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  M.   June 16, 2014

By Benji Wilson

Meet Hannah Arterton, the British actress bringing her own brand of sunshine to the feel-good film of the summer
If a young actress like Hannah Arterton were asked to dream up her perfect first film, it might come out something like Walking on Sunshine. Description? A feel-good musical designed to leave all comers with an ear-to-ear grin. Setting? Three months on location by the beach in Puglia, please. Storyline? Likeable, bookish girl meets ludicrously good-looking man for passionate holiday romance. Soundtrack? A medley of whopping great 80s belters. No wonder they called it Walking on Sunshine – according to Hannah, she certainly was.

‘It was a real laugh. I’ve got the feeling that in ten years I’ll look back at this job and think it was just amazing. We did go out for dinner every night and eat wonderful food and have a little bit too much wine. I did get to kiss a gorgeous boy and run around on the beach for two months singing Whitney Houston songs. It was just mad.’

The day work, she quickly adds, wasn’t always so relaxing – endless dance sessions and precision choreography meant that it felt ‘like boot camp’. Yet even that had an upside: ‘It got me into the best shape of my life!’

The overriding sense that oozes from the screen is that everyone involved in Walking on Sunshine – from Leona Lewis in her debut feature to Greg Wise as an expat slimeball – was having a whale of a time. And it’s infectious: whether you think the 80s were heavenly or horrendous (Hannah, for the record, loves the music even though she wasn’t born until 1989), you’ll be hard pushed to exit the cinema without a smile on your face and a Roxette ballad in your head.

Yet though Walking on Sunshine is a blast, a great film to kick off (or wrap up) a girls’ night out, Hannah thinks it carries a worthwhile message too. ‘I know this is a film that a lot of young people are going to watch and that means a lot to me. I’m only starting out in my career but I feel quite strongly that I want to send positive messages to young people.’

The positive messages come largely in the form of her character Taylor, the studious, awkward one of a pair of sisters, who cuts short an initial holiday romance in order to study at university back in England. As the film begins she returns to Puglia in order to visit her sister Maddie (Being Human’s Annabel Scholey), who is sassy and sexy where Taylor is sensible and strait-laced. Maddie has a gang of expat friends around her. As luck would have it for a musical, one of them is played by Leona Lewis.

‘There was a bit before “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” where Leona does this ad-lib. We kept retaking this bit of song and I was like, “Who is that, who is doing that?” Obviously it was Leona but it was giving me goosebumps every take. It is just incredible what she can do.’

It’s not giving much away to say that both Maddie and Taylor want the same guy, and both end up getting the man they deserve, but it’s Taylor and her old flame Raf (Giulio Berruti) that you’re rooting for. ‘Taylor is incredibly emotional and she is unsure a lot of the time, but then she learns to listen to herself, to realise that intelligence and self-confidence is more important than just being beautiful – and that is when she really blossoms. I think that’s something inspiring and a good message for young people.’

The parallels between Taylor and the actress who plays her are obvious – both just starting out, both a little unsure in their own skin. ‘It was relevant to me because when you are not the most beautiful girl in the room you find yourself having to be funnier or a bit more geeky and into reading and music and other things, rather than being the centre of attention all the time. I think that relying more on your intelligence to get through your youth is quite interesting and it’s under-represented in the media for young people at the moment.’

There is one other obvious Taylor/Hannah analogy – Taylor has a big sister. A glamorous brunette big sister. You may have noted from the surname that so does Hannah, in the form of one Gemma Arterton, Bond girl and bona fide movie star. This creates its own complications: being Gemma’s lil’ sis is a useful calling card, but she’s also a hard act to follow. So, help or hindrance?

‘I don’t think it’s a hindrance at all. I think maybe it’s opened a door for me that would have been difficult to open if I didn’t have this relationship. But for me it’s just incredible that I’ve got my sister, who is also my best friend, in the same industry fighting the same battles, living the same nomadic lifestyle. That is the best thing ever.’

Hannah lives in London with two other actresses, Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders) and Eline Powell (Quartet), and says they all help each other out as they embark on their careers. There’s one other pillar in the Arterton support network, her actor boyfriend Andrew Hawley, 29. She won’t talk about him, except to say that, ‘I think he is pretty gorgeous’. But she will say that her idea of what is ‘gorgeous’ bears little resemblance to Raf, her holiday hunk in Walking on Sunshine.

