J Blakeson's twisty UK thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed has been winning fans for itself around the globe on the festival circuit for the past year and this coming Friday general audiences in North America will finally get the chance to see for themselves what the buzz is all about with the film receiving a limited theatrical release. Last week I had the chance to take part in a round table interview with Alice Creed herself, Gemma Arterton, to get her thoughts on the film.
For a relatively unknown actress to be introduced in a Bond film can be a very, very double-edged thing. When you went into that, did you have some sort of idea of what you wanted to do coming out of it? Because you've been incredibly busy...
No. I always wanted to be an actress because I enjoyed it. I didn't have a grand design or anything, I just really loved acting. I'm fascinated by it. But I absolutely thought I'd never earn any money out of it. Then I got cast in a Bond film and it completely baffled me! I really enjoyed it.
At the beginning of my career, I was just grateful for the work and didn't really have an idea of what I wanted out of it. Then a couple years on I began to understand what I wanted and that I can make choices and only say no or yes to things that I wanted. At the beginning i just sort of jumped on everything, thinking I'd never work again. Yeah, it has been a double-edged sword. Now I feel like I'm opening the door to the next bit of my career, which is exciting, the next bit. Because of Alice Creed and because of Tamara Drewe, which is coming out soon. Yeah, it's been interesting the last couple of years. [Laugh]
About choices, I know a lot of actors like to make choices based on the challenges or going to dark places or whatnot. While watching Alice Creed, I thought "Why did she want to put herself through this?" It doesn't seem like something I would think of from you.
I jumped on it, actually. I just wanted to challenge myself. I hadn't flexed my acting muscles in that way for awhile. I wanted to do something that was raw and scary: I wanted to scare myself. I actually didn't think I would be able to do it. Not physically, that's fine, but what it demanded of me as an actress - the terror, the fear, the emotion- all of that. I really got sucked into the idea of only three actors and one space. It was important at that point in my career to do it because I was worried - I didn't want to get typecast that I would forever be in those kinds of fantasy movies. It was very real and visceral. And that's why I was so attracted to it. J said to me he thought he'd never find an actress for it, for that role. I was like, "What are you talking about?" Maybe I'm just abnormal.
Is it because it's so different from the other work you've recently been doing, like the Bond, and Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia?
Yeah, I think that was one of the draws. Also I really liked the script. That's the most important thing now when I choose a film. [Laughs]. It seems so obvious. Even more so than the role itself, if the story, the script is exciting and gripping and different and unique, then it's kind of like "Do it!" if there's a role in it for you. I really enjoyed this script. It felt like it had a real style to it, something unusual about it that was interesting. This type of movie is the kind of movie I enjoy. I go and see this kind of thing, believe it or not. I think it's good to make films that you would like to go and see. It means you can be enthusiastic about it. There were many different reasons, but yeah, it was a break from those blockbuster-type movies. It's really refreshing for me to do something like this.
How did the experience of being tied up in a room all day compare to being out in the desert all day?
Actually, it was really nice. I got to lie down a lot. [Laughs]. My legs got a lot of rest. No, they're so different, you can't really compare them in any way. Acting wise it was great. I've got this tendency to over animate myself thanks to my theatre background and I couldn't do that in this movie. I had to convey everything with my face and voice. The physical restraint was kind of the easy bit, it actually formed the basis of the acting for me. I didn't really know how I was going to do it, which is part of why I did it. To learn how. I've never been in that kind of situation before, believe it or not. We filmed it in sequence, so I did all of the brutal physical stuff in the first week. It was horrid, but completely helpful because it kind of set me up for the rest of the movie and I remembered it in my body for the rest of the movie. Kind of a blessing, actually.
I think one of the things that really makes the film work is how complex and authentic the relationship between the three actors feel. Had you known Martin and Eddie at all before? Did you guys have rehearsal time? How did the three of you prepare to do this as a group?
Okay, I was cast in it first, about a month before shooting. Then Eddie was cast and then Martin just a few days before shooting began. I helped J audition some of the actors because that was the relationship that had to work. It had to be believable. It had to have chemistry. You had to feel that there was something between them that was believable. And literally we cast him and then asked "Can you stay until the end of the day so that we can rehearse?" And so he did. He was like "Ahhh I just got the part and ahhh - now I'm here rehearsing!"
