Arterton, 28 tomorrow, talks enthusiastically about her return. “Even if I hadn’t made my debut here, the Globe would be very special as there’s a magic here.
There’s nothing extravagant about the Playhouse in terms of set or lighting, and it feels just right for this play. It’s an intimate space, which means you can focus on the language and you don’t have to embellish it in any way.
“The Duchess is an intense and oppressive piece and the theatre feels almost like a cage a because the audience is wrapped around you. It’s perfect for the Playhouse.”
This is only Arterton’s fourth outing as a stage actress. She made Quantum of Solace (she was Strawberry Fields) after Love Labour’s Lost and the Bond role led to a series of Hollywood movies, including Clash of the Titans and Byzantium. She also appeared in several smaller British films including St Trinian’s I and II, Tamara Drewe and The Disappearance of Alice Creed, but says her screen career was more by accident than by design.
“I never thought I’d be a film actor, but it sort of happened. I went down that track because I thought I should, and I was travelling the world and it was fun. But I’ve had some bad experiences in Hollywood. I was spoken to by some people like I was a silly little girl or that I should be grateful for anything they were offering me.
“Looking back, I think I wasn’t the right fit. I was only 21 when I first went but I was never girly; I’ve always been quite physical and sensual as an actor but I would be told, ‘You’re too sexy for that role’, or whatever. I think they can be a bit scared of that in Hollywood – they like their sexiness to be quite… [she pauses to find the right word] contained,” and then bursts out laughing.
It’s clear she regrets some of her CV – “I didn’t always think things through” – although when I ask her to specify which projects, she has a fit of giggles and refuses. “Apparently I can’t say because people get cross.”She’s equally reticent about her private life after a flurry of tabloid interest in her brief marriage to Italian fashion sales manager Stefano Catelli, which ended early last year. “I’m quite an open person and find it difficult to refuse to talk about stuff, but nobody needs to know about my personal life.”
The past year marked a change of direction professionally as well as personally. “I sat down and thought about what I really wanted to do. I like doing theatre and small movies and so I’ve sort of reset my career. I want to focus on ‘proper’ stuff.”
In 2013 Arterton made two small independent movies and with some female friends – “really cool chicks” – set up a film-production company, Rebel Park Productions, which will focus on female-led work. She expects their first project to be under way next year.
Most of 2014 will be spent on stage. After Duchess, at a date to be announced, Arterton will open in Richard Bean’s musical version of Made in Dagenham as Rita (played by Sally Hawkins in the 2010 film), who leads a strike by women at the Ford car factory in 1968 over equal pay.
The story chimes with Arterton, who was born into a close working-class family on the other side of the Thames Estuary from Dagenham. Her father was a welder, her mother a cleaner and a seamstress, who after her divorce became a single parent to Arterton and her younger sister.
“It resonates with my childhood – the British humour, the very strong women. It reminds me of my mum and her friends, they were like a gaggle of hens together,” she says, laughing at the memory.
Arterton is that rare thing, an actress who dares to call herself a feminist. I ask if anyone has ever suggested it may be unwise, particularly in the male-dominated movie world. “Yeah, my publicist…” she replies deadpan.
“But sexism still exists and recently when I went to America to have some talks for Rebel Park I felt they didn’t get me. I’m sure they’re thinking, ‘Oh, she’s an actress so what does she know about being a producer’, but then I start talking about our plans and they realise I have a brain. I think there’s a pre-judgment just because I have boobs.”
I ask what kind of stage roles she would like in the future. “Well, Maxine Peake [playing Hamlet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange this autumn] has opened up the male canon for us, and Dominic once said I should be a Bond villain. I love doing stunts and running around, hanging on wires, that kind of thing; I’d love to play something down and dirty.”