Ex-Bond girl Arterton plays striking worker in ‘Dagenham’

June 21

— British actress Gemma Arterton is best known as a Bond girl in “Quantum of Solace” and a princess in “Prince of Persia,” but she’s back to her working-class roots for a musical version of the film “Made in Dagenham,” about a strike at a car plant.

The West End adaptation of the 2010 British film about female workers at a Ford plant near London going on strike for equal pay with men and against sexual harassment will mark the stage singing debut for the 28-year-old Arterton. She was born not far from Dagenham, where the 1968 strike took place.

“I hope that . . . the story itself, which is completely relevant, and the fact that it’s about women — and I think most of the people that go to musical theater are women — but I think it’s just one of those shows that you can’t help but be moved by it,” Arterton told Reuters in an interview this week.

“That’s something that I felt when I watched the film. It makes you want to get up on your feet, it makes you want to sing,” said Arterton, whose mother worked as a cleaner and whose father is a welder.

For the musical, which opens on London’s West End in October, Arterton takes the role of strike leader Rita O’Grady, played by Sally Hawkins in the critically acclaimed film, which was a modest box-office hit in Britain.

Speaking after a press launch on Tuesday about unleashing her singing voice for the first time, Arterton told Reuters: “I was a bit nervous, I have to say. As much as I had a good feeling about the show, I just thought, ‘I’m not a musical theater actor; I don’t sing. I mean, I only sing in karaoke when I’m really drunk. . . .’ So I was like, ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’

“And they said just do it, so I did a couple of workshops and then . . . I just fell in love with the whole project.”

London’s West End recently has had a run of early closures of big-budget musicals, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Stephen Ward” and Simon Cowell and Harry Hill’s production “I Can’t Sing.” But Arterton said she thinks this one has a winning formula.

“Hopefully it will just get people really excited,” she said.

The musical, which is due to be staged at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand, held its press launch at the Playhouse Theatre in nearby Embankment almost four months before the opening-night curtain will rise.

“It is starting to happen,” Arterton said. “Actually, today was a real milestone for me. I’ve been attached for 21 / 2 years, and today’s the first time we’ve shown it on a stage, and I did sit there and go, ‘Ooh’ with some of the other actresses who’ve been in it as long as me and gone, ‘Oh my God, it’s actually happening.’  ”

She was flanked at the launch by some of the real “Made in Dagenham” women. One of them, Gwen Davis, talked about how happy she was that their legacy finally is becoming part of people’s psyches.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful because we really never thought anything would come of our strike, you know. When we went back to work after the strike, everybody ignored us. It was just like another day,” Davis said.

“The film really brought everyone’s focus to what we had done; otherwise nobody would bother with us. It was a film that really made everybody aware of how we fought for our rights.”

— Reuters

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