Since 1904, London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) has almost single-handedly kept the British actors' union flush with members. John Gielgud, Anthony Hopkins and Kenneth Branagh are just a fraction of the school’s famous alumni. More recently, Gemma Arterton, star of this weekend’s Tamara Drewe, studied there before becoming Britain’s latest “it girl.”
“I left RADA three years ago and never expected I would have a film career,” she says. “I always thought I would do theatre, and then it happened and I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes’ to every job without thinking about it.
“You are grateful that you’re being considered and don’t want to seem rude by turning them down. As a Brit, we tend to think like that.”
Among the roles Arterton said yes to are Quantum of Solace Bond girl Strawberry Fields and leads in green screen blockbusters Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans. High profile for sure, but not exactly challenging for the recent graduate.
“This year I have been able to think about what I want,” she says. “I’ve always just wanted to act and do things that are interesting and exciting. So now I have learned that the only power I have as an actress is the power of choice.
“I’m taking my time and reading scripts thoroughly. It doesn’t matter if it is big or small, or whether I have a large part or a small part and that is serving me well. And those films that I did like Tamara Drewe and The Disappearance of Alice Creed have actually transformed my career from here on. It’s going to be much more eclectic, intriguing films rather than all out action movies.”
In that vein, she recently played the decidedly non-glamorous lead in Alice Creed and the manipulative Tamara Drewe, a successful columnist who stirs things up in her childhood village in rural Dorset.
“They are not particularly attractive roles, in that Tamara Drewe is kind of a sex symbol but underneath it all she is an ugly character and isn’t necessarily appealing or someone you’d want to be with,” she says. “For me, as an actor, that is exciting because I want to work out why people who aren’t me, do things.
“The same with Alice Creed. She’s full-on, visceral and dirty inside and that, to me, is very attractive when I’m looking for a role.”