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  M.   January 13, 2012

Gemma Arterton was in the gym six days a week for a month to get into fighting — or maybe biting — form to play a vampire.

The actress stars as Clara, a vampire who has to protect herself and her daughter (played by Saoirse Ronan) from those seeking to plunge a stake through their hearts.

‘She’s brittle and she’s a fighter,’ said Gemma of the role she plays in Byzantium, which is directed by Neil Jordan.

The film — set in both the 18th century and the modern day — is not all glossy surface nonsense like the Twilight pictures. For starters, it has a compelling storyline and much better actors, including Sam Riley, Daniel Mays, Jonny Lee Miller and Tom Hollander.

Byzantium is based on A Vampire Story, a play Moira Buffini wrote for the National Theatre. Buffini then worked with Jordan and producers Stephen Woolley and Elizabeth Karlsen to develop the stage drama into a movie.

‘There’s blood and vampires and all of that, but we focus on the mother-daughter relationship,’ Gemma assured me.

Although Gemma said she did an exaggerated version of her Kent-Thames estuary accent in the remakes of the St. Trinian’s films, she told me she gets to do ‘my accent for once in Byzantium — she’s from the hood’. And, as she pointed out, Hastings — where the film is set — isn’t far from her native Kent.

Gemma’s also in kick-ass form in another movie, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. ‘It’s about these damaged kids really, and now we’re all grown up,’ she told me.

Jeremy Renner, currently to be seen in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, plays Hansel to Gemma’s Gretel.

‘Gretel’s quite wild. She’s super cool, and violent,’ Gemma added, describing the action as Tarantino-esque. ‘She has a crossbow, she headbutts people, folk get decapitated, noses get bitten off. It’s so ridiculous that it’s funny, but I wouldn’t mess with her.’

The film’s due out early next year. Gemma has a change of pace in another film, Song For Marion, a gentle drama with a heart in which she plays a teacher and choir-mistress opposite Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Eccleston.

By Baz Bamigboye