Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Being the Red Queen

Helena Bonham Carter recalled how her partner Tim Burton proposed the role of the Red Queen to her.

"He was so polite about it, and there were so many hesitations," Bonham Carter said. "He said, 'Would you consider, um, possibly, perhaps -- but only if you want to -- um, anyway, would you play the Red Queen?'"

"It was like a proposal of marriage," said the 43-year-old actress. Bonham is routinely misidentified as Burton's wife. They have two children and have had a nine-year romance together.

"I was doing 'Terminator Salvation' at the time, and when he asked me, I was really flattered. It was a complete surprise! I know people think it's disingenuous when I say that, but it's true. They won't understand this, but each time [he has a film], I truly don't expect Tim to ever want to work with me again."

"I personally find it especially flattering that he tends to deform me in every movie," Bonham Carter said. "But my mother and everyone asks me, 'What is it with you and him?' But that's the point of acting isn't it? It's all dress-up."

For the record, though, Burton didn't tell Bonham Carter what her deformity would be in Alice in Wonderland. "I learned that when I read it in the script," Bonham Carter said with mock distress. "Oh, a huge head? I see, lovely."

The Red Queen's gigantic head was not a small detail while making the film. "The queen's head was something we had to be careful to account for all the time," visual-effects supervisor Ken Ralston said. "We had to remind people to back away from Helena in their scenes to give her head enough room."

Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter for "Alice," says the Red Queen grew up with a tumor in her head, which, in Wonderland's version of physiology, made her head vast. "Linda told me it also made the queen emotionally volatile and arrested in her development," Bonham Carter said with something close to sympathy. "We have a 2-year-old daughter, Nell. There are some similarities."

There have been numerous incarnations of Lewis Carroll's stories to film, and Bonham Carter suggested to viewers that they shouldn't expect a strict adaptation. "Tim has changed things, and some purists will just slit their wrists when they see it," she said, chuckling at her own gruesome imagery. "It's all very invented, very new with this film and with good reason. The original Carroll stories are in fact very episodic -- there isn't a lot of huge narrative or dramatic drive. The story that Linda Woolverton invented is a mixture, it's stolen from both [books by Carroll] but given a real context and a story and a purpose for the whole dream to occur."

Bonham Carter didn't remember exactly when she was introduced to Alice and her world. "She's so been around," Bonham Carter said. "She's definitely mythic. I can't really remember how I first came to the story. I've always just had random impressions of it, the symbols and imagery, they're just stuck with me. They've always entranced me -- like the door and the keyhole and the 'drink me' potion and the 'eat me' cake.
"What is it about Alice? Why do we respond to it, and why does it still captivate us?"

The actress explained gave her opinions. "She knows she's in a dream, and we all know that feeling," the actress said. "And the changing of size, there's something in that too, the way children feel in an adult world or the way they fantasize about growing large and visible or to shrink away and be away from it."

Helena Bonham Carter has worked in myriad of different kinds of films, but this is her first venture into 3D. The actress stated how she hopes that the new stereoscopic technology stays as an enhancement for story-telling, and not a flashy, superficial alternative to it.

"I haven't seen too many 3D movies, for instance, and I don't think they all work that well, but I think with this one, with 'Alice,' it's a perfect marriage of 3D and subject matter. I think with a lot of the 3D films, it's a bit gratuitous. But with this story, you have all the shrinking and changing of size so there's an opportunity to use the technology in an interesting way."

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