Saturday, February 06, 2010
Helena Bonham Carter on "Alice," Burton
The Guardian asks actress Helena Bonham Carter about her career thus far, Alice in Wonderland, how her life has change since meeting Tim Burton, and much more. Also included are pictures from a Wonderland-inspired photo-shoot. You can read the entire article here, but here are some notable excerpts:
'I’m often criticised for what I wear. That’s my main label in the press now: disastrous dresser!'
Photograph: Gustavo Papaleo
Helena Bonham Carter discussed her exagerrated, tyrannical role in Alice as the Red Queen. "I've brought myself. It's me... in Alice," she says. Holding up a cardboard cutout of her character, she explained, "She's got Tourette's. She just says, 'Off with their heads!' all the time."
Bonham Carter has worked with Tim Burton in six films so far. Alice in Wonderland has gathered tremendous hype (and cost a bundle, too -- $250,000,000), but the actress revealed that she has not seen the film yet. No one has. The movie has been kept top secret. Then again, she may never see it. She and co-star Johnny Depp cannot stand seeing themselves on screen. "Johnny doesn't watch anything he's in. That's slightly comforting. You think if Johnny Depp can't watch himself..."
It doesn't help that Burton seems to dress her up in outrageous characters, either. "No, I can never rely on Tim to make me pretty."
'We do dress up at Halloween.'
Photo: Gustavo Papaleo
But playing such extreme and quirky characters has been working just fine for Bonham Carter. Prior to meeting Burton in 2001, she was mostly relegated to posh, corset-wearing roles in period dramas. She first emerged with a proper role in film at age 19 in A Room With a View, and went on to be a poster girl for EM Forster, English roses and the corset industry. Since then, her resume has altered dramatically.
"Ageing has helped hugely," she says. "There's no question I'm a better actor, and you leave behind a certain typecasting. I was like the corset bimbo." She stops, has a slurp of smoothie, a bite of toastie and starts again. "Well, not quite bimbo, but you know what I mean. The corset sex symbol, I suppose. Now I'm not going to be the sex symbol, I'm going to be the granny." She changes her mind by the mouthful. "Well, not quite granny."
Does Tim have a key to her house? 'No… He always visits, which is really touching.'
Photo: Gustavo Papaleo
Bonham Carter had had plenty of boyfriends, including Kenneth Branagh, but had never lived with anybody. "I remember I did think, 'Wouldn't it be nice if Mr Right moved in next door?'"
Eventually, he did. During the filming on Planet of the Apes in 2001 (with Bonham Carter as the female lead, the human rights advocating chimpanzee Ari), she met the director, Tim Burton. At the time, she barely talked to him. The only thing she remembers him saying to her is that he knew he wanted her as one of his apes, and that he had once lived in Hampstead and it was the only place in the world he'd felt at home. When the film was completed, they began their relationship, when she was 35, and he bought the home next door to hers in Hampstead. Today, they have two children, six-year-old Billy Ray and two-year-old Nell.
After meeting Burton, her acting work and wardrobe changed. "I'm often criticised for what I wear. That's my main label in the press now: disastrous dresser!" she exclaimed. "Sometimes it's really offensive, but it's kind of affectionate now. We're like the 'bonkers couple'."
Another common label that is tagged on her is 'goth,' but Bonham Carter is uncertain that it's an appropriate adjective for herself. "I don't like the music particularly, I've got no goth records. Is it the predominant black? The make-up? And the whiteness? The white thing. Yes... Tim sometimes puts grey make-up on for the press and he doesn't tell me, so afterwards I'm like, 'You're ill!' He goes, nah, it's the grey make-up. Heeheeehee!"
Burton gets similar descriptions in the press, but she was equally skeptical about that description. "He doesn't like the music, either. But we do dress up at Halloween." Do they just stay at home in their make-up, or go out? "No, we go out and play. I don't know... well, he likes death... It's not that he likes it, but he's considered it in his work."
