The Escape opens tomorrow Dominic Cooper and Gemma Arterton tellabout their new film in which they play a couple in a doomed relationship.
A film title like The Escape might conjure images of prisoners fleeing their captors or Thai teenagers being rescued from an underground cave. Yet the new film by British director Dominic Savage is a relationship drama where Dominic Cooper, 40, and Gemma Arterton, 32, deliver some of their best work to date.
Arterton’s Tara is feeling trapped in the day-to-day suburban routine of raising her kids and in what has become a loveless marriage. In a performance that was improvised from Savage’s 30-page treatment we feel every bit of her depression as the camera lingers over her face as she internalises her emotions.
Cooper has to be commended too for bringing a kind of normalcy to Mark, the breadwinner husband who fails to see anything is wrong. He had previously worked with Savage on 2009’s Freefall and loves the director’s improvised approach.
“There’s so much freedom,” the star of television’s Preacher explains. “The dialogue isn’t given to you, so you have to try and make it your own. You’re instinctively going into a scene and you’re thinking on your feet and it can be quite daring. It comes out of a real place.
“I found it completely exhilarating and it was nice that we felt like we could make a mistake and not be embarrassed. I know Gemma so well and there was that trust,” he says of an actress he also worked with in 2010 film Tamara Drewe.
That trust came in handy during one of the film’s most disturbing scenes when the couple has a morning quickie and it’s as if Tara isn’t there. “It really repels when the person you don’t find attractive any more is all over you,” Cooper concedes. “It was difficult to portray that but it was great knowing Gemma and being comfortable with one another physically.
“I felt sorry for Mark because he’s not a horrible man. Everything that he’s done he’s done for his family and he has provided in the exact way he thought was necessary. But it’s clear he doesn’t know who this woman is. He sees something is wrong but he doesn’t have the faculty to understand what she needs. I think he knows he doesn’t, so he gets violent and aggressive.”
In keeping with drawing on reality, Savage set his film in Tara Arterton’s home county of Kent (the director also hails from Kent), and had her escape to France.
“He wanted it to be as close to the bone as possible,” Arterton notes. “It’s only two stops in the Eurostar so l always had easy access to Paris when I was growing up. I’ve made three films in France and learnt French and lived there for a couple years and I still go there to work and I have a French agent.”
For two years she’d also dated a French man, Franklin Ohanessian, an assistant director on her 2014 film Gemma Bovery, before ending the relationship in October 2016.
Now she’s with Irish actor Rory Keenan (Peaky Blinders, Striking Out), though her relationships aren’t something she likes to talk about in interviews. She does, however, mention another new movie, Vita and Virginia, which she filmed in Dublin last September. In that film, she plays socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West and the story follows her character’s love affair with literary icon Virginia Woolf, portrayed by Elizabeth Debicki. It’s another relationship drama.
“It’s about the time in Virginia Woolf’s life when she was the most happy,” Arterton notes. “She was the most incredible writer, as we know, and we also know that she ended up drowning herself.
“But she was also this vivacious, incredibly bright and happy person, particularly in this period of her life when she wrote Orlando, her most joyful book. Vita inspired her to write Orlando so the film is about someone at the height of their creativity.
There are parallels to The Escape because Tara is a woman who is not being creative and descends into that very dark place because of it and also because of her unhappy relationship. But in Vita and Virginia we see a woman who takes that energy and puts it into creating something and that’s what keeps her up and alive
In The Escape it’s never mentioned that Tara is suffering from depression even if that is very much the case. “With people in my life who have suffered from depression it was something that wasn’t spoken about until it was too late and I think that’s a tragic thing,” Arterton says. “It’s not spoken about enough, especially among older people like my mum in the film who says, ‘You’ll get over it. It’s a phase.’ But you have to take it seriously.”
Incredibly, in the film the couple’s children were played by the actual kids who live in the suburban Kent house where they filmed. It wasn’t easy, says Cooper.
“They missed their mummy and daddy and it was quite an upheaval for them having their house taken over. I think for Gemma it worked well that they were slightly removed, because that’s what Tara felt they were.”
Arterton is yet to have children of her own, and the tough shoot ensured she was glad to have precious time to herself.
“At the end of the shoot Dom and I over a glass of wine said, ‘Let’s not have kids then!’ she laughs. “But we moved on from that quite quickly. I’m sure I will one day. The thing you wonder is what if you have a kid and they don’t like you or you don’t like them?”
Cooper, likewise, says he wants to have kids, though notes, “It’s definitely all consuming and you should do it when the time is right.”
Given that he has reportedly split from his partner of eight years, Irish actress Ruth Negga, any baby-making plans may have to wait. He describes his Preacher co-star as a “phenomenal actress”, and the two can currently be seen in season three of the supernatural series on Amazon Prime.
Cooper has also been busy in recent times working on Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again.