HELENA BONHAM CARTER - Poetry in stop motion
I like dressing up. Because, like, Mrs Bucket [in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory], I was the one who asked for teeth. They’re not my real teeth, although Tim keeps thinking they are. I know, but I think there’s something sweetly romantic about it. Just think: after being an ape, after all that, he saw through to the real me!
Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Corpse Bride suggest that you’re more into doing voices in booths now rather than acting in front of a camera?
“Yeah, in a way I like it. It doesn’t matter what you look like. You don’t have to get up early [laughs]. It’s not so boring, you just act continually. You don’t have to wait for anybody else. It’s much easier.”
Did you do anything like this earlier in your career?
“I had done voice overs to ads. They’re fun because you get paid lots of money for not very much work [laughs].”
Tim’s turned you into a monkey in Planet of the Apes, now you're playing a corpse . . .
“Yah, what’s next? I don’t know. The mind sort of boggles. The thing is I like dressing up and doing all of that. Because, like, Mrs Bucket [in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory], I was the one who asked for teeth. They’re not my real teeth, although Tim keeps thinking they are. I know, but I think there’s something sweetly romantic about it [laughs]. Just think: after being an ape, after all that, he saw through to the real me! [laughs].”
Have you regained your interest in films because the last time we spoke you just wanted to spend time with your son, Billy Ray?
“I know but it was just six weeks after. I was really tired then, too. Nobody tells you . . . well, they do. I told everyone [laughs].”
They tell you you’ll be terribly tired but then your hormones kick in.
“Yah, they do. It’s not the birth that’s tiring it’s the fact that you’ve made this thing and they’ve taken everything that’s good. It’s like a little alien that comes out and they’re this parasite. So you’re just left standing, practically dead, and they’re like little vital things, screaming, and you’re this shell.”
So how is motherhood?
“Apart from that? [laughs] It’s like everything that everyone says. But thank God we have help, too. So we’ve got the luxury of being not too exhausted, or bored, actually, because he loves repeating himself. The ball goes there and then it comes back. The ball goes there . . .”
Does the fact that you and Tim are together all the time make your working relationship better or worse in the workplace?
“In the workplace? I think it’s very similar, actually. I mean it’s more fun in a way. There’s a lot of teasing that goes on. And actually, you know what? When I did Planet of the Apes, he gave me a few notes but, you know, he didn’t say a huge amount so I just thought, ‘Does he like what I’m doing?’ Colleen [Atwood], who knew him, she was the costumer, said, ‘Look, if he doesn’t say anything to you it’s fine.’ Now I know him, so I don’t expect. And on Big Fish, which was the first film we did when we did know each other, he didn’t give me any compliments. In fact he practically ignored me. He was giving all the compliments to Ewan [McGregor] and didn’t pay much attention to me. And then I kicked up a fuss and said, ‘You know what? I am carrying your child. You could say hello [laughs].’ He said, ‘I don’t want to look as if I have a favourite.’ I said, ‘But you went to such lengths that you didn’t say a word to me all day.’ It was like ‘Can she move over [laughs]?’ I said, ‘I think to be absolutely honest, Ewan’s not going to feel threatened by you being nice to me.’ So the next day he came up with a chair, made sure I sat down, and since then he has paid me a lot of respect. Over the top, teasing respect.”
Aesthetically, do you share his obsession with the morbid, gothic side of things or is that something that you’ve just assimilated as a result of knowing him?
“I love the whole aesthetic of Corpse Bride and I love the whole design of it. Absolutely love it. I went to the set, all the mini sets, and the whole art design and set decoration is stunning. So I kind of do. Most of his aesthetic I really love, and his sensibility, too. It’s got a huge tenderness to it. And sense of humour. So yeah, I do. It’s completely un-PC, and he’s a really funny man to be with. He’s also a great father, which I knew he would be. You know, usually children bring out the inner child in one, but he doesn’t need it. It’s practically outer, frankly. It overtook him way back [laughs].”
Tim put his childhood experiences into his early short Frankenweenie. Do you think your son will be another Frankenweenie?
“Maybe, I don’t know. We’ll see. He won’t want to be in front of the camera very much I hope. But there you go. They all have to make their own choices.”
Where do you think Tim’s fascination with this kind of imagery comes from?
“God knows. A deep and dark place, deep inside him [laughs]. But you know what? Thank God he expresses it. Just think if he walked around with all that inside him. I don’t know where it would go. It’d be, like, woah!”
Do you have lots of that stuff at home as well?
