On a hot and humid night last August, I spent the night on the San Juan, Puerto Rico set of director Brad Furman‘s (The Lincoln Lawyer) crime thriller Runner, Runner. The film stars Justin Timberlake as a Princeton student who is cheated out of his tuition money playing online poker and ends up traveling to Costa Rica to confront the on-line mastermind (Ben Affleck). The film also stars Gemma Arterton, Ben Schwartz, Dayo Okeniyi and Oliver Cooper and it was written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders). For more on the film, watch the trailer.
During a break in filming, I got to participate in a group interview with Gemma Arterton. She talked about what drew her to the role, working with Timberlake and Affleck, shooting in Puerto Rico, being inspired by Gilda, and a lot more. Hit the jump for the interview. Runner, Runner opens September 27th.
GEMMA ARTERTON: I thought the script, itself, the whole thing… This isn’t my world. I can’t identify with this world in the slightest. But it gripped me. It’s a gripping script. I thought that it was very clever. I thought the monologues were great… It’s really well written and yeah… I’ve always liked those old Rat Pack casino movies and one of my favorite movies is Gilda and there’s a kind of Gilda quality to this, a little bit.
Is this Rat Pack in style? Is that how you’d describe it?
ARTERTON: It is in some ways and then in other ways, it’s very contemporary. Very, very like “Bling, modern, get-rich-quick, money-loving, prostitute-loving…” You know, that kinda sleazy, bling world, it’s that as well. But it has this style to it that I was enticed by. Yeah, it’s about money, power and greed.
And who are you in this?
ARTERTON: I’m the only woman in it. One of the only woman. I play Ivan Block, Ben Affleck’s character, his right-hand-woman, the kind of woman who runs things on the island. And then me and Justin end up falling in love. She’s like a femme fatale, but then ends up redeeming herself. She’s not so fatal.
In the scene we saw earlier, we saw you talking about father, so this film is about a lot more than just online gambling. Could you talk about Rebecca’s personal stake in the events of the story?
ARTERTON: Rebecca is the humanity in the story. Justin’s character and Ivan, Ben’s character, are like the polar opposites at the start and then my character is the one that kind of brings them together, in a way. They compete over me, sort of. And also I unlock in both of them, this desire and humane sort of need other than wealth, money, materialistic things. And, similarly, that’s what Richie’s character does to my character. She is a very materialistic person, greedy and spoiled and very rich, and he brings her back down to Earth. The scene that you saw today is actually one of the crucial scenes between the two characters, where there’s no game-playing. It’s very straight-forward – It’s two people on like a first date kinda feel, like Woody Allen-esque kind of dialogue. I think she is the humane glue, in a way. Otherwise, it would just be about money and we might as well make a movie about politicians. She makes them feel.
These have been quite long scenes that we’ve seen today. Are they representative of most of the scenes in the movie?
ARTERTON: Yeah. I think the scenes are long, very dialogue-heavy, and then our DP, Mauro, he does do these beautiful stylized shots. I have seen a thing. I don’t watch monitors, so I can’t comment on that, but yeah… From seeing his other work, there’s a lot of that. Long, long, long… This one scene that we did — It’s this scene, but before — it’s walking into the club and I’d say it’s probably 10 minute shot just going through. It’s nice. This is a landscape and a world in itself. That’s what I liked about the script, actually. It’s like, “Oh, this is such a weird, different world.” So he’s caught that. But yeah, I think that’s why the actors love this script as well, because it’s like heavy dialogue scenes and you can really get your teeth into them and they play out for at least… Even small ones, like this one we’re shooting now, I feel like when you read it, it’s like half a page, but it’s a couple minutes this scene. So it’s nice. It can be a big indulgent.
The chemistry between you and Justin seems to be pretty good. What’s it like for you to work with him?
ARTERTON: Oh, it’s great. He’s very instinctive. He works in a very similar way to me and a lot of the relationship was… I’m sure Brad and everyone will tell you, but I didn’t realize how many people they were auditioning for this part. I was just like, “I’ll just go out for it,” you know? But they wanted to get the chemistry right between Justin and the actress. So I think a lot of it is down to that. I keep referencing Gilda, because I just love the relationship she has with him and those scenes, there’s a similar kind of thing. Yeah, it’s all about what’s in between. There’s a lot of dialogue, but I feel it’s not about the dialogue.
We talked to Justin about shooting in Puerto Rico and how the location has helped inform his character. How has that been for you? Has it helped you dive into the story deeper?
ARTERTON: Yeah. You know, it’s very strange, because for me, I’m in this movie intermittently. I’m not in it constantly, like Justin, so I think the maximum days in a row I’ve show are maybe like five. So it’s not be every day, so I’ve had a lot of time out, which has been really bizarre and quite hard to get a grip on, like the feel of the set. But climate-wise and location-wise, we’ve been blessed with very accurate, real locations. Like this? This is probably one of the more down-and-dirty locations. Everything that I’ve been involved in, because I’m part of Block’s world, is bling and expensive and manicured. So this for me is like getting a little bit ghetto. It’s kinda cool. But yeah, it has been hard, I have to say. It’s been hard, because we’re shooting during hurricane season. I remember thinking that. I was like, “Why are they shooting now? It’s hurricane season!” So we’ve had to deal with the elements quite a bit. I’m from England, I’m used to that. I’m like, “Let’s work through the rain. It’s fine. Just use umbrellas. It’s fine.” That’s been tricky. But it’s cool. It’s a great island to be on and it’s nice to be in the sun. And also, it’s nice to be all sticky and hot. I think that’s the movie, is sticky and hot, especially the scenes that we’re shooting today. It’s good. It helps, that kind of claustrophobic, muggy feeling is very much the feel.
