The King's Man Star Gemma Arterton On Being A Badass In Disguise [Interview]

Matthew Vaughn's "Kingsman" prequel "The King's Man" heads to theaters December 22nd, and the series' World War One-era prequel will showcase the origins of the independent British spy agency in all its violent-yet-dignified glory. 

Joining the franchise are a number of new characters who are now pivotal figures in the organization's founding, including Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Oxford himself (Ralph Fiennes), his patriotic son Conrad (Harris Dickinson), the multi-talented Shola (Djimon Hounsou), and the brilliant sharpshooter Polly Wilkins (Gemma Arterton). Our heroes must stop the evil machinations of the nigh-unkillable villain Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) alongside the perils of a rising world war.

Gemma Arterton's Polly is clearly one of the most pivotal characters for the Kingsman's beginning, forming a major pillar of the Duke of Oxford's journey towards building the independent intelligence agency. I spoke with Arterton about Polly's role in the fledgling Kingsman organization, holding her own in the middle of a boys' club, and the importance of Polly's "mumsy" facade.

"I was thinking, please let her be badass...'

Polly is such a badass character. What drew you to the role of Polly and to this project?

I've been a fan of Matthew Vaughn's for years and years, loved the "Kick-Ass" movies specifically. I'd heard lots about him as a filmmaker, have friends that have worked with him a lot and raved about him. This script came out of the blue and I hadn't seen the original two "Kingsman" films at this point, so I didn't really know what to expect ... and the script just blew me away. It was very intense to read it because there was so much going on, but the thing that really struck me was the characters were all really, really defined, even on the first read it was really clear.

[About] Polly, I was thinking, "Please let her be badass, please let her be cool. Please let me have some cool punch lines." And I did! So I was in straight away. The fact that I got to shoot ... someone in particular was a big sell for me. I was like, 'okay, good.' And I knew that Ralph Fiennes was attached already, so obviously he's just such an amazing actor and I [had to] have the chance to work with him, practically, all of my scenes are with Ralph. So it was a no brainer, really, at the end of the day.

I thought it was great that they placed Polly so centrally in the organization's founding, especially in so early a period. Did you see that as important, her being so pivotal in the Kingsman story?

Yeah, I actually feel very privileged that I got to be a part of that because in the previous films it was the King's Men. They were men, and there were female characters obviously that came in and out of the various two films, but there wasn't a kind of solid female in that gang. I just felt very touched that he decided to make sure that in the original gang there was a woman.

And you're right, at that time, women were not in positions of leadership. It was just a very, very different time. That time was the time when women were just starting to kind of stand up and make their voices heard. Obviously, there were these incredible women that were working behind the scenes in the background that we don't necessarily know about, but yeah, it is important, and I think it's exciting. I mean, I'm really excited to see where it goes in the next one because, spoiler alert, but it does kind of hint at that she becomes a Galahad, so it's very exciting.

"She's got to look dowdy."

Absolutely. Another interesting thing is that so many films portray the usual suspects as your established institutional heroes ... James Bonds, your "Mission: Impossible" films. This is interesting for somewhat flipping the script and making the heroes exactly who you wouldn't expect. Do you think that we need more of that in our films and even in our action films?

It does create a really nice tension ... and I think there's something quite fun to be had in doing that. The tension of the reluctant hero, in this case Ralph's Duke, who is a pacifist, doesn't believe in fighting and then has to and then is very good at it, ironically. And then for my sake, these spies that you would not suspect because they are servants or they don't look like spies. And I think that, for me, was fun to play. I remember thinking, "Maybe Polly should look really cool," and I remember Matthew saying, "No, she's got to look dowdy. She's got to look a bit mumsy, you know? You don't want to suspect that she's this badass, she's got to look like a nanny..." So yeah, it's a good character to explore because you are challenging yourself in terms of what's expected.

Absolutely. I guess kind of building off that for my final question, speaking of things Polly is good at, she's very good with rifles and I know that you did a lot of stunt work with rifles in the film. Can you tell us about that?

Yeah, she's a markswoman so she's good with all guns. Most of the stuff that I did training-wise was learning how to kind of look good with a rifle and move with a rifle in the right way for the period. I was working with a World War I rifle, which was a man's rifle. They couldn't find a lady's rifle that was right, so it was way too long for my arm, it was like out here. *demonstrates* I was having to hold it like this, which was really hard. And I had this amazing guy called Tony, he is ex-military and ex-paramilitary, and he was helping myself and Harris Dickinson look legit with our weapons. There's quite a lot of training, and then I had to learn how to the gunslinging stuff which was a little bit "Kingsman," a kind of extra fun but I just absolutely loved doing it. I became obsessed, I'd just walk around set all day with the guns.

That's perfect, just intimidating everybody.

Yeah ... well, most of the time they're just flying off in every direction. And then there's me going, "sorry, still working on that!"

"The King's Man" is in theaters now.