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  M.   February 09, 2013

By Giles Hardie

She takes down witches in Hansel & Gretel but the mercurial Gemma Arterton is still finding her confidence.

Gemma Arterton says she fell into acting, though thankfully not literally, as she was starting from a higher altitude than most.

”I started off as a physical-theatre actor. I did corde lisse, trapeze and all of that sort of stuff. So I always was a physical actor. Then, because I didn’t really know how else to go about it, I went into classical drama school.”

It’s extraordinary to think of Arterton – skilled in acrobatics on a vertically hanging rope, and able to articulate the finer art of the head-butt – as someone who often suffers from self-doubt and crises of confidence, yet it is one of her many contradictions. After all, this deeply thoughtful woman is appearing in a film whose title also sums up its entire plot: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

So why is she in this film? Arterton credits her mum, who she says is ”a bit psychic”.

”It was Christmas two years ago and I was in the middle of auditioning for it,” she recalls, ”and I took mum out for lunch and she said, ‘Gem, if you get a part where you’re like a hunter or a warrior type, you have to take it.’ And I said ‘Why?’, and she said ‘Because you’ll win a Grammy for it.”’

While a music award is unlikely – there are no songs in the film and Arterton promises there are no deleted scenes of her rapping with witches – the requisite talent to earn one possibly lies within her, if only she lets it out.

It seems for Arterton the first and only step from self-doubt is always the deep end. Even her presence in Sydney to promote her new genre mash-up flick is an example of this philosophy.

”Doing press junkets, I do get quite blue, because you’re constantly talking about yourself and being judged and perceived. And be funny. And be natural. And I think some people are very, very good at that sort of stuff but it’s something I find quite exposing.”

So, in true Arterton fashion, she has committed to the longest press tour she’s ever done. She’s next off to Berlin to once again answer the two questions she has faced relentlessly this tour: ”What drew you to the story?” and ”Who’s more badass – Hansel or Gretel?”

”That’s fine,” Arterton says.

”It’s a skill that you develop – how to keep answering.”

Not that the actress, who was trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, is short of skills. She is, in many ways, a renaissance woman. On top of her circus skills, she is an artist. ”I draw and I paint and I sew. I’m quite creative. I illustrate. I actually thought I’d be an artist, like a painter, but then I did acting.”

Is she any good at art? Again, it seems Arterton is restricted more by doubt than ability. ”I have been asked to exhibit some of my work. But I don’t know if it’s good enough. I’d feel quite vulnerable, actually, doing that. You never know.”

Based on past deep-end history, that means she will probably make her debut at the National Portrait Gallery. It would come as little surprise, as Arterton seems to be someone who is quickly stifled when not being challenged. In 2010, she told an interviewer she took on the confronting role of an abductee in the film The Disappearance of Alice Creed because ”I wanted to check that I could act”.

How often is she racked by such doubts about her ability?

”Constantly. There was a period of time as well where I went into the commercial world,” she says, adding the word ”lost” to describe her experience.

”I wasn’t doing theatre and I wasn’t doing independent film. I’d done some stuff but that was a while ago and I was going ‘ooh, maybe I’m not a good actor’, and then you realise it’s the material and various situations that you’re in.

”So, that film was really … throwing myself in the deep end and checking. I do doubt myself, but it’s something that I’m really trying not to do so much these days. You’ve just got to get on with it. And not think so much.”

Arterton will soon exercise her acting chops on stage in London, where she feels at home, having built on her drama-school background with roles in Shakespeare at the Globe and in Ibsen opposite Stephen Dillane.

”I’m going back into the theatre again this year,” she says. ”I haven’t been in the theatre for a few years so I’m pining.”

Arterton is playing the lead role in a West End musical adaptation of the film Made in Dagenham that she has been developing with a big-name team for two years. The story focuses on factory-working women in the 1960s who campaigned for equal pay. ”It’s brilliant. It’s all women, obviously, and the music from that period is great. It’s so galvanising. It feels so vital.”

The quixotic nature of Arterton manifests itself again in discussion of her theatre work. She finds refuge on the stage and is far more comfortable acting for huge audiences than performing in direct interviews. Surprisingly, she also yearns for age to alter how people look at her.

”I’d like to be a theatre director,” she says. ”That’s my ultimate goal, I think. That’s where I feel the most comfortable … I’m looking forward to getting older so I have a bit more experience and wisdom so that I’d be taken seriously more in that field.”

She readily admits, however, it is she who wants her to be older, not the world, which is enamoured with her present appearance. ”I think it’s my own [way] of thinking; I need a bit more clout.”

The answer isn’t age – it is that ever-inviting deep end that calls to her. ”I think once I’m there doing it, I’ll be fine. It’s the thinking about it that freaks everybody out.”