Interview: Alice in Wonderland star Helena Bonham Carter
There are always days at this job that really make me beyond excited to be doing what I do. And frankly, being a part of the ALICE IN WONDERLAND junket was certainly one of them. First off, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet Johnny Depp. As he was leaving the press conference for the film, I caught up with him and complemented his hat. He looked at me and gave me a very sincere smile, came over to me and shook my hand and said hello. I have to say, I get it. I get why people really adore this man. I also get why both he and Helena Bonham Carter work so well together. Both are immensely talented and both have a unique spirit which is captured incredibly well by Tim Burton. And secondly, this day was truly a dream come true for me. I had the opportunity to sit in a hotel room with Ms. Bonham Carter.
A little history… I love Helena thanks to her performance as Lucy Honeychurch in A ROOM WITH A VIEW. But unlike many ingénues’, as she was back in 1986, she continued to stretch and break out of that little box. She was stunning in FIGHT CLUB as Marla, as the girlfriend that nearly every guy has dealt with at some point in his life. But don’t forget her work in HOWARD’S END, SWEENEY TODD and of course, the HARRY POTTER films. She is a phenomenal actress, and for some reason, I never thought I’d get the chance to meet her, let alone interview her. It just never seemed like it would happen. But it did, and weeks later, I am still giddy because of it.
Helena and I talked about ALICE IN WONDERLAND and her work in HARRY POTTER. She joked about her own personal life and why she is picky about the films she takes on. She is one of the loveliest and insanely likable actresses I’ve had the pleasure to talk with. So yeah, for this interview I was a big, geeky fan, but it also happened to be one of the most comfortable and enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done. And as we began the conversation, it was all about Alice, a film she had yet to see… (You can see it on Friday, at a theatre near you)
Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter: I haven’t actually seen it.
You haven’t seen it yet?
HBC: No, he [Tim Burton] literally just finished it like three days ago. And my only chance was on Thursday and I was so jetlagged that I thought, you know what, I want to see it with my friends and family.
HBC: I don’t really like watching myself anyway.
HBC: No. But, I really want to see this because… more so, because I just want to see what everything looks like. Because we were in “greenland” so I had no idea on earth what we were doing.
Now did you know when you read the script, did you see pictures or images of what you…?HBC: Yeah, we’d go to the art department and see, ‘well that’s your castle, that’s your…’. I kept on going back to the art department actually, saying, ‘What does that look like?’. And it would look so beautiful, the sketches and the whole world and the feel of the world. And also on set, you had these two video screens. One to see what we were doing. And there was another really clever one, overlay, a kind of just sketch of what the set was going to look like. So at least you could see what space you were in. But it was a very strange atmosphere to work in. Because you don’t have a horizon, everything’s green. I think, unconsciously you need to know where the horizon is. Because that’s why I felt like.,, I usually am not prone to sickness but you felt kind of vertigo. And the green is not like a nice calm environment with a friendly green, it crushes in on you. So people got depressed, people got sick in it.
Really?HBC: Yeah. What could’ve been wonderful, you know, and I thought fun, actually a lot of it was kind of hard work.
And you’ve done seemingly every type of film, but you’re used to working with actors.HBC: Yes, I was really grateful to work with the “green people”. These people who are like the unsung heroes of this film, the four people who had to get dressed in leotards, you know, green leotards. As soon as you put green on you’re invisible, you see, in “greenland”. So there were all these actors who were playing the rabbit, or frogs, anybody who I had to interact with who was an animal, they were in green leotards. So they did all the lines off, and they were like… you have to have that, otherwise you just end up being completely at the top and two dimensional. You’ve got to have someone to act opposite and be open to.
Now, as a director, how much does Tim give you? Obviously, you know him very well and you’ve also worked with him often, is it a breeze to work with him or do you learn something new every time?HBC: I kind of know what he wants star wise. Simplicity is always a big thing with him. And so much is often going on in the world and everything, so he wants it even simpler and the most real. He’ll always go for the least over-the-top choice. So on the whole, we are learning better and better how to work with each other ‘cause it is definitely a different pressure because we are with each other. So we tend to have a conversation before we actually get to set about something. He gives you a few pointers, reference points for each character beforehand. So there is Mommie Dearest and Elizabeth I, Bette Davis was one of his things. And he always draws something so it always starts with a drawing with him, so you’ve got a little sketch. That’s why he said, ‘Oh, it’s got to be you, because I drew you.’ and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s ME?’ This huge headed, angry person with really hyperactive eyebrows. And you’re like, ‘Okay, that’s me… how is this me now, nine years into the relationship.’ [Laughing] ‘Oh, marvelous!’ Whereas before, my agent, who is one of my oldest friends was starting to say, like, well I thought he was going to offer you the White Queen, best described as small, petite and beautiful. So I’m rather hurt that he’s gone and offered you the large, over-sized… [Laughing]
Giant head!HBC: Yeah, a giant head and emotional issues.
