Monday, January 07, 2008

Helena Bonham Carter: "Sweeney Todd," Motherhood, Acting, and More!

The Observer has published a lengthy and highly informative interview with Helena Bonham Carter. In the article, the 41-year-old actress discusses her roles in Tim Burton's films, her relationship with the director, her family life, her professional life, and much more.

Helena Bonham Carter recalls one of the first conversations she had with Tim Burton, long before she and Burton got together, about her home place, Hampstead. The director had stayed there while shooting Sleepy Hollow and told the actress that it was the only place in the world where he felt that he truly belonged. Since then, the pair have become a happy, unmarried couple, with a home in Hampstead, England, and four-year-old Billy and a brand-new baby girl, just born this past December. Bonham Carter states that she is very happy with her relationship and family with Mr. Burton. "I think it's to do with our hair - the lack of comb, the lack of hair care," the actress stated.

Of course, Burton was curious about his next project at the time, Planet of the Apes, and Bonham Carter remembers that the very first thing the filmmaker told her was: "I can really see you in an ape mask." Bonham Carter continued, "'He said: 'Don't be offended, but you're the first person I thought of.' Then he explained himself, which was much more intuitive. He said: 'I just got the feeling you like to change what you look like.' And I said: 'You're absolutely right.'"

Helena Bonham Carter as Ari the chimp in Planet of the Apes (2001)

Bonham Carter explained that she wanted to be in Planet of the Apes for two main reasons: partly because of the ape suit ('I always like to do the thing you're never going to be able to do again'), and also because she wanted to be able to work with the acclaimed filmmaker. "I was excited to work with Tim Burton, even though the script was absolutely crap," she says. "But it wasn't a case of: 'I want to work with him because I'm going to have two children with him, and he's going to be my husband!'"

After Planet of the Apes, Helena Bonham Carter worked with Tim Burton on Big Fish (playing a witch), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (playing Charlie's poverty-stricken mother), lending her voice for the animated film Corpse Bride (playing the dearly departed bride), and most recently the love-sick, somewhat-maniacal Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Bonham Carter states that the horror/musical is "not feel-good," but she adored playing the part of Mrs. Lovett in the cinematic adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical. Bonham Carter is a self-described "musical whore." "I've always loved musicals," she says. "Tim thought I was making Billy gay because that's all I'd sing to him." She even claims that singing for Sweeney Todd may have got her pregnant. "It was all the oxygen. And my pelvic floor has never been so fit. I've got great hopes that after this baby it's going to bounce straight back" (Bonham Carter was pregnant with her and Burton's second child while this interview was being made).


A very pregnant Helena Bonham Carter


But the actress asserted that, contrary to accusations, she does not get the parts in her partner's films simply because of their relationship. "I really do have to be righter than right before Tim lets me do a part," she says. "Sexual favours don't get me anything" (nor does it for frequent Burton collaborator Johnny Depp, she said). This was especially the case for Sweeney Todd. Composer Stephen Sondheim, not Tim Burton, ultimately had the final say on whether or not she would play Mrs. Lovett. Luckily, after Bonham Carter auditioned for the Broadway legend, she passed Sondheim's test. She describes getting the part as "the most absolutely amazing thing. I just could not believe it. Nor could Tim, actually. He burst into tears. And I burst into tears."

As happy as Bonham Carter and Burton are in their relationship, she admits that their relationship, like any other, has its rockier moments, and not surprisingly when work is the issue. "There are certain stresses that come with working together," says Bonham Carter, particularly alluding to their experiences on shooting Sweeney Todd. "There's no pretence with us, you see. No 'Let's adopt our formal selves'."

What sort of thing is she talking about? "Well, he was all: (growls) 'How difficult is it to come through the door and cover that spot!' And I'd be (whines): 'I've got wool in my head because I'm fucking pregnant, and there's blood everywhere and I didn't see it, all right?' And all I get is: 'Action!'"

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (as Mrs. Lovett) in Sweeney Todd (2007)

But when things got tricky, Johnny Depp was able to step in and act as relationship counselor for the director and actress. Helena said, "Johnny was very helpful because me and Tim would sometimes have little domestics and he was very diplomatic." She continued, saying, "Johnny was very thoughtful because I was pregnant and when you are pregnant, for the first three months it's difficult to concentrate on anything - all your energy goes into the baby. Sometimes he was off-camera and when I had completely forgotten what Tim had told me, Johnny would just sign language, 'Look over there!' or whatever it was I needed to do, so that was particularly helpful!"

On feeding one another's creativity, Bonham Carter stated what she thought of the title of "muse." "I don't know if you could call me a muse," grins Bonham Carter. "Most muses are silent."

But despite minor mishaps during shooting, and despite how much she relished playing Mrs. Lovett, Helena Bonham Carter is absorbed and fully ecstatic with her role as a mother. The actress enthusiastically described motherhood as "the ultimate creativity," and said she'd love to do it again and again. "I'd really like six of them!" Does Bonham Carter feel that having her children in her late thirties and onward makes them all the more precious? "Yes," she says. "Because you really want them by then, don't you? You've made the decision. You don't resent the time, or any loss of freedom. You're just so very happy to have them around."



Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter


Bonham Carter reflected on whether or not Tim Burton was equally excited about becoming a parent. "Totally. He's very childlike anyway. He's never let go of his inner child. Or his outer child!" As for Helena?: "It does make you grow up, doesn't it?' she says. 'But it makes you grow down, too. It brings back the child in you."

The actress stated that she does not like to look at herself in the films she acts in ("It's not false modesty... It's torture!"), but she still loves that career. Her being in touch with her childlike sensibilities is what attracted her to acting in the first place. She says acting is "taken way too seriously - it's all just dress-up and make-believe." The actress also said that there should be a role of play in acting. "That and transforming. You know - getting away as far away from yourself as possible." But why would she need to get 'far away' from herself? "Because," smiles Bonham Carter, "that's what makes me feel liberated."

You can read much more on Helena Bonham Carter's career, film roles (including Harry Potter, Fight Club, and more), her family, her personal history, her fashion sense, and much more in the article from The Observer.

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