If you don’t know who Gemma Arterton is…I’m confident that’ll change by June. As the female lead in both Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia, Gemma Arterton is right on the cusp of being a huge movie star. But when I was on the set of director Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans last August outside of London, Gemma Arterton came across as not only grounded, but completely unaffected by the high profile movies she was in. While some actors might let it go to their head, Gemma didn’t seem like she’d be one of them.
Anyway, during the roundtable interview with Arterton, she talked about her character Io in the film, how she had been finding her way as filming went on, filming such huge movies and what that’s like, and a ton more as we spoke to her for around 30 minutes. Hit the jump to read or listen to what she had to say:
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.
If you haven’t seen the teaser trailer for Clash of the Titans, I suggest watching this before reading the interview.
Here’s the synopsis:
In Clash of the Titans, the ultimate struggle for power pits men against kings and kings against gods. But the war between the gods themselves could destroy the world. Born of a god but raised as a man, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is helpless to save his family from Hades (Ralph Fiennes), vengeful god of the underworld. With nothing left to lose, Perseus volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to defeat Hades before he can seize power from Zeus (Liam Neeson) and unleash hell on earth. Leading a daring band of warriors, Perseus sets off on a perilous journey deep into forbidden worlds. Battling unholy demons and fearsome beasts, he will only survive if he can accept his power as a god, defy his fate and create his own destiny.
Question: Sam was just here and he said that they’d been figuring out your character over the course of time, so once you figure it out can you tell us about your character?
Gemma Arterton: (laughs) We figured it out now. Yeah, she’s changed quite a lot actually, and because she’s very enigmatic, I had to work out a lot of who she was myself, rather than it being in the script. I think the way I describe her now is that she’s like a guardian angel, even though she’s not heaven-sent. She’s very other-worldly, and she’s been touched by the Gods, so she has healing powers, but she’s also cursed in that she can’t age. She’s kind of trapped with these gifts that she’s been given, quite similar to Perseus actually, grappling with being human and at the same time, having these godly traits. Her role in the film is to guide Perseus through his journey and help him, mainly to realize that he should open up and embrace his Godlikeness in order to defy the Gods, which is what both of their missions are. So throughout the film, she kind of comes in and advises him and around Io, Perseus becomes quite vulnerable and we see another side to him, which we don’t see with the rest of the characters, with the boys. She’s kind of like a mother figure, rather than a romantic kind of… they’re much more like brother and sister or like a mother. She’s very protecting. She brings a real feminine touch to the film.
Why were there a lot of changes in your character since starting the film?
Arterton: I think when you write an enigmatic character into a film, you have to have real confidence that the audience are going to go with it and I think there was a lot of changes, because the studio thought, “Oh, maybe we need to explain who she is more” and then I was always like, “No, I don’t think we need to know that.” We don’t need to know who the Blue Fairy is in “Pinocchio”-we don’t need to know where she came from and where she grew up (laughs). We kind of go with it and we go with the fact that she’s magic and she’s there, same as like the Fairy Godmother, things like that. So she changed in that respect, but there was a lot of facts that were given to her on who she was, and then we managed to take it all away, but at the same time, we had to justify every single thing that she says, and I had to justify it as an actress to make it believable. At one point, she was romantically linked and then we decided no, because it has to be that Andromeda is the romantic lead, even though there is a tension between them, which we never really delve into, but there always is something like an inexplicable feeling that they have. It’s like when you meet your true love for the first time, you just have that feeling. They have that all the time but they never do anything about it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re in love with each other. It’s kind of like brother and sister, something like that. So yeah, she changed a lot, but now I’m really proud of the character. I think it’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve played, because she’s very complex and there’s a lot of subplot with her, subtext, which is always nice to play. She’s fascinating I think.
Is there action for her?
Arterton: Yes, because she accompanies Perseus on his journey so there’s like three different films within this film: There’s the Gods, there’s Perseus’ journey and then there’s Perseus’ own home life and Andromeda as well. We’re on the journey, so that’s where all the fights are. We battle the Scorpioks, and we defeat the Medusa, and defeat the Kraken. Io does get involved, only when she needs to, because she’s quite peace and love. (laughs) So she’s not an all guns blazing. Actually, the boys are like that. She’s the one that says you need to think and you need to step back sometimes, although she still gets into scrapes and has to defend herself. Her mission is to enable Perseus to defeat the Kraken and everything so anyway possible, she’ll help him. I save him from one of the Scorpioks with a flick of my flying bolos, which are my weapons, only used when necessary. Then there’s lots of running away from things and being flung against walls. I’ve had to do quite a lot actually.
