Exclusive interview: we chat to Hannah Arterton, star of 1980s-themed musical Walking on Sunshine

Set to a host of classic 80s pop hits, musical rom-com Walking on Sunshine marks Hannah Arterton’s big-screen debut, fresh from her appearance as Korinna in BBC series Atlantis.

With the film out on 27th June, I recently sat down with Hannah (sister of Prince of Persia actress Gemma) to talk all things eighties, as well as her long-cherished love of singing. She also dished on was like acting alongside Leona Lewis...

So I saw the trailer for Walking On Sunshine and I immediately thought that I need to create an eighties playlist!

Fantastic! What would you have on it?

I was thinking, for one, Together in Electric Dreams by The Human League...

That’s like a proper summery song – ideal for running in the park and so on.

Indeed! So moving on to the film, Walking on Sunshine – what’s it about and who do you play in it?

I play a character called Taylor and the film follows her when she returns to this particular region of Italy called Puglia, which is where we shot it. We see her there the first time in a flashback scene just before she went to university.

At that time, she found this guy and they had an amazing holiday romance but she had to leave to go to university. So she goes away for three years, gets her degree and comes back when her sister, who now lives in the area, flies her over.

So she’s thinking that she'll get to kind rekindle her romance. So she goes down to the beach and finds out that her sister is now married to the very guy that she fell in love with. Awkward situation! She’s torn between being a good sister and doing the right thing but it’s essentially a love triangle between these characters.

So the truth gets out – all set to a fantastic eighties soundtrack. So when it all gets too much, we have a song! It’s like everyday life, you know, you sing a song and feel much better.

Did you have a particular favourite eighties song that you enjoyed performing in the film?

Yes – It Must Have Been Love by Roxette. I think it’s a really beautiful song actually, the lyrics are brilliant and the version we’ve done is a little bit more acoustic and stripped back. In fact, I think it’s the ultimate break-up song – before Adele, obviously! It’s so emotional. I loved shooting that as well; it was a lovely cinematic moment.

So you’re shooting this heart-warming film in Italy set to eighties music but how did you go about recording the music itself? Did you record it on-set or pre-record it?

It was pre-recorded. There was about two weeks of pre-recording in London and before that were a couple of sessions figuring out what key we were going to sing in. So we pre-recorded it and then on-set we had playback, so you’re just singing along to your own voice. The first song that we shot was How Will I Know on a beach. It was my version of that song being played back full whack – it was very surreal!

You studied at RADA and you’ve done a lot of theatre work. Was this nerve-wracking, moreso than theatre?

Well, I’ve actually been singing for longer than I’ve been acting. I’ve been in bands since I was 14 and writing songs and gigging a lot. I’ve been singing on stage for over 10 years now. I’m at ease in the studio and also singing live.

The most nerve-wracking thing was the dancing! I did a lot of dancing when I was little, stopped when I was 12 and haven’t really done a lot since! Except for clubby dancing, of course. I initially thought that I couldn't get my head around the choreography. But the dancers and choreographers were amazing – they drilled it into me.

The film’s getting a lot of attention because pop sensation Leona Lewis makes her acting debut in it. What was she like to work with?

She’s so lovely and down to earth. When I first met her, I was a bit starstruck and a bit of a fan – I told myself, don’t start singing Bleeding Love! But as with anyone, you get to know them – she was really sweet, really funny, great to be around and great to have on set. She has this calm energy.

Also, this was my first feature film as well, as it was for Annabel [Scholey] who plays my on-screen sister, Maddie. So we were all in in together and we felt like we had each other.

That must have created a nice atmosphere on set when you bonded together?

Exactly and it’s such a girls movie. All the girls in it were like a little unit, getting together for drinks in the evening and so on. It didn’t feel like a job at all, actually – just loads of fun and I had to pinch myself a lot. I was just running around in the surf, singing Eternal Flame, it was mad.

In a more general sense, where did you get the acting bug from? Was it from your sister, Gemma?

We had a really great upbringing, our mum kind of let us do what we wanted. We were always very interested in being on-stage in general. Plus there were school plays going on so I’d be auditioning for those. I went to music college when I was 16 and then, when I was 18, and after that was finished, I stayed on for an extra year and did a musical my performing arts college.

After I’d finished, the director suggested that I try for drama school and I realised that I’m not really an actor, I’m a stage person. But I did and got into RADA, which was just fantastic. My life just took a sharp left. I never saw myself going to the best drama school in the world. Going there changed my life. I made the best friends I’ve ever had and discovered a real passion, a love for something I really wanted to do.

You and Gemma both being actors, do you support each other and encourage each other to take on specific roles?

Absolutely. We’re very supportive of each other’s careers, although obviously we’re at very different stages. But whenever each of us get a really exciting script, we call each other up and discuss how exciting the script is, in the same way I do with a lot of my other friends who are actors. It’s that feeling when you get a really great script through and it really sets your fire alight.

It’s great to have my sister to be able to share in that passion with me. We discuss things and we inspire each other to really go for it. When this film came along, I knew that it was the right part for me and this was the time I’d been waiting for. But yeah, Gemma’s always there, pushing me forward!

Just to return to the film in hand, Walking on Sunshine. It's is set to eighties music so I wanted to ask – if you could choose to be born in a particular musical decade, which would it be?

Oh, that’s a hard question! It changes all the time. I do love eighties music. I think two years ago, I would have said the eighties. But going by what I’m listening to now, it would be the seventies, all the disco and funk. And also all the amazing rock and roll that happened in the seventies, Led Zeppelin and so on. But I also love all the seventies fashion, I know it’s seen as uncool but I love all that.

Flared trousers and the like?

Yeah, it’s all so wacky! No-one cared back in the seventies, it was all free. So yeah, I’d go for the seventies. That’s my vibe at the moment.