I think what is interesting about that character, you have a line near the end, and she is almost like a little child…HBC: She is, that’s exactly it, that was the line I took. I thought, this is somebody who has massive arrested development. And she stopped growing at about two. Which is kind of… my daughter was about two… [Laughing] ah Nell, let’s watch you and your emotional or lack of emotional control and anger and tantrums. She’s always having a tantrum. And also that age when you don’t have any kind of control, no empathy for anybody else, it’s all about you, you know. And Linda said that… I spoke to Linda (Woolverton) and she got the big-head idea from the original, because she did have a big head, the original Red Queen, the Queen of Hearts. And then she thought, well she has a tumor growing inside her head and that is why it is pressing on the emotional thing, that’s why she goes off at any moment.
Well there’s a kind of sadness there…HBC: There is a real sadness.
Yeah, because in a weird sort of way, I liked her character better than the White Queen…HBC: Because you could see the lack of love.
Yeah.HBC: Everybody inside has a small person inside, you know. Anybody who has to put somebody else down necessarily feels tiny, and unloved. It’s really classic sibling rivalry and the other one was favored all the time. And she says it was her crown and the parents gave it to the other…
The pretty one.HBC: Yeah. They gave it to the pretty, pimple-headed one.
The pimple-headed one… (laughs). Now you’ve done so many classic characters. Marla from FIGHT CLUB is adored by every geeky fan boy everywhere. What do you look for now, because you definitely seem to be picky about the roles you choose?HBC: Well, it’s kind of necessary when you’ve got children, you have to be pickier. Because its not worth it otherwise.
Right.HBC: I mean, luckily I can afford not to work… I can be a kept woman. [Laughing] Just rear bastards at home while he goes off and does his big, huge films. [Laughing] So it’s a good arrangement… but it is true, if you are going to vanish off for months, you really have to justify it to your kids and to yourself, otherwise you are going to miss the whole chunk of childhood. That’s really difficult. My criteria is, all I want to really do is just the same as ever, its really good writing and a character. I like character parts that require me to change, you know, with good story tellers.
And you’ve expanded into a whole new world with the Harry Potter films.HBC: Yeah, which is fun.
Where are we with DEATHLY HALLOWS?HBC: The end. Yeah, I’ve done it. It’s been split into two films.
And it’s done?HBC: They haven’t, I’m done.
SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVENT READ THE BOOKS.
HBC: I’ve died. It’s the only film that I’ve actually died and ended on the same day.
How did you feel about that experience?HBC: It’s fun. I love it. Because I love wizardry and magic, witches and that whole thing. And I really liked being on something for over three years. I got to know people. There was a real sort of sense of… you know with this profession, you meet people, you work with people and then you don’t see them again. So I really enjoyed that. And financially and emotionally to have that stability, you always knew you had a Harry Potter. It was a real luxury. And also I just loved having a wand, it’s just absurd… it was fun… [Laughing] And also, again it was kind of childlike so I could really afford to be anarchic. It had a lot of energy, that character. And it was really nice working with David Yates over three films because you had this trust that you built up. And you could really go places. So much of filmmaking, you waste time on just learning on, building up a relationship with a director to know if you could go places. Or trust each other really enough to fly.
You have worked with a lot of directors more than once…HBC: Yeah, with Tim…
Yeah, Tim and even back in the day with James Ivory.HBC: It’s always liberating because you’ve done the small talk, you can start really working and surprising each other. That’s why Johnny and Timmy work together because, you know, they can really surprise themselves. It’s because they deeply trust the other to understand what they want and to not make complete tits of themselves.
And you obviously have a very strong connection with Johnny…HBC: Yeah, I love acting with Johnny. I think we have, in some ways, the same sort of approach in the fact that we are in it to get rid of ourselves. We like to cover up in camouflage. He is really gorgeous looking but he just will cover out every single of him, you know, he wants to get away from himself. And that is definitely my same thing. We hate watching our own films.
Helena with Yates… Helena with Burton… Helena with Ivory… I love it all, but what’s your favorite? Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@JoBlo.com.