Rising star Gemma Arterton left acting school three years ago. Since then, she has played a head girl (St Trinian’s), a Bond girl (Quantum of Solace) and been in a blockbuster or two (Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia). Now she’s the heroine of black comedy Tamara Drewe, Stephen Frears’s adaptation of British newspaper cartoonist Posy Simmonds’s comic strip – itself a modern reworking of Thomas Hardy’s 19th century novel Far from the Madding Crowd. In the film, we follow glamorous newspaper columnist Tamara, who is forced to return back to the country village where she grew up. Once an ugly duckling, she returns, post-nose-job, as a femme fatale, where she soon entangles a trio of admirers: indie-drummer, fit farmer and philandering crime novelist.
The Tamara Drewe graphic novel is much loved in the UK. Did you know it already?
No, I hadn’t even heard about it. At the start, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the film. I really liked the script and I knew that I could do it but I had a bit of apprehension. I’m not sure why. Then they sent me the comic, and that was the deal-maker. I’ve always loved Thomas Hardy and I just fell in love with the comic. Posy Simmonds is so clever. She did a drawing of me as Tamara. It’s in my bathroom: the front cover of the book but with my face. It’s brilliant.
Stephen Frears said that he wouldn’t make the film without you. Did he tell you that?
It’s funny when he says things like that because he’s so bumbling. I remember when I met him, I had read with his casting director. She’d phoned him to say that I should be Tamara. So I met up with them both and he said: ‘Oh yes, you’ll do.’ He’d never seen me in anything. I was asking if I could please audition – or something! I wanted to make sure he knew he’d made the right decision. A lot of us are quite close to our characters.
You’re not like Tamara are you? She’s outrageous.
Not character-wise, no! But I drive a Mini in real life. She drives a Mini. Her lightheartedness, her freshness, the cheekiness – that was kind of the easy bit. And she’s a modern woman.
You’ve done a lot of period work. Is it harder without the costumes? Do they tool you up?
You haven’t got anything to hide behind. Luckily, I know someone who is Tamara Drewe: she had a nose job when she was 15, moved to the big city and became a success but she hasn’t really got any friends; she’s a real temptress but doesn’t have any respect for herself. So I had this really clear idea of Tamara.
You have come a cropper in a lot of films: drowning in oil, kidnapped and handcuffed to a bed… Was it a relief that all you had to contend with for this film was a prosthetic nose?
I know. I was thinking there was going to be some kind of sticky end to Tamara Drewe. It’s refreshing not having to do a dying scene. They are always the eggy ones to do – you wake up and think: I’ve got to do the death scene today.
Your first big part was as a Bond girl. Can it ever feel like a bit of a ball and chain?
Not for me. At the time, people talked about the curse of the Bond girl, saying I’d never work again. But that’s not happened – though I’m forever going to be ‘Gemma Arterton, Bond Girl’. When I did Alice Creed, the director wasn’t sure if I was right for it because I’d been in a Bond movie. You have to just accept that and hope they give you a chance.
Tamara Drewe is out in cinemas across Dubai from March 24.