“We have a fair amount of stuff at home. We definitely live in different houses, attached. So it’s like a strange house that’s completely different from one side to the other, because we’ve got a room now that connects them. So if you enter our house, you can go either right into my land, which is quite feminine, it’s cutesy, and it’s quite, I’d say, tasteful and elegant. It isn’t, actually. It is a bit Beatrix Potter land and it is a bit twee, but it’s nice and happy. And then you go left and it’s sort of – it’s difficult to say. He [Burton] likes to think it’s James Bond land, but he’s the only one who does [laughs]. He’s got these strange fibreglass lights that look like aliens and they’re about seven foot tall. There’s one blue one, one green one, one white one, one red one, and they stand around the place. Then we’ve got paraphernalia from the films. We’ve got Wang, who’s the Korean ventriloquist’s dummy from Big Fish. He sits on the corner armchair. He’s sort of Billy’s older brother. And then we’ve got a few Oompa Loompas now around the place; a suicidal one, with blood coming out. This is all on Tim’s side. I’ve got an Oompa Loompa head cast on my piano. You know how people have Beethoven? We’ve got an Oompa Loompa. And we’ve got a Wonka car. Quite a lot of things. We’ve got a huge armchair. Remember when he was an Oompa Loompa psychiatrist? They had to make a massive one to make Deep even tinier. So that’s a massive chair. That’s great.”
It’d better be a big house then.
“That’s a big room. Yah. Yah.”
That’s the secret to a successful marriage, isn’t it? Live next door to each other.
“It’s perfect. Perfect. People have often said, well it’s only the British press, and hey, who cares what they write? But they’ve often said how weird it is, and how it’s yet more evidence of a strange dysfunction between the pair of us. But you just think, if we’re together, which we are a lot of the time, it’s through choice. And he’s got his rooms and I’ve got mine. It’s like, ‘Bye bye.’”
That sounds like the sanest way to conduct a relationship.
If only we could all afford two houses.
“Exactly. We’re very lucky. Very, very lucky. Billy will have to buy his own when he grows up.”
How do you feel about working with another director now?
“Oh I just did. It’s fine. In fact I’ve done two films lately. One was Magnificent 7, with a director called Kenneth Glenaan, and it was for the BBC. It’s a film about autism. And then I did another film, a sort of two-hander with Aaron Eckhart, on high-definition video, which is one of those not quite Dogme films, but where it’s done in real time. So it’s fine. Just because I’m with Tim . . .”
It’s not infidelity if you work with another director?
“No, but it is infidelity if you go and do another stop-motion animation film, which is what I did.”
What? Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit?
“Oh yeah. Working with the enemy. When I came back from the first day, it was like red tape across the boundary of our houses: do not enter [laughs].”
I wonder why the press paint you as dysfunctional.
“[Laughs] They’ve got it so wrong. No, he did say, ‘If you do that, you can’t do this one,’ and I managed to convince him that he was being petty.”
You’ve got to be in the two biggest stop-motion animation films of the year haven't you.
“You’ve got to be, yah. After not being in any. But he was right. He said, ‘I bet you the only way you sell these ones is on the people who do the voices.’ This is way back when I was pregnant with Billy. He said, ‘These films, I bet you, they’ll come out at the same time and they’ll be in competition.’ And look what’s happened: they are. He’s always right.”
But you can’t lose. Whichever one wins, you’re in it.
“That’s what I thought. Exactly.”
Do you think Tim Burton is now overshadowing your career and nobody will look back at your earlier work?
“I don’t really care what other people think. To be honest I’m going to get less offers anyway, because that’s the reality of growing older in this profession. It is. And I’m not that fussed about it. As long as I do one part or something that’s well written once a year, maybe, I think I’ll be satisfied. I worked a lot for the first twenty years of my life and I want to have a bit of a life now, which I’ve been really enjoying, a fuller life, and it’s much more rich as a result, and perhaps do other things, I don’t quite know what. I just have a wider perspective now and it’s not just all about career at all anymore.”
Why has that changed?
“I think it changes through stopping and having a baby and being happy, you know, with Tim.”
“Yah, being happy’s always good.”
Is that a new experience for you?
“I think, essentially, yah. I mean truly happy. I’m settled and I don’t have to . . . I mean I’ve definitely got to make things. I’ve got to do something. I’m quite active. I’m quite happy at doing the living bit, you know? By working non-stop and just doing parts and acting, you’re giving up a hell of a lot, you know? You’re giving up time to pursue relationships with all sorts of other people, just basic things, because that takes up a lot of time.”
You talked about doing something outside of acting, something creative.
“I like making things with my hands. It’s nothing tremendously significant but I really do like just going into my room and sort of making these odd things that come out. But it’s nothing of great significance or lasting worth [laughs]. It’d odd but it’s quite a private thing and as soon as you start to talk about it . . .”
Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.
“Don’t worry, I’m used to it, mate [laughs]. I do just have to make something. But I do like acting, though, it isn’t so bad.”
Do you know what you’re going to do next?
“I’m going to play a Jewish East End mother. There’s a friend called Paul Wayland, who’s a director, and he’s got a beautiful script which is kind of based on his life as a child. The premise of it is his bah mitzvah happened on the 1966 World Cup Final day, so no one came. He made this fantastic speech on his 50th birthday which was like, ‘The only other party that I had was this . . .’ and he told us this hysterical story of how of all days his parents chose and how you could hear applause in the background and it wasn’t for him. Anyway, it’s kind of a portrait of his childhood and it’s exquisitely funny and also incredibly touching. So he’s asked me to play his mother.”