Stephen has turned it back into three-dimensional. It’s a sort of alchemy.”

Cast members Tamsin Greig, Luke Evans, Bill Camp and Dominic Cooper have accompanied Frears to Cannes, but Arterton, 24, is missing the festival to be in Los Angeles for the premiere of Disney blockbuster Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Frears didn’t seem too sure of the details about her new film. “She’s in the US. Why she’s in the US, I can’t imagine. She’s in The Princess and the Pea or something.”

Asked why his film is not in official competition in Cannes, the director joked: “I didn’t want to lose. At one stroke I’ve avoided that humiliating end.”