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  M.   September 14, 2010

Tamera Drewe star Gemma Arterton walks her first red carpet
By Norman Wilner

Gemma Arterton is making up for lost time at the Toronto Film Festival.

Last year, she was unable to attend the TIFF premiere of her thriller The Disappearance Of Alice Creed because she was off shooting Stephen Frears’s pastoral comedy Tamara Drewe. But this year, Tamara Drewe is in the festival as a Special Presentation, meaning Arterton finally got to walk her first TIFF red carpet Sunday night (see pictures of her rolling into the party here).

“It was very civilized, actually,” she says, tucking her legs underneath her on a couch in the Intercontinental hotel. “Everybody here is very civilized and polite – they were being very sweet, and concerned about the fact that I might be chilly.”

An adaptation of a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds that was itself based on Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd, Tamara Drewe casts Arterton as an ugly duckling turned glamorous journalist (something of a contradiction in terms, we know) whose return to her hometown has a seismic impact on the inhabitants of a local writer’s colony.

“I actually think Tamara is a modern-day Bathsheba,” Arterton says, referring to the character from Hardy’s book. “For some reason, you want to follow her; you’re charmed by her, but at the same time you say, ‘ach, you don’t deserve it, you’re spoiled and you’re a brat – you shouldn’t end up with the good guy in the end, and he’s a mug for actually loving you,’ you know? But there’s something charismatic and charming about her that makes you watch her.”

When we spoke earlier this summer on the occasion of Alice Creed’s theatrical release, Arterton told me she much preferred acting in that film to appearing in big-budget studio pictures like Clash Of The Titans and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time. Tamara Drewe, she says, was another pleasure, since veteran director Frears (The Hit, Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen) challenged her in ways she didn’t see coming.

“Tamara is constantly doubting herself and feeling utterly insecure,” she explains, “and there were times when he would make me feel like that. There was one time in particular where I was doing a scene with Dominic (Cooper), and on that day (Frears) said to me, ‘Stop acting like you’re in Eastenders!’ Which is awful – it’s possibly the worst thing he could ever have said to me, and I was really upset.

“I said, ‘You can’t say that! What sort of direction is that?’ But obviously it worked, because I felt shit, and I was doubtful of myself and I was on the brink of tears. He does things like that – but you know, he’s incredible. He’s a master of what he does, and at first glance you don’t see the expertise of his direction. Maybe in somebody else’s hands, this would have turned into some dodgy episode of Midsomer Murders – it could have been a bit twee. But we care about the characters, and we enjoy it. He’s just a genius.”

Tamara Drewe is Arterton’s fourth feature to be released this year. When I ask her if she’s planning to take a break, she allows a shy smile.

“I’m just about to start rehearsals for a play, actually, in a few weeks,” she says. It’s Ibsen’s The Master Builder, starring Stephen Dillane in the title role; Arterton will play Hilde Wangel. “I think it’s going to be my most challenging role to date,” she says. “It’s my acting exercise for the year.”

This will be the second play Arterton has done this year; she made her West End debut earlier this winter in a production of Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed. But she’s not abandoning the movies just yet.

“Next year, I’m attached to about six projects,” she says. “They’re all really exciting – brilliant directors and brilliant material. If one of them comes off, I’ll be pleased.”

That might be a little tricky, with the recent closing of the UK Film Council, upon which so many British productions depended for funding. But Arterton is being an optimist about things.

“I just hope it all pulls through,” she says. “If not, as I said to Stephen last night, I’m just going to do really, really low-budget films, just to keep working. Films that are made for no money at all. I think that’s what needs to happen – a lot of money is spent on things, on people’s wages and things like that, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way. People that care really should do it for less money, I think. Alice Creed was made for a million – it can be done!”
Sep 14, 2010 at 11:56 AM