'In the six weeks when you’re up for an Oscar, there’s a little window where you’re offered everything. Seventh week, when you haven’t got it, you’re fucked. Forget it.'
Photo: Gustavo Papaleo
Burton is still considered an oddball, and their aesthetics do differ from the Hollywood conventions. Bonham Carter speculated that Burton might have Asperger's Syndrome in the past, but she now says she tends to get such observations incorrectly. "All the auties love Nightmare Before Christmas." Again, she apologises, this time for the word auties. "I played Jacqui Jackson, a single mum with children on the autistic spectrum, and I feel partly it's OK to talk like that because I know her, know that world, and she calls them auties." It makes perfect sense what she says about Burton. "I think he felt very isolated in Burbank where he was born. Edward Scissorhands is a version of where he was brought up. It is a bit Alice In Wonderland – I don't belong here." Whatever he may or may not be, there is no doubt that Burton is a unique, creative person. "He's someone who's very creative and has a mad exterior, but he is fundamentally very sane and practical. I don't think we're crazy at all, to be honest," Bonham Carter said.
They're practical in domestic arrangements, too. Needing their independent space, she has one house, he has another and the children have the third to play in with the nanny. Do she and Burton see each other much at home? "He always visits, which is really touching. He's always coming over." Does he have a key to her house? "No, the houses are joined. We have a throughway. Journalists think there's an underground tunnel, gothic. It's actually quite above ground, lots of light." Do they sleep together? "Sometimes. There's a snoring issue... I talk, he snores. The other thing is, he's an insomniac, so he needs to watch television to get to sleep. I need silence."
In the interview, she went on to show some family photos on her mobile phone. "That's Bill as a pirate for his pirates party. He's so unbelievably patient. Nell's two, she's going to destroy everything. He's introvert, she's extrovert. He's very tender, she's much more traditionally masculine."
'I feel more sexy than ever, not because I’m sexually attractive, I just feel I’ve grown into my body.'
Hair: Carol Hemming. Make-up: Louise Constad at Mandy Coakley Represents using Benefit.
Photo: Gustavo Papaleo.
She thinks she has changed since being with Burton. "He's made me more aware. He thinks I overact all the time. He's got a thing about me having a very mobile face. Tim has often said I've got hyperactive eyebrows – he calls them the dancing caterpillars. He's all for minimal expression. He likes to simplify things, I complicate them. I think we can do this or this or this, optionitis, then I get frozen because I don't know which one."
Has she changed him? "People who know him say I have, and I feel really flattered. Made him talk more. He didn't really talk before. He's much shyer than me. Every sentence was unfinished. I used to say he was a home for abandoned sentences. Now he actually finishes them." She sounds so chuffed, as if the thought has struck her for the first time. She is often described as Burton's muse, but that makes her uneasy. She says she would not be upset if in future he didn't cast her; there's always going to be a film for which she isn't right. "You can't take it personally." But what if he decided he no longer wanted her in any of his films? "Well, if it's obvious that I'm right for it, I probably will take it personally. I'll let you know when it happens." Could their relationship survive that? "It will be interesting. It's not without its pressures, working with Tim. It worked on Alice. Sweeney was very stressful, very hard on our relationship." Is he a boss or partner on set? "No, he's a partner in our private life, but when he's directing, he's the boss. And maybe I confuse that."
At age 43, she feels adult for the first time in her life, and capable of playing almost any role. "I feel more sexy than ever, not because I'm sexually attractive, I just feel I've grown into my body." Did she feel sexy when she was a beautiful young thing? "No, absolutely not. Totally uncomfortable. It took me ages to grow into being a woman, into being happy with it. When I was young, I believed in being androgynous, you can't flaunt it, you can't use it. The whole thing was just something yuck, to be embarrassed about. And now it's just like, 'Hey, enjoy it!' Now I feel fine about shapes and things. It's nice to have curves. To be a woman."
"I suppose I'm just a late developer."