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Tamara Drewe - Gemma Arterton interview

Tamara Drewe

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GEMMA Arterton talks about some of the challenges of playing Tamara Drewe for director Stephen Frears, including getting into those eye-opening hot-pants.

She also talks about celebrity culture and why several aspects of her character echo her real life feelings about fame.

Q. How different was it to have the graphic novel as a resource when it came to approaching the role of Tamara Drewe?
Gemma Arterton: I found it really helpful to have the drawing there. With Tamara, in the book and in the film, she doesn’t really have any friends or a moment when she’s on her own to reflect. You have these thought bubbles in the comic, so Stephen and I did make sure we put those in so that you’d get an idea of the real Tamara, otherwise it’s quite easy to disconnect from her. And yeah, it’s just a nice place to have such a detailed baseline to start with and then you can go off and elaborate certain bits and make them richer, or change them. We did change quite a bit… the ending is different in the book.

Q. When it came to the key scene with the shorts, was that Stephen’s choice of costume or yours?
Gemma Arterton: [Laughs and blushes] No, I actually went in there and said: “Please can you make me the shortest, most uncomfortable shorts ever!” I was desperate to do a role where I wore those tight… no, it’s in the book, and it is a memorable scene… those hot-pants. And for the joke, for Tamsin [Grieg]’s wonderful punch-line to work, they did have to be ridiculously provocative. So we had a screen test where I wore various styles of shorts. As I walked along, they went ‘shorter!’, ‘shorter!’ and so they became quite short. We’ll be auctioning them for charity at the end of the year.

Q. How do you feel about Tamara’s character being viewed as a kind of anti-role model for young women, especially with her misguided need to be beautiful and successful in these fame obsessed times?
Gemma Arterton: I wanted to play her because she’s not really the heroine, she’s very flawed but that’s what makes her real. It’s interesting in the film that these two young girls are obsessed with her, they call her ‘Plastic Fantastic’ and yet she’s probably the most lost. But that’s what celebrity culture’s like, these people are made to come across as if they have the most fantastic lives, but they don’t really.

Tamara is struggling really with using her feminine wiles to be successful and actually it doesn’t make her happy, and I think that’s a very current problem, or dilemma maybe. Plastic surgery and things like that. So, she’s a very modern woman, and it was refreshing to play someone who was written by a woman who is very modern. It’s a very honest portrayal I think. I remember when we were filming it, there were times when Stephen would say: “I don’t really know why she does that.” And I said: “That’s because she’s a woman, and sometimes we don’t know why we do things!” We’re very complicated. It was good to play someone like that, often roles are too thought through and too perfect, and this one was imperfect. I liked that.

Q. Are you personally wary of doing too much red carpet stuff?
Gemma Arterton: You have to do that sort of thing, it’s part of the job. But I’d be quite happy not to do it. But you have to do it, so…

Q. What were your feelings on the demise of Nicholas in the story?
Gemma Arterton: That’s an amazing moment in the film I think, because it suddenly turns into a Greek tragedy. It’s in this valley and it’s like a big western and you see Tam running down the hill and it’s really dramatic. Yeah, he’s a baddie, so it’s good that he gets killed by the cows.

Q. Given that Tamara Drewe was originally inspired by Far From The Madding Crowd, it means that you’re playing another kind of Hardy heroine after Tess [of the D’Urbervilles for the BBC], so did you find any surprising parallels in your approach to the roles?
Gemma Arterton: You know Bathsheba is a very advanced character for that time, very modern, Hardy was very clever and knew women much better than we even know women I think. I suppose they’re both out there doing things on their own, but they are very, very different… downtrodden in a way. There’s an argument in Tess that she sort of brings it on herself, but Tamara actually does bring it on herself in ways, but she doesn’t really know why it happens and how she gets there. I don’t know, they are different characters but I suppose they’re just both very advanced for when they’re originally written.

Q. Have you checked out Terence Stamp and Julie Christie in the Far From The Madding Crowd film?
Gemma Arterton: There are so many moments in the graphic novel which are indirect hints at Far From The Madding Crowd. Like the three male characters… They’re kind of archetypal men I suppose, lover figures. I love Julie Christie, she’s one of my all time favourites.

Q. How is it for you when you go home, given the career you now have? Are there similarities with the way Tamara reacts in the film?
Gemma Arterton: Yeah, actually, I went back home, I grew up in a town that was not far from London at all – it’s not the countryside, really – but I went home two weeks ago. I went to a restaurant, and people recognise you more when you’re from there. It’s kind of weird. They put you on a pedestal, whereas in London people are too pre-occupied with their own lives to even care. It is weird going back to your home town. Unlike Tamara, I sort of go and hide in the toilet, where Tamara goes and puts on some hot-pants.

Read our review of Tamara Drewe

Read our interview with Tamsin Greig