Interview: The Disappearance of Alice Creed's Gemma Arterton

If you’ve only seen Gemma Arterton in big budget productions like Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia, you’re really missing out. Lucky for you, Arterton has something new hitting theaters on August 6th and while The Disappearance of Alice Creed may not have been showered with cash and effects like those other productions, it’s certainly far more powerful.

Arterton stars as Alice Creed, the poor young woman Vic and Danny (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston) target in their kidnapping scheme. They confine their terrified victim to a room while they move along with their plan to make some quick cash at her expense. What Vic and Danny don’t know is that Alice has no intentions of being a good hostage and obeying their orders; she wants to fight back and survive.

For someone who only knows big budget Gemma, Alice Creed Gemma is absolutely going to blow them away. The actress was well aware of the stereotype she was developing and signed on for this project in an effort to show what she’s capable of and boy does she, but it wasn’t easy. During our recent chat, Arterton talked about the difficulties that came along with playing the role as well as the massive payoff and so much more. Check it all out in the interview below.

How’d you get involved? Did the just script come your way or did J approach you?

No, he didn’t. The script came my way because the casting director, Lucy [Bevan], is an advocate of mine, but J wasn’t really at the time because he’d only seen me in [Quantum of Solace]. She said to him, ‘Oh, you should meet Gemma,’ and he was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t think she’s up to it. Is she? I mean, she’s a Bond girl.’ But Lucy said, ‘Just meet her.’ Anyway, so I came in and I didn’t know any of this, I just came in and I loved the script and I really wanted to do it and had to do this really demanding scene in the audition, which is just horrible to have to do that in the audition, but I did it.

He offered it to me on the spot and then when he told me that story months later, I said, ‘How could you have made such an assumption?’ He said, ‘Well, you know.’ I said, ‘Fair enough.’ That’s the reason I did the movie as well, because I had an idea that people are thinking that I couldn’t do this sort of movie and I needed to test myself. Until then if I was going up for stuff it was always the girl who is in love with the guy, the girl who is hot, the girl who is oh whatever, no substance, no interest. And then this one came along and I was like, wow. First of all, she’s a woman, she’s not just a girl and she’s flawed and complex and she’s kind of like an animal in this film and it would require some acting. [Laughs] But also, more than the role, it was the film itself. I just loved the story. For a British film as well it was so tight and it felt European, French. It felt like a movie I would go and see. My favorite directors are like [Michael] Haneke and [Lars] von Trier. It had that kind of feel.

Even if this is the type of material you want to work with, it’s still tough stuff to handle. Did you have any apprehensions about it?

No, there wasn’t apprehension, it was more fear of not being able to do it. I’d wake up in the morning and dread the scene ahead, not for the physical demands, but I didn’t know if I was able to convey what the scene needed; act it, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to act it because I’ve never been terrified in my life. I didn’t really know how you act that.

Wow, you would never think that!

Oh, thank you. I don’t know, I just work with the actors really. Every time I got freaked out that I wasn’t going to be able to do it, Martin or Eddie would give me this amazing performance, which you can’t help but be affected by. And that was how we did it really. I just used to get myself worked up into a state and they would then come in and we did the scene and it was really full on. Some days I was crying all day and I’d be like, ‘I don’t want to cry anymore!’ I really would try not to cry and I couldn’t see at the end of one day and J was going, ‘Just one more,’ and you’re not really supposed to do that to your body. You’re not really supposed to put yourself into that position. It was really exhausting, but it was so satisfying, the most satisfying job I’ve ever done.

Did you have any rehearsal time with Martin and Eddie or even just some time to get to know each other and get a little more comfortable with each other?

I think, as an actor anyway, you get used to not having that time really. You kind of get to know each other as the job goes on. We kind of all threw ourselves into this situation and everybody knew we were going to just trust each other. But we did, we had three days of rehearsal, three days to like five days or something of rehearsal, which was mostly spent rehearsing the moves of the kidnap, which is kind of a real icebreaker, ‘Hello, my name is Gemma, now you can carry me and I’ll kick and scream and punch and then you can pretend to be cutting off my clothes.’ I learned very quickly that these were people to trust and they were very respectful, ultra respectful actually, too respectful to some degree because they were very careful with me.

I swear to God, in my short career I’ve worked with some amazing actors, some of the best actors in the world, but I’ve never felt anything like what I felt in this film because they just went for it and they gave me everything that they had every single time, even if the camera wasn’t on them. And I’d do the same for them; you get something out of doing that. I’ve worked on movies before where the actor doesn’t hang around for the reverse and you have to do it to ‘x’ and the box and whatever and it’s so not acceptable in my book. You get so much out of reacting off of somebody. And so they would just do that and they would stop, check I was all right, snap out of character, be silly and jump on the bed and then they’d get back into it. Proper acting, none of this walking around as the character all day, it was proper acting, snapping in and out.

