Gemma Arterton’s latest show may be set in the 1960s – but with a lead character desperate to establish herself in a man’s world, it still resonates today.
In Funny Woman, based on Nick Hornby’s 2016 bestseller Funny Girl, the Bond actress plays Barbara, a woman who leaves Blackpool for London to follow her dream of becoming a sitcom star.
Along the way she encounters prejudices about the roles that attractive women should perform – both on and off screen.
While it’s a period piece, the series is a reminder that perhaps not enough has changed in the film and TV industry, with Arterton describing it as still “very looks obsessed”.
“Often when you’re casting something you get sent a headshot and, you know, you’re judging a headshot, that is how it sort of starts,” she told Sky News’ Backstage podcast.
“I think it’s different now – especially with things like body image and what is seen as beautiful is definitely being challenged, and that’s only a good thing.
“But yeah, unfortunately it’s part of the world we live in. I think we’re all quite visual people and whether we like to admit it or not we do tend to judge people off first impressions – but it is changing, so that’s good.”
Arterton says she was drawn to the story years ago when she first read Hornby’s novel, so when the production company that won the rights approached her with a script by comedy actress Morwenna Banks – offering her both the lead role and the opportunity to make it a co-production with her own company – Arterton said it was a “no brainer” – despite it being a huge amount of work.
“I cared about it so much as well, it meant a lot to me, more than most things,” she said. “Trying to grapple with getting the character first of all, and nailing that, and that it was quite a transformation for me physically and also just performatively.
“Finding that and also finding the funny, finding the clown, and finding all of that and doing work on that and letting go and being silly and ridiculous.”
The actress says that in order to be truly funny, she learned she had to be willing to look silly.
“You do just have to make a fool of yourself. I mean you’re not always funny – you have to try stuff out and make loads of mistakes and fall flat on your face…
“I did loads of clowning workshops and things to try and get out of my head and get into my body and find the more naive side of the character.”
But during that training, Arterton admits she may have let go a little too much at one point.
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“I remember I was doing this day with this amazing guy called Toby Cedric who really helped me do a lot of the physical stuff, and I had this red nose on and he was like: ‘You’ve got to keep running into the room and do something and then run out again.’
“So I was doing it and I just kept doing it, and one time the door – and it was a fire door – shut and I ran into it really hard and I knocked myself out. I literally knocked myself out on this massive fire door because you’re being so naive and open and wide-eyed and you just don’t think about practical things like that a door might shut – but it all really, really helped, anyway.”
Funny Woman is streaming on Sky Max and streaming service Now – hear our review on the new episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News