Rory Kinnear and Gemma Arterton on bad reviews and making the jump to movies

To celebrate the Olivier Awards, Radio Times brought together some of the biggest stars of the screen whose passion is still the stage...

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When you started out, what was the dream?

Rory Kinnear As a kid I wanted to be a butcher. Then I started acting at school, and just really liked the attention. People ask me what I got from my parents both being actors, and it was the recognition that it was a viable career rather than a creatively fuelled leap into the unknown.

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Gemma Arterton I came from a background where acting was seen as a poncey job, so I never thought it was something I could do and get paid for. We didn’t go to the theatre or cinema very often and we didn’t really watch TV… Even when I was at drama school, I thought, “I’ll probably have to do another job to supplement this.”

Was a film career your main goal?

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Arterton and Kinnear in their Bond roles Agent Fields and Bill Tanner

Gemma It took me by surprise. After Rada, my agent said, “Now you have to go up for this and this,” and you just do. I was so naive, I went up for everything and was suddenly meeting the Bond people [for Quantum of Solace], thinking, “God, I’m never going to get that!” Then I got it and was like, “Oh, I’d better do it because it’s Bond…” That was my life for three years. I’m lucky to have got it! Especially when you’ve got a student loan.

Rory It is anathema for an actor to turn down work, particularly in the first ten years of your career. And you don’t turn down Bond! The Bond casting director saw me at the National, gave me a page with four lines on it and asked me to audition. So I got the train to Pinewood and said my lines, not really knowing where in the film they were. When they sent me the script, it was a much bigger part than I’d thought [M’s Chief of Staff, Bill Tanner].

Do you remember your first review?

Rory I remember one from my school magazine when I was 11 – “Rory Kinnear did not play Buttons, he was Buttons.”

Gemma That’s brilliant! I was really damaged by reviews last year when I did Made in Dagenham. It was a huge project for me and we got really good ones and REALLY bad ones. They picked on me, which is fine, but it’s hard when you’ve got to go on stage again that night, and the next night, for four months after that… So when I started in Nell Gwynn [below, for which Arterton is nominated for an Olivier], I decided not to read any.

Rory You have to be psychologically disciplined. Sometimes, as long as tickets have already been sold, a bad review can be good because everyone will have lower expectations.

Gemma I did Ibsen at the Almeida a few years ago and [Guardian critic] Michael Billington came on press night and we were all so nervous – I ripped my trousers, it was a nightmare! Anyway he re-reviewed it at the end of the run and wrote an article about how it’s ridiculous that we review one performance, right at the start.

Rory The character you’ve created by the end of a run is always much richer. I never understand why people want to go to opening night – I’d always suggest seeing something at the end of its run. I always end up wanting to apologise to the people that came at the beginning.

TV is now attracting big film stars and directors – why do you think that is?

Gemma There used to be a bit of snobbery around doing TV, especially for film actors, but it gives us greater scope. So much freedom comes with that. I think it’s the future actually…

Rory Yes, the lure is that you’re able to tell a story over 20 hours rather than two. It’s also interesting that services like Netflix are now moving into films. It feels like there’s a blurring of the lines generally between the mediums.

Gemma And now theatre performances are on live at the cinema, which I’m unsure of… A performance is something you were either there for or not – that’s what’s magical about it. And also for my own ego, I hate the idea of doing a theatre performance on screen – it’s a totally different style of acting, and I don’t think they merge.

Rory I was resistant to the idea when it was first mooted at the National and to be honest I’ve never seen one. But the first one I did was Hamlet (above), which was broadcast all over the world, and I got so many letters. People had driven two hours to the nearest cinema in Texas because they love Shakespeare and don’t normally get to see it. That positive impact is undeniable!

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Read the full list of Olivier Award nominations here

The Olivier Awards will be broadcast on ITV today (Sunday 3rd April) at 10.15pm