‘Hansel & Gretel’ star Gemma Arterton finds her inner action hero

Jan. 24, 2013 | 5:00 a.m.

Gemma Arterton, left, plays Gretel and Jeremy Renner plays Hansel in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (David Appleby / Paramount Pictures)

Gemma Arterton plays Gretel and Jeremy Renner plays Hansel in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (David Appleby / Paramount Pictures)

From left, Thomas Mann plays Ben, Jeremy Renner plays Hansel and Gemma Arterton plays Gretel in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," (David Appleby / Paramount Pictures)

Gemma Arterton as Gretel, left, and Jeremy Renner as Hansel in a scene from "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (David Appleby / Paramount Pictures)

From left, Famke Janssen as Muriel, Jeremy Renner as Hansel and Gemma Arterton as Gretel in a scene from "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (David Appleby / Paramount Pictures)

Gemma Arterton plays Gretel in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (David Appleby / Paramount Pictures)

From left, Gemma Arterton as Gretel, Jeremy Renner as Hansel and Pihla Viitala as Mina in a scene from "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (David Appleby / Paramount PIctures)

Jeremy Renner, left, and British actress Gemma Arterton pose for photos during a photo call promoting the new movie, "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," in Mexico City Jan. 10. (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)

Actress and former Bond girl Gemma Arterton plays a fairy tale character all grown up in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Actress and former Bond girl Gemma Arterton plays a fairy tale character all grown up in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

So far in her Hollywood career, Gemma Arterton has played a Bond girl, a Persian princess and a Greek goddess cursed with immortality, roles that helped her make a name for herself but left her in the shadow of her male costars. Her starring turn in Paramount’s new fractured fairy tale, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” sees the ethereal English beauty finally on equal footing as a wisecracking, weapon-wielding heroine.

“She’s not the damsel in distress, not the girlfriend,” Arterton said last week, speaking by phone from New York where she was promoting the film ahead of its opening Friday. “She’s a stand-alone character in her own right, very strong, very independent. That kind of role doesn’t come up very often, not having to be kissing anybody. It’s liberating.”

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” picks up 15 years after the events in the Grimms’ famous fable. Having escaped their childhood captivity in the confectionery cottage, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) have turned pro, coping with the trauma of their youth by slaying spellcasters for hire. The seemingly unstoppable bounty hunters appear to meet their match in the devious machinations of Famke Janssen’s Muriel, a powerful witch who’s hatching a plot that involves the snatching of small-town youngsters for a diabolical end.

It might be the latest in a string of Hollywood reinventions of beloved fairy tales, but “Hansel & Gretel” is not for kids. The brash 3-D outing embraces its R rating with copious amounts of screen violence and gore and a heavy-metal-inflected soundtrack that pairs well with the movie’s offbeat, occasionally profane sense of humor.

The oddball concoction is the brainchild of Norway’s Tommy Wirkola, the writer-director who won a following for the 2009 horror comedy “Dead Snow,” about a group of students who unleash a battalion of frozen Nazi zombies.

Wirkola said he cast Arterton as Gretel not based on her earlier turns in such spectacle movies as “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” or “Clash of the Titans,” but rather her performance in 2009’s “The Disappearance of Alice Creed.” In the small indie, she delivered a raw, emotional performance as a woman who is kidnapped and held for ransom.

“I think all great female action heroes we have, the truly great ones, are the ones that are not perfect, they are not super strong,” Wirkola said. “Gemma, in that film she was so strong at times, but she had this vulnerability that shows through. I thought that was important for Gretel.”

Gemma Arterton, left, plays Gretel and Jeremy Renner plays Hansel in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (David Appleby/Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Gemma Arterton, left, plays Gretel and Jeremy Renner plays Hansel in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” (David Appleby /Paramount Pictures)

Although Renner had signed on to the project early on, Arterton landed the role only several weeks before the start of production, leaving her little time to master the American accent and embark on the intensive physical training the part required.

Fighting bad guys and fending off witches while wearing a corset isn’t as easy as it looks, the actress said.

“The costume was a bit restrictive at times,” Arterton said. “I actually used it to my advantage because the corset gave me a straight back, it stopped me from looking too boyish. I still wanted to be graceful.”

“Hansel & Gretel” is only the first genre-inflected outing for Arterton this year. She also stars in Neil Jordan’s vampire drama “Byzantium,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 and is set for U.S. release in the coming months.

“I think it’s a beautiful film, boundary-pushing and feminist,” Arterton said. “It’s the type of film that I would make myself.”

In a perfect world, Arterton said it’s in those kinds of smaller, more intimate projects, and acting on stage, that she’d prefer to spend the bulk of her time.

Gemma Arterton plays Gretel in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (David Appleby/Courtesy Paramount Pictures/MCT

Gemma Arterton plays Gretel in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” (David Appleby / Paramount Pictures)

She’d completed a run in a London production of Henrik Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” before heading to Germany to play Gretel, and her filmography also includes well-received turns in Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe” and a BBC production of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” opposite “Les Misérables’” Eddie Redmayne.

“Variation is exciting for me and working in different mediums — making an independent film, making a big blockbuster, even different blockbusters — the experience you have is always so different,” Arterton said. “I’d like to calm it down a little bit with the bigger stuff and maybe in the next few years just concentrate on [theater]. But it’s good to be working.”

– Gina McIntyre

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


2 Responses to ‘Hansel & Gretel’ star Gemma Arterton finds her inner action hero

  1. JHansome says:

    Thanks for the article & photos. Gemma Arterton is fantastic, and any film she acts in is worth watching. Will definitely see "Hansel & Gretel".

  2. art says:

    so hot the hotest woman alive period

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