Where’d this one fall in terms of all of the other films you’ve done?

[Alice Creed] happened right in between Prince of Persia and Clash, so I just finished Prince of Persia, which was six months, I went on to do this, which was a month, took a week or so off and went and did Clash.

This was a fast shoot.

Four weeks, which is nuts. I don’t think it ever happens where you make a feature in four weeks. The minimum I’ve done is nine weeks before this.

Were they ridiculously long days?

Because we were working in a studio most of the time we didn’t have the light issue, so I think we were starting at like eight and finishing at eight, which is a usual day I suppose.

Sounds pretty reasonable.

But it just felt like forever. [Laughs] And also, we were doing six-day weeks, so it was really full on. But it was right that it was full on because it was a relentless piece and we all needed to be like, ahhh, all the way through it, so I didn’t really get a breather. Martin didn’t get it. I think he had one day off, Martin, because he’s in pretty much every scene. It was really exhausting, but the characters are exhausted. It all fed in, it all worked. We were filming it on this island, called The Isle of Man, which is really close to the mainland in England, but not quite, so you really are sort of stranded there. So we weren’t able to go back home and it was a bit claustrophobic and we were all feeling a bit of cabin fever when were making it, which actually worked.

What’s it like going from massive production to something smaller like this?

It is a different world. I just felt liberated to be honest. Even though making a big budget movie is thrilling because you see all these special effects and stunts and amazing costumes and sets and the money is just being chucked at everything and you don’t have to use your imagination much because everything is there. You can also, on the flipside of that, get completely lost within that and the story can get lost within that as well. The spectacle takes over. I was just like, ‘Oh what is it, acting again? Oh yeah.’ I need to find a piece where I can really act and it’s not about anything but the story and telling the story in the best simplest way possible. It was liberating because we didn’t ever think this movie was going to be a #1 box office hit, that it was going to change the world or change movie making; it was always just a movie that we wanted to make. There was no expectation of it. We didn’t even think that people were going to like it really because of the content. We knew it would shock or it would make people feel uneasy.

The first portion of the film is certainly hard to watch, but when you get past it, you realize how necessary it was.

It’s true. That was my initial reaction when I started reading the script because I was like, ‘They want me to play woman, the woman?’ She was called ‘woman’ and she’s woman being kidnapped and it was kind of like, why would I want to play this, it’s horrid. But it was, it was necessary. She’s petrified, she thinks she’s going to die, she thinks she’s going to be raped, she thinks all of these terrible things happening to her, then she’s humiliated and so she hates these people and you need to see her be that humiliated so that you’re on her side when she gets it. I remember then I was like, ‘Oh, okay, alright.’ The audience is just about to walk out when it changes, just about to. I think if it had gone on for a minute longer they would walk out. [J’s] very clever in that way. He really knows film and he’s a real film geek, he really loves it and dissects films and really knows about it. It was really great working with someone that planned everything so meticulously because this was his first movie, this was his baby. And so we didn’t need to worry about anything; he was on it.

That’s unbelievable for a first feature.

It’s funny because he’s a friend of mine, now, and we hook up occasionally. Ever since this film screened at Toronto last year, it’s just taken off for him. He gets like six scripts a week sent to him with offers of huge money and all that and I love him because he’s still not found the right thing even though he’s getting offered everything. He really cares about the integrity of filmmaking. I really hope that he finds the right thing and just becomes the well-respected director that he deserves to be because he’s a real talent.

So what else do you have coming up?

I have another film coming out in about two months called Tamara Drewe, which I love. I’m really proud of it. It was my favorite job ever to work on; I had the best time on it. Stephen Frears directed that and it’s kind of black comedy. Very British, but it’s very well received. It’s already out in France and there are pictures of me in these bloody hot pants everywhere. I can’t stand the hot pants shots, sorry [laughs]. Anyway, so there’s that and then I’m doing a play in London over Christmas called The Master Builder with Steve Dillane and then next year I will be doing Clash, but I’ve got a few other really exciting films happening, but I can’t talk about them yet because they’re not 100%. But it’s all starting to go into the direction that I feel like, yeah, it’s because of this movie, because of Tamara Drewe, I’m starting to get the roles that interest me, that I really want to make.

Is that a hint that you’re doing more comedy?

Actually, no. One of them is kind of weird, like really weird and another one is sort of comedic in its kind of strangeness as well, but not particularly, not necessarily; quite serious.

Perri Nemiroff

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.