Based on Posy Simmonds’ beloved graphic novel of the same name, Tamara Drewe is a witty and modern take on the romantic English pastoral. When Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) returns to the quaint village she grew up in, after having had plastic surgery to quite drastically change her appearance, the aspiring writers seeking inspiration at a neighboring retreat quickly become curious, especially when a rock star (Dominic Cooper) begins hanging around. The original owners of the farm that Tamara is taking residence in is the family of Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), who works as a gardener and handyman for his old flame, even though his family had to sell the property years earlier to the wealthy Drewes as a country home. Using her new-found sex appeal to get what she wants from everyone, Tamara ignites the various infatuations, jealousies and love affairs going on among the inhabitants of the farmsteads, all of which are sure to blow up in their faces.
In this exclusive interview with Collider, done during the film’s recent press day, actress Gemma Arterton talked about being intrigued by a character that is so complex and complicated, her desire to play the role to figure out someone that she didn’t initially identify with, and the challenge of making such an ambiguous character watchable throughout the film. She also discussed her excitement to return to the role of Io for Clash of the Titans 2 and how she’s looking forward to the experience of filming in 3D. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Since this film is a bit unusual, was there something specific that drew you to this project and this role?
GEMMA ARTERTON: Stephen Frears, and the originality and freshness of it. I just felt like I had never seen anything like it before. Also, the character of Tamara, at first, I didn’t really like her, but then, at the same time, I was intrigued by her. That’s why we talk about Tamara Drewe. We’re intrigued by her, but we don’t like her, necessarily. I also felt like it was one of the first things I’d read that was a really honest description of a modern woman. Often, you see a film and they paint it very clearly for you, who everybody is and what they want, and we need to do that. But, in this film, we don’t really know who Tamara is. Even at the end of the film, it seems like it’s all resolved, but it’s not really. She’s very complicated, and I like that. For some reason, I identified with the fact that she’s ambiguous and she’s fickle and she changes all the time. I think that’s very accurate of a woman.
Were there things about her personality that you were finally able to identify with, or do you feel like you don’t have to identify with a character that you’re playing?
ARTERTON: Yeah, I don’t think you do. Actually, I think not identifying with a character is all the more reason to play her. I’ve never understood people that sleep around. I think there’s something very lacking in your life when you do, not to be judgmental. I was interested to work out why she persistently does it and continues to do it when she knows it’s wrong. I was also interested to play a writer because I’ve never been able to do it myself and always admired that. Somebody that’s so insecure having the confidence to write about her own life publicly and publish it was interesting to me.
There were lots of things about her that I was interested to learn about. It was very insightful, actually. I had a revelation while I was filming that she’s her own muse, as I suppose actors sort of are, in that they use themselves as a vehicle. She actually dramatizes her own life, so that she’s got something interesting to write about. That’s really sad, and that’s why we follow her. We feel pity for her. I obviously have thought about her a lot more than anybody else, and even a year on, she still stays with me. That’s the intrigue of Tamara Drewe. She does stay with you. I think that’s why Posy Simmonds is very, very clever.
Was part of the attraction of this the fact that you get to play the comedy, the drama, some tragedy and some sexiness?
ARTERTON: Yeah, I got to play around with all of it. It’s always satisfying to play a contradiction and she is a massive contradiction, at all points in the film, apart from one bit, when she’s the most beautiful, covered in blood and sweat and she’s kind of broken. It’s so interesting.
How did you work out how the nose would look? Did you try out different variations?
ARTERTON: That was Stephen. In the book, her nose isn’t as hooked. It’s more of a bulbous nose. But, Stephen thought it was funny, giving me a ridiculously large nose, so it grew and grew and grew, and he took great pleasure in saying, “Larger! Larger!” We’d just make these various noses. But, it does look really comical in the movie. It’s a heightened reality. Everybody remembers her with this really massive nose, and that’s part of the joke.
What was your first reaction to it when you saw it on your face?
ARTERTON: It was weird because everybody was going, “Oh, my god, you look awful!” I love all that stuff ‘cause I feel like I’m a character actress. I never get those roles, so it was really nice for me to finally get to play a real character that was almost a caricature with the nose. I did test it out around the set, before anyone had seen it, to see people’s reactions to me and it was funny. One particular actor ignored me when I said, “Good morning.” He regarded me with disdain and walked off. I thought, “Oh, dear. Well, that’s kind of interesting.” Somebody else told me to leave the set when I was helping myself to tea ‘cause it was for the cast and crew only. But, it was informative because I was treated very differently. I think it helped my performance. Aside from that, it was just fun to dress up and put a nose on. I love all that stuff.
Did you keep the nose?
ARTERTON: Yes, I did. It’s one of my most treasured possessions. It’s in a frame in my downstairs loo, where you always keep novelty things.
Since Tamara’s decisions can be frustrating at times, and yet the audience still has to want to follow her throughout the story, was it challenging to find that balance so that you could still make her intriguing to audiences?
ARTERTON: Yeah, it was really challenging and I was really worried about how to make her attractive, aside from the physical stuff, and watchable throughout the whole movie, with the fact that she does do all this stuff. That was my biggest task. Also, she changes, constantly. She doesn’t know what she wants. She even admits that, at the end of the film. As an actress, I went, “She actually doesn’t know what she wants, and that’s why she does all these things. I don’t have to work it out because she doesn’t know.” Even though you work it out moment-to-moment, ultimately she just needs to be cherished and, at the same time, she needs to create drama. Those are the two juxtapositions.
What was it like working with Stephen Frears?
ARTERTON: He works very differently with every single actor, and everybody on set. He’s just very sensitive to everything. With me, I just felt that he was very intuitive. He really trusts his intuition. The main thing is that he spends most of his energy and time casting correctly, so that the relationships work and it’s all taken care of. He’d direct if he needed to go there, or you were overdoing it a little bit, or he needed it to be more of something else, but it was very simple. He’d hate me saying that because he hates to be called simple, but it was straightforward. If it was working, he wouldn’t say anything. If it wasn’t, he would. It was just like that. He trusts everybody he works with to do their job.
When you return to your own hometown, do you find that people speculate about what you’ve been off doing, especially now that you’ve had all of this success, or do you find them to be pretty welcoming?
ARTERTON: They’re actually really sweet, as far as I’m aware. When I go home, everyone’s very proud. I actually get recognized the most when I go back to my hometown, but it’s in a really sweet way. They’re just very proud and supportive, which is really sweet.
Are you excited to do Clash of the Titans 2 and return to the character of Io, and work with a new director who will bring a new vision to the material?
ARTERTON: Yeah. It’s always interesting, when you’ve done something, to revisit it ‘cause you have a different take on it. You remember the experience and can develop from there. It will be interesting. I really liked working with the actors, and hopefully I’ll get to work with Ralph [Fiennes] and Liam [Neeson] on this next one ‘cause I didn’t last time.
Are you looking forward to actually getting to shoot in 3D this time?
ARTERTON: Yeah, that will be interesting ‘cause I haven’t had that experience. I suppose that’s where film, or that type of movie, is going. I better learn about it quickly.
Were there things you felt they got right in the first one, or needed to change this time around?
ARTERTON: Who am I to say, but I think you’ve just got to make sure the story is solid, and then you’re fine.