Tarmara Drew - Gemma Arterton
Tarmara Drew (Gemma Arterton) © 2010 Sony

Up-and-coming British actress Gemma Arterton stars in the new Stephen Frears’ movie as the title character, Tamara Drewe. Based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds that was inspired by Thomas Hardy’s classic Far From the Madding Crowds, Tamara Drewe returns to the village of Ewedown, where she grew up, to look after the late mother’s farm.

Once an ugly duckling, her old boyfriend Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) barely recognizes her with her new nose, care of a plastic surgeon. With her fresh look and attitude she manages to get every man to fall under her spell, including rock singer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), and renowned mystery novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam).

Was Far from the Madding Crowds a text that you looked at and did it inform your performance at all?

Tarmara Drew - Luke Evan and Gemma Arterton
Andy Cobb (Luke Evan) and Tarmara Drew (Gemma Arterton) © 2010 Sony

Yeah, when we were filming it Stephen said, ‘It’s not Far from the Madding Crowds.’ I actually think that Bathsheba in Far from the Madding Crowd is Tamara Drewe, but two hundred years before. She absolutely is. So for me it was really helpful to read that.

I’ve played two Thomas Hardy heroines now and they’re incredible characters because they are unbelievably advanced. Thomas Hardy has such an insight on the complicated world of being a woman.

These characters are conundrums; you never completely get them and especially Bathsheba. She’s promiscuous, she’s petulant, she’s spoilt yet everybody loves her. Why do we like her? We don’t know, but there’s something about her, she’s a heroine. So yeah, it was very helpful.

Can you relate to Tamara?

No, that’s why I wanted to play her because I just didn’t. When I first read the script I thought, ‘I don’t even like her, why are we watching a movie about her? Who cares about this sad girl?’ And then I thought, ‘Hang on. I’ve got to play her because I need to work out why this book had become such a hit.’ There’s something about her. So that’s why I wanted to play her. Ultimately it’s because you pity her, I think.

You can see that Tamara likes Andy, but she goes to Ben and Nicholas.

Tarmara Drew - Dominic Cooper and Gemma Arterton
Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) and Tarmara Drew (Gemma Arterton) © 2010 Sony

Actually she doesn’t really like any of them. She just needs their affection. The difficult part of the film for me was the bit where she suddenly flips between all three of them in a day, and ends up being with Nicholas at the end of it.

Ben cheats on her and tells her that he got another girl pregnant, so she’s like, ‘Oh okay, well I’ll go to the one I know who does fancy me then.’ So she goes to see Andy, and she sees him snogging another girl and she cries, not because she loves him, but it’s because he doesn’t love her, and she needs constant affection and attention, she can’t live without it.

She ultimately ends up with Nicholas because he’s the only one left in the village, and also because she had a schoolgirl crush on him and she’s fulfilling that as well.

My biggest revelation when I was playing Tamara is that she gets herself into these dramatic situations because she writes about them; she’s sort of her own muse in a way. And she uses everybody around her in order to do that.

Do you think there were different things in the three different men that she was attracted to or is it just that she needs affection?

Tarmara Drew - Gemma Arterton
Tarmara Drew (Gemma Arterton) © 2010 Sony

I think both of those things because, yes, she does need constant affection, but she’s not an idiot, and she’s a nice girl deep down. I think the three men, like in Far from the Madding Crowd, these archetypal men, you’ve got the father figure, the lover and the provider, and ultimately what we all want  is a mixture of all of those things, so if that guy turns up maybe that’s the one. I think it’s a mixture, she genuinely is attracted to them individually at some point, but it just doesn’t last and isn’t genuine love, it’s not the real deal.

What was it like working with Stephen Frears? He says he doesn’t have a directing style.

I don’t think he does, because he works very differently with every single actor. I just felt he was very intuitive, and he really trusts his intuition. The main thing is that he spends most of his energy and time casting it correctly, not just getting the right person to play that character, but getting the right three people so that the relationships work and it’s all taken care of. That’s genius casting and it does exist. We’d get on the set and we’d never rehearsed ever, and it would work, because all the actors were right for it.

When you were in school, did you have any rock stars or actors you really liked and you finally met them?

Tarmara Drew - Gemma Arterton
Tarmara Drew (Gemma Arterton) © 2010 Sony

Well, I haven’t actually met my crush. I actually fancied an actor because I was always into actors obviously. I’m reluctant to talk about who it is just in case I meet him, because now I actually might meet him. But now I don’t have a crush on him anymore.

Come on, who is it?

Oh alright then, it’s Leonardo Di Caprio when I was 12 years old. You never know, I might meet him. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to meet him, but it was never in the obsessive, writing fan mail, chasing down the street sort of way. Because we’re English and we’d never do that, it would degrade us.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.