Gemma Arterton: From Gravesend to Hollywood

PUBLISHED: 15:43 12 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:43 12 August 2019

In 2010 Gemma Arterton played the lead in Tamara Drewe, a modern reworking of Thomas Hardy's novel Far from the Madding Crowd

In 2010 Gemma Arterton played the lead in Tamara Drewe, a modern reworking of Thomas Hardy's novel Far from the Madding Crowd


From starring in and producing movies to lining up a future director’s chair, Gravesend’s own Gemma Arterton is making her mark on Hollywood in typically no-nonsense fashion

There's no denying that the entertainment industry is currently experiencing a sea change in its long-outdated attitude towards women in showbusiness.

Thanks to high-profile social media campaigns, female actresses in particular are being galvanised to speak out on discrimination and sexism within Hollywood.

But long before #MeToo ever began trending, Gemma Arterton was well known for speaking her mind. This headstrong nature has, over time, seen Arterton emerge as one of the movie world's foremost advocates for gender equality - be it in her criticism of her most high-profile role to date as a 'Bond Girl' alongside Daniel Craig in 2008's Quantum of Solace, or the creation of her own female-driven production company, Rebel Park, in 2016.

"It's important we keep making more films where women are shown to be independent and very capable," the 33-year-old says. "It can be very frustrating not being able to do the work you would like to, and you see that you're being offered parts that aren't at all reflective of how you see yourself.

Gemma Arterton as Io in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ “Clash of the Titans,” distributed by Warner Bros. (photo: Jay Maidment)Gemma Arterton as Io in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ “Clash of the Titans,” distributed by Warner Bros. (photo: Jay Maidment)

"I don't necessarily seek out roles where women are trying to break down or escape social barriers or constraints. But if they do come my way, I'm very happy to jump onboard."

Projects such as Vita & Virginia, Arterton's latest turn opposite Elizabeth Debicki in a beguiling biopic of the love affair between famed American author Virginia Woolf (Debicki) and socialite Vita Sackville-West (Arterton) that laid the backdrop to the former's classic novel Orlando.

"I wanted to be part of a film that was made by young women and reach a younger audience that may never have read Virginia Woolf or Orlando," Arterton explains. "We would like people to feel inspired to read it after seeing this film.

"I wish I could say that I had been a progressive 17-year-old feminist woman who read Virginia Woolf, but I came from a background that wasn't very academic. So it wasn't until Eileen Atkins handed me the script that I started reading about Virginia and Vita, and then I just read everything."

Gretel (Gemma Arterton) and Hansel (Jeremy Renner) in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) (photo: David Appleby)Gretel (Gemma Arterton) and Hansel (Jeremy Renner) in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) (photo: David Appleby)

When it often feels like stars are scrabbling to put their long-harboured inspirations on public display, Arterton's honesty is refreshing. It's also typical of a star who, despite her Hollywood pedigree, had a hard time finding her feet amid her fellow acting hopefuls during the formative stages of her career at RADA.

"I'd been rejected from loads of other acting schools, so I was quite paranoid," she recalls. "And then I got in and felt very alien to everyone around me, because I thought they were so much more well-spoken than me because of my accent, and the fact I wasn't posh. But that was very early on.

"I was worried that I was this pushy girl from Gravesend who wasn't posh enough compared to everyone else who was applying to these famous schools and that my accent was too thick for me to get accepted. I couldn't believe that I was accepted everywhere.

"But I liked the idea of RADA because it has produced so many brilliant actors and I had been wanting to live in London for so long. I was the small-town girl looking to be part of big city life."

This attitude, too, was reflected in much of Arterton's early filmography - including her short-lived stint as Agent Strawberry Fields in 007's 23rd outing. Appearances in Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia were far from critical successes, but they did allow Arterton the chance to cut her teeth on the Hollywood blockbuster scene, replete with multi-billion-dollar studio backing.

"At the beginning of my career, I was poor as a church mouse and I was happy just to be able to work and earn a living," she shrugs. "I didn't have that much choice at the beginning and at some point, I thought, 'these aren't the kinds of films I want to be doing; I want to be part of different kinds of stories.'

"That's when I started looking for the projects that meant something to me and trying to find the best scripts possible."

This career transition, far from hindering Arterton, has in fact opened up the possibility of a new lease of life professionally.

Gemma Arterton with actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Jonathan Pryce (behind) at a film premiereGemma Arterton with actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Jonathan Pryce (behind) at a film premiere

With Vita & Virginia adding another producing credit to her name, the star has set her sights on becoming arguably Kent's most influential figure in modern cinema both in front of and behind the camera.

"The thought scares me but it's definitely something I've been thinking about," she says of calling the cinematic shots.

"As a director, you have to have the film in your head. I think I would know how to work with the actors, but I need to work more on being able to have that overall vision you need to move the story forward.

"First, I have to find a story that excites to the point that I would want to take that step. I always want to be working on something and being creative in some way.

I go crazy if I don't have anything planned where I can express myself through my work."

With one eye on her next move in the industry and now splitting her time between film sets and a house in France, Arterton is living the life of a bona fide silver screen star. And yet there's something palpably down-to-earth about her persona that can be traced right back to her first moving from Kent to the capital - even if it is at home, ironically, where Arterton feels most conspicuous in her celebrity.

"I still have family and friends there," she says of returning to her roots. "Now in London, you can walk around pretty much anywhere and get ignored.

"But go to a restaurant in Gravesend, and everyone is looking at you and nudging their companions, whatever. It's very disconcerting. The only refuge is to hide in the toilet - which is what I usually do!"

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