So you’re the only girl among these manly man?
Arterton: I so got used to it now because I’ve done so many films… well, “Prince of Persia” I was the only girl, and then it’s quite a male-dominated industry, so you kind of get used to being around lots of men, and becoming one of the boys, I suppose. So much so that they forget I’m a girl and are quite disgusting and rude about things that boys talk about and I’m like, “Ew! Please! Hello, remember I am the girl!” Because they’re quite boisterous, when they’re all together as well, they’re something else, but I can play with them as well. No, it’s been great. We’ve all gotten on really really well, so it’s just been really really good fun.
Were you a fan of Greek mythology growing up?
Arterton: Yes, it’s really funny. My Mum is an astrologer as a hobby, so when we were growing up, instead of reading us bedtime stories, she’d read us Greek myths from this little book that we had, which is falling apart. I loved them, absolutely loved them, because they’re about these Gods that are so flawed, and they have egos and they mess up all the time and they’re competing with each ‘other. And I love the fact that these Gods are so flawed, even moreso than the humans sometimes. So yeah, and then I was a massive fan of the film, “Clash of the Titans,” because Mum had taped-off the TV “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Clash of the Titans” and we had them on video-but not all of them. You know when you tape something and you get the adverts in there and you haven’t got the end because something else is taped over it (laughs) so I had “Clash of the Titans” but not in its entirety, and we used to watch it all the time, me and my sister, to the point where I can still recite bits from the film. When they asked me to read for this part for the film, I was over the moon. I remember phoning my Mum when I got the part, and telling her… when I phoned her to tell her I was in Bond or “Prince of Persia,” (she was like) “Oh, yeah, whatever.” It didn’t really rock her world, but when I got “Clash” it was like “Yeah!!! That’s one I know! Oh, that’s going to be brilliant!”
But you’re playing a character who wasn’t in the original movie so you’ve learned all these lines for nothing.
Arterton: Yeah, I know. However, my character-I was watching it the other day, the original and there’s… Oh, it’s Burgess Meredith… she’s kind of like him (laughs) and there’s actually speeches that he has. He tells the story about Medusa, about who she was, and I have that speech. (laughs) I’m Burgess Meredith. Who would have known?
Between this and “Prince of Persia,” do you just have a natural affinity for crazy make them up historical fantasies with no actual basis in facts? Or are you hoping your next historical drama has more realism to it?
Arterton: It’s quite funny. I never thought I’d end up being in these kinds of movies, because I always imagined that I would just do theater. I’m a classically-trained actress, but I’ve kind of ended up in them and they’re fun to play these kinds of things because they’re imaginative and completely original, however on the flip side, I have done a lot of stuff that is more real. I have a film coming out in the beginning of the year, which is very very real and modern, so it’s kind of nice to go between and go from one extreme, something like this which is fantasy and magic and horses and fighting and Medusas, and then do something really gritty. On the flip side as well, with this film, I really do believe that we’ve accomplished, because the team is so talented, whether it be Louis, the actors, the crew, everything, everyone is so talented that it’s not just another Greek myth. It’s a really meat, gritty well-acted movie, and everyone’s made it… I mean, Sam is vigilant in making sure that every single moment is believable and justified and not saying a corny line. I really do believe that it’s different than anything else I’ve seen like that. I think “Gladiator” is one of the ones that to me stood out as a really brilliant epic, because you care about the characters and you go along with them, and everything is justified, it’s not there… if it is a big show, it’s there for a reason. It’s the same with this film I think. So yeah, hopefully, it’ll be on the same level.
Was it easier coming into this film, coming off the heels of “Prince of Persia” which is so similar?
Arterton: Yeah, because they’re quite overwhelming doing films like this, because the set and the scale and the expectations of doing a big budget movie, and I did one, so I just had come straight off of it as well, so that didn’t overwhelm me as much this time. I felt a bit more comfortable and at ease being in these surroundings, but they are very very different, so I suppose you have to… it’s just a different job at the end of the day, but it helps having a bit of experience.
Sam says that he reads what people say about him, and I was wondering if you read things about yourself? Do you follow reviews or blogs or gossip?
