In Gemma Arterton’s upcoming movie The Escape, she plays a housewife and mother of two who’s seemingly content living out the suburban dream in England — in a nice house near the kids’ school, no less. But her outward appearance belies an inner disconnect from all the things she’s told should make her happy, and after a certain point, she can’t take it anymore and walks away from it all.
“It fascinated me to focus on a very, very benign relationship,” Arterton says of her role as Tara, opposite Dominic Cooper as her husband, Mark. “They’re just regular people in a regular town. They’re not really remarkable in any way, but when you watch the film you’re completely drawn into them and their life, and that makes it remarkable. I guess one of my endeavors as an actress is to shine a light on women, and not necessarily glamorous women. This woman is fascinating, but she’s not necessarily likable, and some of the things that she does are deemed by society as unacceptable. A lot of men leave their families, but if a woman does it she’s seen as a monster. It’s up to the audience to decide, but I just wanted to show why a woman might do that and have people not immediately make a judgment about her.”
Director Dominic Savage had an usual approach to telling this story and allowing the audience to take a minute before judging Tara. “The whole film is improvised,” Arterton explains. “What happened was that Dominic Savage wrote this 30-page treatment of the general feel of the story scene-by-scene, but there’s no dialogue. It was like a description of each scene, but when you get on set that could change, depending on where it went with the actors. I loved it because it means that you have to go really deep, and it felt like I was really inhabiting the character in a really personal way — but it’s scary too because you have to really trust everybody on set.”
Easy enough to trust was costar Cooper, since the pair are good friends in real life, which was important when dealing with such a deeply emotional narrative and the deconstruction of not just a marriage, but one woman’s whole life. Though the word “depression” is never mentioned in the film in relation to Arterton’s character, she’s quite clearly going through a breakdown and in need of help. The actress hopes the movie will help start a conversation about the stigma surrounding mental health.
“No one says to her, ‘Maybe you should go and see somebody, or maybe you should talk to somebody,’” Arterton says. “She’s never given that help in that way, and it eats away at her. I think one of the biggest lessons to be learned from this film is the power of honest conversation; maybe it wouldn’t have gotten to the point it gets to just by being able to talk. There’s been big discussions afterwards from people who have seen it, and that for me is a compliment because even if people are angry, films should start conversations.”
Watch an exclusive trailer for The Escape above. The film will be released via IFC Films on May 11.