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  M.   October 02, 2014

"I don't really enjoy fame"

By Adrian Deevoy

The mere mention of Hollywood has Gemma Arterton wrinkling her famously freckled nose.

‘I haven’t had great experiences in Hollywood so far,’ she frowns.

‘Maybe I don’t fit in there. It can be quite intimidating.’

She’s only had a single espresso, but for a moment it would appear that the ‘brunette bombshell’ is about to explode.

The Rada-trained actress laughs drily at the out-moded expression and quietly detonates.

She has played the Duchess Of Malfi and Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost at The Globe and has a portfolio of highly creditable films to her name: Tamara Drewe, Gemma Bovery, St Trinians, Quantum Of Solace, Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time and The Disappearance Of Alice Creed have all benefited from her presence and charisma.

But Arterton has temporarily turned her back on Tinseltown to take the lead in an ‘honest and huge-hearted’ production at London’s Adelphi Theatre.

Made In Dagenham is a musical adaptation of the 2010 film, written by Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors) with music from the brilliant James Bond and Sherlock composer David Arnold.

Starring Arterton as Rita O’Grady, it tells the story of an all-female equal-pay strike in the sewing machine room at Ford’s Dagenham plant in 1968.

With strong songs and its own brand of sexy Sixties socialism, the musical, helmed by award-winning director Rupert Goold, promises to be a roaring success.

Rarely has the prospect of an industrial dispute led by ladies in overalls been so appealing.

And this is largely down to the magnetic charm of Arterton. With minimal make-up and jewellery comprising one pinkie ring and two small sleeper earrings, she is a natural beauty with warm, brown eyes.

She offers a firm handshake, inherited, she says, from her welder dad Barry. Her mother Sally Anne works as a cleaner and passed her ‘incredible work ethic’ on to both her daughters, the younger of whom, Hannah, is also an actress.

Intriguingly, Gemma was born with polydactyly, meaning she had six fingers on each hand.

‘I was two days old when they got rid of them, so I can’t remember having them there. But it runs in my family,’ she shrugs. ‘I’m proud of it.’

The 28-year-old Gravesend girl retains her Kent accent, swears like a docker and regularly forgets to use the diplomatic default setting favoured by her fellow luvvies.

‘I don’t really enjoy fame,’ she confesses.

‘I know I should enjoy it more because a lot of people want to be famous, but I don’t really like it.’

‘Quantum Of Solace put me on the filming map. I never thought I’d be a Bond Girl.

‘Although it was the only film that, when I got the part, my parents were really excited.

‘Usually they say, “Oh, you go the part, that’s cool,” but with Bond they were thrilled. High fives all round.’

Sitting in the glass-ceilinged canteen of the Made In Dagenham rehearsal space, in the shadow of The Shard in south London, she has just completed today’s run-through and is dressed in simple work clothes, a scoop-necked strawberry top, denim jeggings and white Converse trainers.

She has quit smoking (‘I was only on four or five a day anyway’), and, for the duration of the production, has given up alcohol and aims to be in bed by 9.30pm each night.

This has meant cutting down on her beloved karaoke sessions, a passion that developed when, aged 19, she ran the singalong nights at a London pub, called Honest Dave’s Karaoke Bar.

‘I cycled past there just this morning!’ she hoots. ‘I used to work behind the bar but at weekends I became Karaoke Queen. I’d start it off with Total Eclipse Of The Heart, and sometimes finish with Nothing Compares 2 U.

‘And all the leery old train drivers who drank in there – it was around the corner from Waterloo – would always insist I did Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking. Curious, that.’

Arterton’s own musical history is equally curious. Her mother’s grandmother was a German Jewish violinist, but her mum was a punk and her second uncle is Eric Goulden, better known as Wreckless Eric, notable for the 1977 Stiff Records single (I’d Go The) Whole Wide World.

‘So I was raised listening to The Damned and The Clash,’ she says. ‘I still love that music.’

In her teens she formed her own band, Tourniquet.

‘I was the singer and we were punk/goth,’ she winces.

‘It was that Marilyn Manson time. We were terrible – but I loved it.’

For her West End singing debut, Gemma has been working with Mary Hammond (voice coach to, among others, Coldplay’s Chris Martin) and re-learning to sing in a pop style.

‘I’ve worked really hard and I’m pretty confident about my voice now,’ she smiles. ‘I know you shouldn’t be confident, but I am. It’s sounding good.’

Made In Dagenham will come hot on the heels of the year’s other landmark event in musical theatre, Kate Bush’s Before The Dawn tour.

As ‘a serious fan’, Arterton was asked to review Bush’s opening night for BBC’s Newsnight, which she did alongside the singer Anna Calvi.

‘Anna was so cool but I came across as a bit of a d***,’ she laughs now.

‘I was all, “It was amaaazing!” But it was inspirational just to see Kate Bush getting out and performing after 35 years. Her bravery was the most moving thing for me.’

Bravery has also been a key factor in Arterton’s own career. Witness her role in The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, a brutal, twisting drama during which the majority of her screen time is spent in tears of terror and an unflattering purple tracksuit.

She also appeared naked in the thriller but says with professional briskness, ‘it didn’t concern me at all’.

Such is her dedication to the job that earlier this year she learned to speak French, over the course of six intensive months, in order to co-star in the Gallic romance Gemma Bovery (which recently opened to great acclaim at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival).

She became fluent and now keeps an apartment in Paris and even a new beau in the shape of dashing French assistant director Franklin Ohannessian.

‘I’ve got a French fella,’ she grins. ‘We have a very weird way of speaking. He wants to practise his English so he speaks in English, but I’ll speak in French.

‘Then sometimes we’ll have a completely French day, if I need to brush up. It must sound very strange.’

Arterton divorced in February, having split from her husband, fashion consultant Stefano Catelli – they married in 2010.

‘Obviously no one gets married to get divorced,’ she says.

In a case of Arterton imitating life, she recently played Idris Elba’s estranged wife in the forthcoming densely layered London tale A Hundred Streets.

‘We’re a good match, me and Idris,’ she says. ‘He’s real – a boy from Hackney – and we’re both completely no bulls***. We speak our minds.’

She admits that she can be physically violent, when pushed.

‘Ever since I was young, if anyone touches me and I haven’t authorised them to, I always get a bit…’ she launches a right hook into the air.

‘It’s like an impulse in me. I remember a boy in Gravesend pinched my bum when I was 15 and I walloped him and said, “You’ve got no right to touch me!”

‘And I was at a cashpoint in Berlin, years later, and this tramp touched me up and I just, well, punched him. I didn’t even think about it.

‘I was shocked at myself and he was shocked. He chased after me – I think he felt humiliated. But sometimes I worry about that instinct,’ she frets. ‘I really smacked him.’

This unfettered frankness continues while discussing why so many musicals don’t survive, as was the fate this year of I Can’t Sing!, Spamalot and Stephen Ward.

‘Some of them close because they’re a pile of s***,’ Gemma states bluntly.

‘Then again, some run for ages and they’re absolute b*******, so it’s a bit of a mystery.

‘But when you see a good musical, it is breathtaking,’ she enthuses. ‘It’s all the art forms at once and it smacks you around the face in the most magical way.’

She downs her coffee excitedly. ‘You think, “I’m totally OK with spending money on that!”’

‘Made In Dagenham’ is at the Adelphi Theatre, London, from October 9, madeindagenhamthemusical.com