Gemma Arterton is back in fine butt-kicking form as witch killer Gretel in Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters, opening in cinemas on Wednesday, February 27. The Bafta-nominated actress talks about playing a feisty female, working with co-star Jeremy Renner and being a former Bond girl.
By Shereen Low
If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise... because instead of teddy bears having a picnic, nasty witches have set up home in the depths of the dark forests, waiting to steal innocent youngsters.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, is inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairytale - but with a new twist in the tale.
Following their escape from a cannibalistic witch when they were little, 15 years later brother and sister Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) have conquered their fears to become witch killers. They’re fierce, formidably-skilled bounty hunters with a taste for blood and murder, and hell-bent on retribution.
“I love the original fairytale and this starts there, then makes a real departure,” says Arterton. “The film joins up with Hansel and Gretel in the midst of their fame as witch hunters.
“But it’s also a time when they’re starting to wonder who they are and why these terrible things happened to them - which leads them into a very tense situation. It’s really about the two of them and it’s original, a brother and sister bad-ass team.”
After being abandoned by their parents, the siblings have to work together to bring down a coven of witches who are planning the ultimate revenge against humankind - and to gain immortality.
“The sibling relationship is such a great one to explore. Hansel and Gretel have this unstoppable bond but they’re also so different from each other,” explains the actress. “She’s the brains of the operation, he’s the brawn. He’s the joker and the show-off. She’s more the watcher, the researcher, the one who tries to really understand witchcraft. They have to each play to their strengths.”
The 27-year-old, who graduated from RADA in 2007, enjoyed working with Renner, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker in 2010.
“Jeremy is so amazing at action, but he also has a lot of sensitivity when needed. He brings a lot of fun to their relationship,” she says. “He’s become a really good friend. We just have a very natural connection, very open-hearted and we trusted each other instantaneously. It was so important for us to get that brother and sister relationship right.”
A self-confessed girly girl who admits she isn’t a “tough chick”, Arterton enjoyed the opportunity to play a feisty female.
“It was a real relief to play that kind of part - usually you still have to have a romantic connection with one of the characters, but in this one I don’t and it’s great,” she says.
She threw herself into the training for the role, which sees her hoisting some impressive weapons, throwing punches and kicking some serious witch butt.
“It’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the film because I’ve always wanted to punch people!” she says. “I had to do lots of training because I’d never done anything like it and I absolutely loved it.
“I came in before anybody else and worked with the stunt team in a kind of intensive boot camp. It was great because it really rooted me and made me more present in the action scenes.”
The combat skills have already come in handy, as Arterton revealed during her recent appearance on The Graham Norton Show.
“I was in one of those ATM cash machine rooms and there was a tramp in there. He kept looking at me and then he grabbed my bum really hard,” she explained. “I turned round and properly punched him in the face. I then realised I’d punched a tramp in the face so I ran. Thank God he didn’t punch me back. I actually felt quite bad about it.”
The Kent-born actress, who starred opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Quantum Of Solace, also reveals she came up against aggression while working in a karaoke bar in south London before her acting career took off.
“Occasionally I would get threatened. I would get asked for My Way [the song] 10 times a night and when I said no, this guy pulled out a crowbar and went for me.”
While she’s happy to talk about almost anything, one topic that is off limits is her personal life, amidst rumours that she’s split from her husband, Spanish salesman Stefano Catelli.
Trained singer Arterton, who indulges her passion for music in Song For Marion alongside Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp, next stars in Neil Jordan’s vampire drama Byzantium, where she plays a blood-sucking mother, with The Lovely Bones’ Saoirse Ronan playing her daughter.
“It’s just the most wonderful character. She’s multi-faceted, ferocious and a merciless killer, but she’s also a maternal, loving, protective mother and I just adore playing her,” says Arterton.
The film was written by Moira Buffini, who also penned 2010’s Tamara Drewe in which Arterton starred. “This is her first original screenplay and it’s just sublime. I can’t thank her enough for writing such a great opportunity for both Saoirse and I. We are the leads and not many films allow both of the leads to be female, so it’s a real female empowerment movie,” says the actress.
With forthcoming roles in thriller Runner, Runner with Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, and a part in the Jeff Buckley biopic Mystery White Boy and comedy thriller The Wright Girls, as well as theatre and TV work, what else would she want to do?
“I like to keep things as surprises. I’m very open to what the future holds,” she says.
And she has no complaints about her Bond girl tag. “As long as I’m a girl when I’m 78 as well, I’ll be very chuffed.”
Extra time - Arterton’s amazing moments
Quantum Of Solace (2008) - As Strawberry Fields, Arterton has her back licked by Daniel Craig’s Bond during a steamy sex scene. She won the Empire award for best newcomer for her performance.
Tess Of The D’Urbervilles (2008) - Arterton’s heartrending portrayal of Tess Durbeyfield in the BBC TV series was praised by critics.
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time (2010) - She shows she can match up to Jake Gyllenhaal as Princess Tamina in Mike Newell’s action movie.
The Disappearance Of Alice Creed (2010) - In this gritty indie thriller Arterton demonstrates raw acting talents playing a kidnapping victim.
Tamara Drewe (2010) - She proves her comedic chops in Stephen Frears’s comedy drama alongside Dominic Cooper and Tamsin Greig.
Song For Marion is out now. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters opens in cinemas on Wednesday, February 27