Arterton: Yeah, I’m a big of a sucker for it actually. I think when people say they don’t, they’re lying. (laughs) Because you shouldn’t do it, because you sometimes you read really horrible things, but then I dunno, it’s a morbid fascination or something like that. But also, I remember when I was in the theater, I was doing a show and I remember reading a review and it was a bad review and they said, “Gemma Arterton needs to make it less shrill” and I remember thinking, “That’s right. I do need to do that.” And I did! And then it was good. So sometimes, you sort of grow from reading… when it’s constructive. When they’re saying horrible things about you as a person and they don’t even know you…
Who is saying horrible things about you?
Arterton: Oh, God! You’d be surprised! (laughs) They just do. No, I think in terms of… I don’t mind reading things about the work, because I believe anyone can have an opinion and I make my opinion known and if people don’t like it, that’s interesting, and if people do, then that’s interesting. It’s destructive when it’s about yourself, and that’s when you shouldn’t read it, but in terms of the film, I think it’s good to know what people think.
Sam was talking about having all these scenes with Pegasus and the fact that he hates the horse and the horse hates him.
Arterton: No! I thought the horse loved him!
His rage against the horse was a major topic of discussion. What thing have you found that you’re supposed to be able to do effortlessly as Io that has been driving you crazy?
Arterton: Walking around in a cloak which comes up to here, like a massive wedding dress, elegantly and gracefully. See, I can do that. I can work the cloak, I’ve done it, but when there are people around, it’s different. The other day we were doing a scene. There were about 300 extras. I was wearing this cloak and I had to walk through the crowds (at this point, she’s gotten up from the table to show us) like meander through them, really elegantly like this and then just walk off, but every time I do it, I’m like (she starts stumbling awkwardly) and I end up getting so stressed out. I kept saying, “I know it’s annoying but please be careful of the cloak.” At the end of the day, I just ripped it off and said, “I hate this cloak!” (laughs) And Louis said, “You diva! I love it when you’re like that! Ooo I love it!” And I was like, “No, you don’t understand. The cloak is pulling away from my performance.”
Were you wishing that Greek Goddesses just wore track suits?
Arterton: Yeah, why didn’t they just wear short dresses? Why did they have to wear full-length dresses, but no, that’s really trivial, but it was really important to me. (laughs)
Can they redo the cloak with CG now?
Arterton: No, well maybe. You never know what they’re going to do, but I remember at one point, I did it and all the boys were watching the monitor and they were laughing so much at me, “Oh, she looks like she’s got epilepsy walking like that…” God, they’re quite cruel.
So they didn’t give constructive criticism?
Arterton: No, because it’s not my fault. It’s just the blooming cloak. But it is beautiful so when it works, it works; when it doesn’t, it’s disaster.
Also out of curiosity, you’ve read the script and you’re here during the production but you end up seeing the film piecemeal. What are you most looking forward to seeing fully-realized as opposed to the bits and pieces?
Arterton: Actually, the cinematography is stunning on this film, and I don’t watch the monitor really or anything like that. Everybody else does, but I can’t, but I did see-when we were in Wales, we were filming, the end of the film, which is just before we go into Medusa’s lair, and it was all grey slate. It was just beautiful, the setting, and the way it was lit, and my character’s very ethereal, and she has white skin that glows. I just want to see how they make the magic, how they make it look other-worldly, and I think it’s going to be something. There’s some stuff in Tenarife, 8,000 feet up the volcano, and there’s a shot of us-not me, it’s of the boys-looking out on the horizon and there are clouds beneath them, and everyone will think we put them in in post-production but we didn’t, and it’s the most beautiful shot. I just can’t wait to see it, and also there are other things, like I can’t wait to see the Medusa scene because in the original, I loved it so much, I was petrified of it. Because I love the original so much, even though this is so different, but there are obviously key moments which it will be really nice to see what they do with them. Because there’s a lot of CGI and a lot we couldn’t see, so it’ll be soon. Also, the score. I think the Muse are doing the score. That’s what Louis told me but maybe I’m wrong. And yeah, they’re a great band.
After doing this and “Prince of Persia” with all these huge sets and action pieces, do you think anything can impress you after this?