The next few days were spent choreographing all the physical stuff with Eddie so that when we actually shot it the following Monday, we could be free within the choreography. We didn't really rehearse the scenes, which was great. I really despise over-egging the cake. When it came to the actual performance it was often the first time we'd properly done it and that was great. In rehearsal we spent more time talking about the relationships and things like that then actually rehearsing it. In a way we did get to rehearse... but considering we only had four weeks to make the movie, four days for rehearsal is a lot of time in relation to the rest of the film. We didn't have much time - it was all so bang, bang, bang - we had to go in there with guns blazing and trust each other.
Even in that first day with Martin where I was auditioning him, he just came in.... As actors we do that a lot: we come in and we just have to invest everything in the other person even though we don't know them and make them believe that you love them. It became a very trusting environment immediately.
Sort of a follow-up to that on some levels: When the director yells "Cut!" and maybe they unchain you or whatnot, did you guys talk at all on set or did you just sort of stay in character and save that tension?
No, that's such a wanky thing to do. [Everyone laughs.] Enjoy it for godsakes! And we did. I mean the actors were all very similar in our backgrounds, where we come from. Me and Eddie trained at the same drama school and we're both from working-class backgrounds. Martin is from Scotland and again from a working-class background. So there was no precociousness. We just got on with it in a way and took it for what it was. Both of them are very serious actors and really go for it. But at the same time, as soon as "Cut!" was yelled, it was like, "Let's make jokes, let's be silly." It was so necessary to do that, I think, because it made the set an enjoyable place to work, and a more creative place.
What we did do was a few minutes before shooting a big scene we would go off and listen to music or something. Kind of the best way to do it. We never really have a moment on your own on set because somebody was always fiddling with you, even up to the last minute. If you have your iPod or whatever, at least you can kind of zone out a bit.
I'm glad it wasn't like that because I think it would have been too much. It was too much anyway: I couldn't film for another day longer. I was exhausted. After you've been in character all day long, it's too much. I think it's a sign of a good actor, someone who can just switch in and out. I mean I'm not condemning that, but I think you should respect and look after yourself as an actor and remember what real life is. And so we did. It also meant having a relationship outside of the film. Actors can trust each other moreso when you have a relationship outside the film that's not work-based.
Someone said to me the other day, "I heard that when you were making the film, you demanded that you were tied up for the whole evening." I was like, 'Yeah I said that.' So I could fall asleep on the bed! It was easier to not untie me because it took too much time. I would stay there and they would go off for a coffee. Literally it wasn't because I was in the role. It was pretty funny.
Everything came across really intense. Was there was there a particular scene that you were working on that really stood out for you?
Every scene I remember very clearly, even though it was blurred and nuts. Everything in the movie is poignant, I think. Particularly, for me, there was one scene with Eddie where he was punching me in the film and he accidentally really punched me in the scene. We stopped filming because everybody was mortified. That was the worst thing that could have happened: everyone was so, so aware of my safety. So we stopped filming, and the next day we had to continue with that very scene and the same shot. It was a shot where my head is there and Eddie is above me and the camera is here, so as you can see his fist and my face ...
... on that kind of angle you have to get real close.
... like that, and like that. I was petrified because I have the sense memory of being punched actually before. I was really petrified. I could see that J felt bad [laughs] because he'd come up with this idea and I could see him going "Oh God, we have to get this scene." When you watch it, that's really me being scared. [Laughs.] I didn't know if I was acting or not.
Afterwards, I was overwhelmed and had to leave. I had a good cry and came back.
Eddie is such a good actor. Some actors, you don't know where you are with them. Even though Eddie had just snapped out of it, you get involved in it as well, so I wasn't sure if he was going to hit me again because he was really acting so well. At one point he's on the other side of the room and I'm still tied to the bed, he suddenly charged towards me and jumped on the bed and I thought he was really coming in for it. And what followed was a really good scene because I was petrified. That was really poignant for me because that was the first time I actually felt like I was not acting. [Laughs.] It affected me that much. Usually you are aware in the back of your mind that you're acting a little bit. That whole film is so... it's hard to say what sticks out. [Laughs.]