She has played queens and aristocrats before, but Helena Bonham Carter’s role as the Queen Mother in new drama The King’s Speech is the first time she has portrayed a character she has actually met.
“I met her a few times,” reveals Helena, 44. “The first was at the premiere of A Room With A View. She was sweet and very charming, but she was tough, too, and she was the rock behind King George VI. He would never have been able to rule without her.”
The British actress – who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal and is a hot tip for an Oscar – should know, coming as she does from a pretty refined lineage herself. Helena is the greatgranddaughter of former British Prime Minster Sir Herbert Asquith and the granddaughter of Sir Maurice Bonham Carter, a leading Liberal politician, while her grandmother was Violet Bonham Carter, a close confidante of Sir Winston Churchill.
“People think I’m more aristocratic than I am,” Helena laughs. “We’re upper-middle class but we’re not aristos, although I do know people who knew the Queen Mother, so that helped me get some inside information.”
The King’s Speech tells the story of the bizarre friendship that sprung up between the stammering George VI (Colin Firth) – the monarch between 1936 and 1952 – and his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who used unorthodox methods to cure the King of his affliction.
It was the Queen Mum – who died in 2002 at the age of 101 – who insisted that her husband visited Logue and gave his methods a chance. “Everyone’s got an opinion about the Queen Mother because she’s so well known,” Helena says, “but I had to get beneath the public front.
“What was interesting was that she had this amazing air of sweetness and a cloud of charm and vagueness. But underneath she was a very powerful and strong woman. I really wanted to capture that duality.
“She was born to be in the public eye but her husband wasn’t born with the confidence needed to be king. He drew on her strength and I tried to show that strength.”
Helena filmed her role at weekends because during the week she was busy working on Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, in which she once again plays the sadistic witch Bellatrix Lestrange.
“I loved doing it and being a part of it,” she smiles. “It was perfect for me as a mum and really convenient because it was filmed not too far from where we live. Once you have children you have to work around their needs. I also loved my character because it was very therapeutic for me to just go to work and scream a lot!”
Helena lives in London’s Belsize Park in a house next door to that of her long-time companion, filmmaker Tim Burton, 52. He is the father of her two children, Billy, seven, and Nell, three, and has directed Helena in six films, including the recent Alice in Wonderland in which she played the raving Red Queen.
“We couldn’t keep on going in and out of each other’s houses so now it’s just one house which is divided down the middle,” Helena explains. “We’re lucky enough to have our own separate spaces, but they’re connected and it’s really not that strange. Some people seem to think we have a subterranean tunnel that connects the two houses and they’re heavily disappointed when they see it’s just two houses squished together.
“Parenting is much harder than acting and you just never know what to do, so Tim and I are taking classes together and they’re really useful. I’m learning lots. It’s a bit like Parenting Anonymous with a group of parents spewing out their latest trauma of the week!”