Arterton: No, nothing can impress me anymore. No, I dunno. Everything impresses me every day. It’s really humbling when you walk onto a set and it’s unreal. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being involved in something that huge. My next movie is so much smaller than this. It’s set in a little country house (laughs) and I’ll still be impressed by the teapot. “Wow, that’s so nice.” (laughs) That’s just the way I am.
Do you find you have to burrow into the emotional core of a scene when you’re doing a big movie like this or just focus on…
Arterton: Yeah, I mean the luxury of doing a film like this is that you can just forget about the set because it’s so huge that you can’t see the edge of it, so then you can just forget about it and do what you’d do in real life, which is be in that place and talk to the other person. It’s hard sometimes when you’re on a set that’s specially built. A film I did at the beginning of the year was set in a room no bigger than the corner of this tent, and you could see the lights there, and it was close, and actually, it being so small, it’s actually harder sometimes whereas when it’s so huge, you can forget. But I think that’s what you have to do in any scene any time anywhere any place. Our job is to just talk to each other and make it real, so yeah, it doesn’t matter which film you’re on.
Does that make you miss doing stuff in theater?
Arterton: Oh, God. This is an ongoing mission of mine is to make sure I do some again, but it’s not just happened like that. I did some Shakespeare at the Globe in late 2007, two years ago, and I might be doing some at the beginning of the year, but I can’t say.
Is this a matter of your agent and manager saying that you have to take advantage of this popularity from doing the Bond film?
Arterton: Yeah, and you do. When I was a student, I was always like “I will always do theater and I’ll be true to my roots and all this” and then you get offered all these films, small, big or whatever and they’re fantastic parts, and that doesn’t happen very often to anybody, and I’m quite realistic about it. And in five years time, I might not be able to do that anymore, but theater is always there, especially in the UK, it’s always there. It’s a really good scene, so I’m presuming that in five years I can go back to theater. Of course, they might not want me but it’s important for me to do it because I really really love it and it’s the core of what I do and it’s why I do it. It’s why I love acting on stage, but I’m just going to ride the wave for a bit as well. (laughs)
We just spoke to Mr. Worthington and he was funny and affable and relaxed and self-deprecating…
Arterton: What? Was he self-deprecating? No… (laughs)
And yet he has to turn all that off to be Perseus! What was the biggest part of your own natural character did you have to turn off to play Io?
Arterton: Okay, like the whole of it. (laughter) Io is so different to me. (lowers voice) She talks like this and she’s very soft-spoken and she doesn’t raise her voice and she’s very soulful… and she doesn’t laugh very often and I laugh all the time. Actually, giggling was the main thing because even when I was being… there’s a scene which is quite dramatic. (asking publicist) Can I say? No, I can’t. Well, there’s a very dramatic scene… no, you can take what you want from that. I was giving somebody a gift… so there is a scene that’s very dramatic, a gift-giving, and I was meant to be very serious in it but every time we would shoot it, I would burst into laughter and we were in the middle of the valley in Wales, and it would echo around the whole valley (laughs) and I remember my Dad was on set that day and he said, “I was down at unit base and I could hear you laughing.” It’s really bad because I’m supposed to be so serious. So she’s a lot more centered and not as scatty. Even though she’s witty, she’s more sophisticated than I am. (laughs) So there was a lot that I had to change.
Would you like to do a screwball comedy at some point?
Arterton: Oh, yeah. I think I am doing one next actually. I’m not sure if the director will want it to be screwball but I’ll probably make it like that (laughs). It’s called “Tamara Drew” and Stephen Frears is directing it. Yeah, and I’m playing Tamara Drew, and it’s a very British comedy. I don’t know what that means; if it’s screwball, it’s probably sarcastic. Anyway…
There is talk of this potentially becoming a franchise exploring more of the Greek mythology and with your character being a new addition with a backstory…
Arterton: The great thing about Greek mythology is that there’s the Underworld, so there’s heaven and hell, so if somebody dies, like with all the boys, if they die, that means they can come back or we could go to the Underworld and find them or something. People are morphing and changing all the time. There’s talks that io comes back as an evil character in the next one and I love that, it’s brilliant, that she becomes corrupted or something, and you could completely do that because it’s Greek mythology and that sort of stuff happens all the time in Greek mythology. I’d love to, but more than anything because I love working with these people, and it makes all the difference when you’re working with people that you love, because the work is the best it can be then, because there’s no barriers or anything. I would just love to work with everybody again, and I love telling stories like this because they’re the sort of stories I loved when I was little. Sam always says that he makes films that he would go and see in the cinema, and that’s really great, because I make a lot of films that are.. a film that I did at the beginning of the year, it’s really hard going, and I told my Dad about it and he’s like, “God’s sake… what? You get raped? And you do this? And then you cry for most of the film? Well, I don’t want to go and see it.” And then you tell him about “Clash of the Titans” and yeah, everyone wants to see it, and that’s great. That was the roundabout way of saying, “Yeah, I would like to do another one because I’d like to see it.” (laughs)
Sam also said that it passed the test of his 9-year-old nephew, but you can’t just make films only to pass your father’s test.
