Helena Bonham Carter tells Paul Byrne of Herald.ie that playing wicked women is really ‘not that much of a stretch’
There’s a moment in Tim Burton’s latest Gothic offering Dark Shadows when his better-half’s character bemoans: “Every year, half as pretty and twice as drunk.” Coming from the perfectly pouted lips of Helena Bonham Carter, your gut reaction is to chuckle. Here’s a woman who has maintained her ethereal allure for almost 30 years on screen, looking as devilishly beautiful and bewitching as she did playing Miss Lucy Honeychurch in her 1985 breakthrough film A Room with a View.
If anything, Bonham Carter became more attractive as she slowly unleashed her wicked side through such movies as Fight Club, Novocaine and as Bellatrix Lestrange in the last four Harry Potter outings. I’m sure Ismail Merchant must be spinning in his grave — with both desire and delight.
“Oh, that’s very kind of you,” smiles Bonham Carter, “but I’m sure you say that to all the actresses who are getting on in years.”
Hard to believe, but Bonham Carter is 45, and a mother of eight-year-old Billy Ray and four-year-old Nell, both with Burton.
“It’s not something I’ve ever chased, that whole ‘English rose’ thing, so, to have a little fun and be wicked, that’s far, far closer to my real nature. Maybe that’s why these roles suit me so well? They’re not really all that much of a stretch, you see … “
The latest deliciously naughty role for Helena Bonham Carter comes yet again courtesy of her director partner Tim Burton, the two having met on the set of his ill-judged Planet of the Apes remake in 2001. They’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since, even if it did take some difficult untangling — including a nasty lawsuit — for Burton to entirely free himself of the girl he left for Bonham Carter, model-turned-actress Lisa Marie.
Surprisingly, there are a few Lisa Marie lookalikes in Dark Shadows, a big-screen adaptation of an American TV show that ran for five years in the late ’60s and early ’70s, reaching more than 20 million viewers at its peak. Then again, Burton’s personal tastes have always informed his films.
A Gothic soap opera, the big attraction for fans of the original Dark Shadows was Barnabas Collins, the vampire at the head of a wealthy Collins clan that also included a werewolf, a witch, and other assorted scary monsters and super freaks.
“Tim has wanted to make this movie all his life,” says Bonham Carter, “and you could sense that almost childlike excitement on set. He knows that he’s very lucky, being able to make these dream projects, and so, he’s determined to do them justice. It’s one thing to be given the freedom to do something you love, but, almost instantly, you feel the pressure of living up to those dreams.”
“He does make me audition, you know,” laughs Bonham Carter. “I don’t think I’d want to just sign on for the hell of being in one of Tim’s movies. I’d have to be right for the part, and I’d have to believe that I can do something with the part. Otherwise, I’d just be, well … “
“Exactly!” snaps Bonham Carter, before trying a little back-pedalling. “That said, Linda helped Paul McCartney do some wonderful work, and, more importantly, she made him very, very happy. So, maybe we should go for someone else … “
“Hmm, I’ve come to realise that we really can’t say anyone’s name here without it being offensive, so, let’s just say that I don’t ever want to be surplus to requirement. In Tim’s movies, or anyone else’s.”
It’s an approach that seems to have worked so far. Bonham Carter is a delight in just about everything she appears in, even duds such as Sixty Six (2006) and Terminator Salvation (2009).
And when her drunk Doctor Julia Hoffman shouts that she wants to “live forever”, you realise that, through her mighty fine CV, Helena Bonham Carter probably will.
“I guess people might well be looking at some of my work after I’m gone,” she finishes, “which is a very macabre way to think about this job. But it’s always been the thrill of film itself, this shot at immortality. Chaplin will never be forgotten, or Welles, or Jack Lemmon, or so many others.
“I’m nowhere near those wonderful, wonderful people, but it’s nice to know that my children can bore their children with my films, and then those children can bore their children with them as well. That’s a very comforting thought. All this hard work is not in vain. My descendants will suffer too … “