ARTERTON: No. I actually went in and did an American accent in my audition and I just assumed… Also, that was a draw for me. I was like, “Oh cool! I can do an American accent in this film.” I had yet to have done one.
Can we hear it?
ARTERTON: No. No, no, no. No, you can’t. I do have a film coming out that’s in American, but it would have been a good opportunity for me to do an American accent.
So why did they change their minds?
ARTERTON: Because they’re like, “We love your accent!” That always happens. I’m like, “What accent? I don’t have an accent.” So then Brad was like, “Do it with an English accent” and everybody liked that. We liked it as well, because it made it more international and it’s a global company that we work for in the film and it makes.
And how was working with Ben?
ARTERTON: Oh yeah. Ben’s great, too. It was actually really interesting working with Ben. We didn’t have as many scenes as me and Justin. We had this weird backstory, Ben and I. We had a relationship in the film, years ago, and he has this possessive thing over me and my character’s very dependent, she’s very cutting. And there’s one particular scene where he finds out that I’ve just had a night of intimacy with Justin’s character and he gets very jealous and pounces on me, but that wasn’t in the script. It’s really fun and he really sprung it on me.
ARTERTON: There’s a lot of that, especially when you’re playing… He’s a director as well, so it was really cool and I love all that stuff. I’m always like, “Bring it on! Do something that’s gonna freak me out a little bit.” What was on the page became much more than what we read, much richer.
In what way?
ARTERTON: On the page, it’s just a hint of backstory, like that these characters used to be together and he’s not gotten over her in a way and it just became much more… It becomes kinda dangerous and a bit seedy and a bit uncomfortable, the scenes between Ben and I. Very interesting. Nice stuff, all about possession, it’s very interesting. [Director] Brad [Furman] is very… He just wants… To be honest with you, we’re quite close to the characters that we play in the film. Everybody is. Maybe not Ben. So to make it sound more naturalistic to the way we speak is encouraged. It’s not all the time. It’s been nice, actually, to have the freedom to improvise and play around. I do that a lot anyway. I don’t like being too stuck. But not all the time.
The repetitive natural of the shoot, like the scene over and over, does that make you more relaxed by the time it’s the perfect shot? What is the reason why he shoots so many times?
ARTERTON: I don’t know. (laughs) I am the big advocate for not shooting that much. Sometimes you can find nice stuff and sometimes when you overshoot — I say “overshoot,” but when you shoot a lot — it makes you not think about the scene so much, to a point where you become complacent, which sometimes can be really good, because you’re not thinking about how you want to deliver the line, it just comes out like that, because you’re tired of it. Not all of the scenes have been like that. But, as I say, I always believe that we usually are the best in the rehearsal, especially scenes that are about chemistry, especially romantic scenes. I feel like in the first moment that you speak the lines, that’s when the full potential of the scene is, that’s where it is.
You’ve mentioned Gilda a couple times. Are there aspects of Rita Hayworth you’re channeling? And do you get to have a Gilda-style entrance?
ARTERTON: Oh, I wish I could have a… (She tosses her hair, a la Gilda.) “Who me?” I wish! No. There is a little. She’s the only woman in this world and she is confused and conflicted. She knows what she wants, but she doesn’t vocalize it and is totally and utterly charming and seems in control all the time and she isn’t. That’s the side of the character of Gilda and I even did my hair a bit Gilda-y, but contemporary style.
You seemed to be getting the giggles between takes. Is that something you get a lot? Or is it just a great atmosphere?
ARTERTON: Oh, I’m a real giggler, on every movie. That’s a giggle. Sometimes I like cackling. It’s terrible. I’m known for it. But it is a good feel on the set. It is. And Justin’s a funny guy and we make each other laugh.
Are you a femme fatale in real life?
ARTERTON: I just said that, actually, when we were up there. I was like, “I wish I was like Rebecca in real life,” because she’s so bold, but I’m not. I’m not too giggly. I say something and I’m, “Not really, not really.” No, no, no. It’s not me. There are elements that are similar, I guess, but not really. She’s much more deliberate than I am.
Has it been a challenge to find her commanding side?
ARTERTON: Especially working as a woman in the film industry, you have to be very strong. You have to be able to get your point across quickly, so I think I channeled that aspect of me in the beginning.
How would you define this movie in a few words?
ARTERTON: How would I define it? Ummm… I would say that it’s a very sexy, stylized thriller about the underworld of gambling and online gambling. That’s not very succinct, but it gives you a feel. I’m rubbish at stuff like that.
Runner, Runner opens September 27th.