South Norwood-based actor Hannah Arterton – sister of Gemma Arterton – talks about roles for women, her love of Crystal Palace and becoming a crazy sausage dog lady
Lead photo: Tim Roney
Breezing into the room with her gorgeous dachshund in tow, Hannah Arterton’s infectious and friendly energy is immediately obvious. But, when we sit down to talk about her latest Netflix drama Safe, it’s her articulated openness and great passion for what she does that strikes me the most.
That’s no more apparent than when she tells me that she didn’t always see herself becoming an actor. ‘When I was growing up I wanted to be a musician and I’ve been doing that since I was 14,’ she tells me.
‘I got to 18 and was like, “Oh God, what am I going to do with my life”, because the band I was in had just split up and I had this strange experience with a manager who promised the world and then just disappeared off the face of the earth, and it frightened me so much. I thought, “Oh God, there’s no control at all”, and I was so young.’
After staying on for a year of acting at Miskin Theatre school in Dartford, she was encouraged to apply for drama school and ended up landing a place at RADA.
‘I was like “seriously? I’ve seen one play in my whole life, what?,”’ she recalls. ‘It was kind of mad but I loved every minute of being there and made the most amazing friends and also found this thing that I love doing and people think I’m quite good at, which is kind of strange.’
Despite her, Arterton has made a great impression across stage, TV and screen in recent years, starring in plays like My City and shows like The Five. She is probably best known for her film debut as Taylor in the sun soaked musical Walking on Sunshine, starring alongside Leona Lewis in 2014.
It was great playing Emma because she has real grown-up issues and things happening to her, struggles with loneliness and big emotional things that I think a lot of young women face
‘The whole time I was like, “This is so incredible! How have I found myself here, singing Whitney Houston on a beach with these gorgeous people?” The nine-year-old me was overjoyed – all that singing in the mirror paid off.’
In the new eight-part drama Safe, she plays quite a different role as Emma Castle, a detective who gets drafted in on a case that becomes much bigger than originally thought. Written by the BAFTA-winning writer of Shameless, Danny Brocklehurst, and starring Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, the drama has had a lot of buzz around it.
She says: ‘It was great playing Emma because she has real grown-up issues and things happening to her, struggles with loneliness and big emotional things that I think a lot of young women face and I love playing stuff like that that feels much more real and relateable.’
In the context of such a push for change in her industry for more nuanced roles for women, I wonder then if playing Emma felt like a breath of fresh air.
‘All of the films and parts that I’ve played since Walking on Sunshine have been characters from all different times and walks of life, but they’ve all had complex difficult things that they’re moving through that don’t revolve around a man, which I think is a real progression.
‘Even as recently as five years ago, all the scripts I was reading were girlfriend, wife, ex-girlfriend. So it’s nice now that, touch wood, I’ve escaped that, or I’m moving out of that bracket, which I’m so up for.’
It strikes me from her openness that she must have great support behind her, including her sister, Hollywood actor Gemma Arterton, who she says it’s great to talk to about the industry.
‘We have endless chats about what it is that we want to do and what we want to make and what we want to change and where we want to go,’ she enthuses. ‘And it’s great to think that we can do that together and we can support each other through that, those big decisions.’
It strikes me from her openness that she must have great support behind her, including her sister, Hollywood actor Gemma Arterton
So will we see the talented pair work together? ‘We’ve got some irons in the fire,’ she says coyly. ‘Nothing confirmed, but we’ve got plenty of ideas of things we want to make together, whether we were both in it or we are writers.’
When she’s not away working, Arterton lives in a flat in South Norwood with her boyfriend, musician and composer Chris Hyson.
‘It all feels very grown up, but also just very lovely,’ she says. ‘He’s a musician so he tours quite a lot, but it’s so nice to have our own place and be settled there.’
‘It’s lovely to walk around your neighbourhood and just know people,’ she adds. ‘I’ve never had that in London before. Especially on the triangle in Crystal Palace, there’s just so many tiny independent shops and it feels quite villagey and the park’s incredible. I love that park.’
Before moving to the area she lived in Deptford for seven years, where she loved hanging around Greenwich Park, which recently played host to a massive sausage dog walk.
‘I get worried about being around too many other sausage dogs because I literally could have about 10,’ she jokes, but by a twist of fate, a sausage dog walks past at that very moment.
‘I’m going to be a crazy lady with 10 sausage dogs in her 70s,’ she screams. ‘That’s a sign isn’t it?’
Safe is on Netflix now