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  M.   October 28, 2010

Actor gets graphic and shows off her Drewe colours
By Norman Wilner

Gemma Arterton is really pretty, but she’d like you to pay attention to her acting.

This shouldn’t be much of an issue after her raw turn in the summer thriller The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, and even less so after people see her in Stephen Frears’s pastoral dramedy Tamara Drewe, which uses her appearance as a plot point.

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.

During an interview at the Toronto Film Festival – our second conversation in as many months – Arterton explains that as much as she loved Simmonds’s book, there were some things that just wouldn’t translate to the screen.

“In the graphic novel,” she explains, “Tamara has thought bubbles. They can’t make it into the film. They were considering doing that, at one point, but then we thought, no, it would be a bit silly. Stephen and I decided that we needed to have just little tiny moments – not over-egg the cake, but little tiny moments where you see what’s going on in Tamara’s head. And it’s actually very complicated. In her head, it’s chaos.”

The actor went a step back to Hardy’s original text to fill out her interpretation.

“I actually think Tamara is a modern-day Bathsheba,” Arterton says, referring to Hardy’s character. “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, Arterton told me she much preferred acting in Alice Creed 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 (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.”

NOW | October 28-November 4, 2010 | VOL 30 NO 9