Arterton: No, I know, and well, I don’t know what my standards are, because I said, “You’ll just have to get over it, Dad, I’m not just doing films that would make you happy.” (laughs) Because I want to do more than that, but it’s good to make films so that your nieces and nephews think you’re amazing and you’re an absolute God (laughs).
Didn’t being a Bond girl help with that?
Arterton: Yeah, I forget that I’m a Bond girl. Everybody else doesn’t but I do, I completely forget that I’m a Bond girl, and that is a big thing. I think it’s a big thing. But I didn’t feel particularly “Bond girlie” in the Bond film. I kind of let Olga have that title. (laughs)
So you grew up watching Clash of the Titans. If your young self can watch this new version of “Clash of the Titans,” what about Io would get your young self excited?
Arterton: Oh, wow, that’s a good question. I think it would be the magic that she has and there’s a magnetism to her which I really hope comes across, that we don’t know what it is about her, but we just are drawn to her and it’s the same as when… I always describe her as the Blue Fairy, because there’s something fascinating about the Blue Fairy, and she’s captivating and it’s that sort of mystique and magic that I hope would captivate a young audience. And she’s got some really cool outfits as well. (laughs)
Was there any aspect of the wardrobe or accessories that you thought, “Oh, this is nice, I’m going to lift it.”
Arterton: Yeah, there’s some really great shoes that I have that have been specially made and they’re on trend with today’s fashion (laughs) and I also find when I’m playing a character, I always end up in real life wearing clothes that are similar, so I’m always grey at the moment and one-shouldered kinda Greek-looking things (laughs). I don’t know why and when I was doing “Prince of Persia,” I was wearing baggy trousers and belly tops and stuff. Anyway, it’s weird.
Are there going to be action figures and collectibles of Io?
Arterton: I don’t know. I know there are for “Prince of Persia.” I’d imagine so. Maybe a little collectible, but we’ve had the scanning from every which direction. And I can imagine they used it for that.
They didn’t do that for anyone else.
Arterton: What? They didn’t? Hang on a minute! What’s going on? That’s quite weird actually. I saw a sculpture of a doll of me the other day for “Prince of Persia” and that was really surreal. I looked more elf-like. They really accentuated the weird mouth that I have and I thought I looked a bit Gelfing-y. I think I look a bit Gelfling-y anyway, but a bit more than that, but it was weird, seeing a doll.
Is it going to be strange having a big movie out in March and then another one out in May and you’ll be everywhere doing press for the two movies? Have you talked with Sam about going through that experience?
Arterton: Yeah, well Sam is sort of going through it right now because we’ve got “Avatar” coming out soon and we had “Terminator,” and he sort of said to me, “Oh, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s going to hit you like a wave and it’s going to hurt.” Now you can imagine him saying it (puts on Sam Worthington accent and voice) “It’s going to f*cking hurt.” And I’m like, “Yeah, right, whatever.” But you know, I just don’t know what’s going to happen. Actually, I really hate the fame thing (laughs)… all the stuff that’s attached to it, all that rubbish, so I’m trying to brace myself for it and I’m trying to organize myself so I don’t give myself too much to these people that can really upset your life. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s kind of inevitable, because people are going to see these films. My friends emailed me the other day and said, I’m in New York and there’s a huge poster of you in “Prince of Persia” and I’m, “What the…” Apparently, he might have been lying. It’s scary, it’s kinda like the days are coming, but it’s also exciting because I really can’t wait to see these films, but all of that stuff… I don’t think you can ever prepare yourself for what it’s like so hopefully, people will be kind rather than cruel.
You can also book yourself on a movie right during those two months.
Arterton: I know, I’ve got two films at the same time when they’re both coming out and I’m getting married… so it’s alright. (laughs) Busy year.
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