In just the past two years, Gemma Arterton's been drowned in crude oil (in Quantum of Solace), stabbed to death (Clash of the Titans), and dropped off a cliff (Prince of Persia) — is it any wonder she's tired of blockbusters? "I don’t want to sound too dismissive of big movies because they are fun and you know, they’re business moves and you can’t just be artistic all the time," she tells us. "But I am more interested in doing only smaller films right now." Up next for Arterton: serious films with girls' names in the titles! The Disappearance of Alice Creed, an indie thriller in which she plays the titular kidnapping victim, is out this week. In the fall, she'll star in Stephen Frears's Tamara Drewe. Vulture spoke with her during a recent visit to New York about Creed, the movie she hopes to make next (Luca Guadagnino's Corsica 72), and why she's not disappointed she wasn't cast in Transformers 3.
When Megan Fox was fired from her role in Transformers 3 in May, it only took the Internet a few minutes to cast you as her replacement. Was that ever a possibility?
I didn't even hear anything until I went to meet with another director for something else. He asked, "So, you're doing Transformers?" I was like, "I'm sorry, what?"
Would you even have considered the role (which eventually went to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley)?
[Makes a face and shakes her head.] Megan Fox is such a sex symbol — I don't feel comfortable playing a role like that. I don't want to be about the way I look — my body, my hair, my makeup, all those boring things.
You're certainly going in the opposite direction of that with Alice Creed.
I had just finished Prince of Persia and I wanted to shake it all off. Sometimes you do these popcorn movies — and even though a lot of credit needs to go to the people who make them — the dialogue is very wooden, stiff and they’re not hard work. [Alice Creed] was gut-wrenching and horrible, but ultimately really satisfying work. I needed to make sure I could act. And because of that, I got my next script, Corsica 72, to be directed by Luca Guadagnino [I Am Love]. I wasn't supposed to tell you that, but it's so fucking good — the best female role I've read. It’s about these two friends who become enemies and the reason they become enemies is because of this girl, and that’s me. I'm hoping it gets made.
Still, you're gagged and tied to a bed for most of the movie. That couldn't have been fun either.
We shot it in sequence, so the first week I had to do all of that horrible stuff. I remember one day being in tears all day, because we were doing a particular scene, to the point where I couldn’t even see anymore.
Which scene was that?
Without giving it away, it's the betrayal scene where I'm holding that bloody gun. I was holding it for eight hours, which was really heavy. My poor old arms were just like going, “Oh my God!” Your body’s not supposed to go through that shit; you’re not supposed to cry for eight hours a day. I would go home and I’d be absolutely shattered, but then feeling good because I'd never done work like this before. I was proud of myself.
I've heard you were actually punched by a co-star
Eddie Marsan punched me by accident — he was mortified. I had a nosebleed and I was handcuffed at the time, and I just really panicked. But we hadn’t finished the scene, so the next day we had to go back to it and so I was really scared — I was convinced that he was gonna punch again. Never in my short career, I’ve never had that experience where I wasn’t sure if I was acting or if it was real. I think you can see the real fear in that scene.
Most of Alice Creed happens in the same room. How claustrophobic was the set?
It was exactly what you saw. What was worse was that we made it on the Isle of Man, which is this very small island; they make a lot of movies there for tax purposes. And [the set] had a tin roof and there was a reverb. Every time I screamed, it echoed around the whole place, so we had to dub the whole film.
Everything you see in the film is dubbed. I remember when they told me we had to do it. I was like, “Are you serious? I can’t replicate my performance in one day, and lip-synch it, and make it not sound like shit." And anyone can see dubbing. I know I can see it and it immediately takes me out of the experience — Oh, now it’s dubbed. I had been doing Clash of the Titans and they were like, “We need you to dub it now,” so I came back and dubbed the whole film in a day. I had to get myself into that state and scream my lungs out. It was a real shame, but I think that you can’t tell.
You die in a lot of your movies. What is it about you that makes filmmakers say, "Let's hire her, then kill her?"
No, you know what they do? They kill me, and then they bring me back to life. I’m resurrected, like Jesus Christ. Originally in Clash of the Titans, I was gonna die and that was that. And I was happy because I love doing deaths. But they realized they might do a sequel, so they brought me back to life. It’s so funny I’ve done about four deaths in films now, and I think it’s quite good because then it’s sort of a memorable moment in the film. I’m trying to think if in my next movies I die. No, I don’t think I do die. That’s good.