‘I’ve always gone for boys who are a bit rougher than him – not bad boys, but people with a little bit more going on underneath than just obvious good looks. I would probably have seen him in the street and thought he’s gorgeous but I never would have thought that I could have bagged him, ever.’

In any case, she says that holiday romances aren’t her thing. ‘I am a serial relationship person. Since I was 14 I’ve always been in relationships, and even then I think I’m a bit too shy to have gone for a holiday romance.’

In the film, sisters Taylor and Maddie are chalk and cheese. They even find themselves set against one another in competition for a man. How do Hannah and Gemma stack up in comparison? ‘We are very different. Even though there are only three years between us (Gemma is 28, Hannah is 25), I feel like the baby of the family.

I am more “girl next door”; she can be a real “sex bomb”. I can’t see it ever being an issue that we are fighting over a part!’

Hannah left Gravesend Grammar School for Girls at 16 and went straight to music college in Dartford. Growing up, she says that Gemma was there for her, just as she was there for her sister. Hannah has been singing in bands since she was 14, playing in London pubs and clubs from 16. She still plays with a group called The Hitmen and Her, though she says it’s very much parties and weddings these days.

‘We would go to see each other’s shows all the time and encourage each other, and it has stayed in that vein. Gem’s incredible career has showed me that you don’t have to be from a certain background or even look a certain way to really achieve something amazing – you just need to have the right work ethic and the talent. Our dad always used to say to us, “You can have the smallest amount of talent but if you have the biggest amount of drive you’ll always get where you want to go.”’

The Arterton girls remain close to their father, a welder, though their parents divorced when Hannah was three. But their mother – who runs a cleaning business – has been the presiding influence over them. ‘We were brought up predominantly by my mum, and we took responsibility for our own progression. She never enforced anything on us. She was like, “You’ve got to do what you want.” Whereas if I had kids now I’d say, “You need to finish school and then go to college,” she never made any of those judgments. She let us be free and I think that’s how we have grown to be how we are – independent and free thinkers. She is so laid back and chilled out, a bit of a hippy.’

And so when, at 17, Hannah decided that, actually, she didn’t want to be in a band any more – ‘I operate on my instinct almost all the time and I got this feeling of “This isn’t quite what I want” – she followed another path. Someone suggested she audition for drama schools. So she did – and got in to Rada.

‘It was just the most ludicrous day of my life. Gem went to Rada as well, and when I called my dad with the news, he burst into tears on the phone, he was so proud.’

In one sense she has followed in her sister’s footsteps, but then I don’t recall ever seeing Gemma singing Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ while prancing around an airport lounge in a sundress, as Hannah does in her debut film. I suspect she will do things her way.

They haven’t worked together – at least, not yet – unless you count early Arterton family productions complete with a local supporting cast. ‘When we were children we had these two girls who lived down the road from us, two sisters as well, and we used to put on little shows. We used to [pretend to] be the Spice Girls and we’d really dress up, do dance routines. I was Baby Spice and Gemma was Posh Spice, of course. We used to make our parents sit and watch it – poor them.’

So surely the time is ripe for the Arterton sisters to collaborate once more? ‘It’s been brought up. I think we’d like to do something really off-the-wall funny, with our sense of humour. I’d like to do something just ludicrous, a bit slapstick and grotesque – the pair of us going against what “actresses” are supposed to be like.’

Over to you Gemma. Let’s make this happen.

Walking On Sunshine will be in cinemas on 27 June


Books I’m reading a book called Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, which is about feminism. I have to read a bit and put it down because it gets me quite angry, but it has opened my eyes a lot, which is good.
Music I’m still listening to Chvrches’ album The Bones of What You Believe. I love it. When I’m walking to an audition it’s my gearing-up music.
Make-up Touche Eclat by YSL is amazing. If you haven’t had enough sleep or you’re feeling a bit spotty, it’s just a dream.
Accessory I have a hat that I wear nearly every day. It’s a wide-brimmed, black wool fedora. I found it in a store on London’s Brick Lane.
Fashion Icon Gwen Stefani ? I’ve always loved her. Every on-stage outfit is amazing.
Drink I’ll have a glass of red wine please. A nice malbec would be lovely.
Saving up for Potentially somewhere to live. A house somewhere in Southeast London would be nice.