Helena Bonham Carter on King's Speech, Fight Club and Why She Doesn't Belong to Tim Burton

Considering the intense security I had to wade my way through recently to visit Helena Bonham Carter at her Manhattan hotel, for a few moments it actually did feel like I might be visiting the Queen of England. (As it turned out, it was just the Israeli Prime Minister's security detail.) Alas, no -- just screen royalty, as proven in her latest effort, The King's Speech.

The film features Carter as Queen Elizabeth, though to hear her tell it, she would have rather have played Elizabeth's husband George VI -- the King of England who, in the early years of World War II, trains with a speech therapist in order to lose a nasty stammer that's plagued most of his life. Of course, that part went to Colin Firth, and Carter took a role she admits could, on paper, be considered thankless. A little more than a year later, she's on her way to her second Oscar nomination. Movieline spoke to Carter about playing a historical figure who only died eight years ago, landing the role as Sonny Crockett's girlfriend on Miami Vice and her infamous line that was cut from Fight Club.

There's an unbelievable amount of security in the lobby right now.

I wonder who else is here?

I was told Benjamin Netanyahu.

Oh... really. Oh, that's interesting. Why did they have to choose this place?

When I was going through security I joked with a police officer asking if this was all for you.

No, I was the Queen but I'm not the Queen.

Well, he didn't know who you were so I mentioned The King's Speech and he said...

[Laughs] "No"...

Then I mentioned Fight Club -- he then knew who you were.

[Laughing] That's funny. When you have someone headed toward you, you do a quick, "What's it gonna be?" But sometimes it surprises you. You can usually tell if it's going to be a Merchant-Ivory or a Fight Club. If it's a child, it's always Harry Potter. The other day I had this geriatric and I said, "Oh, she's Merchant-Ivory." She said, "Oh, I love Fight Club." There's a few of those 80-year-olds who love Fight Club. They're interesting.

I always assumed Fight Club would be more of an American thing.

No. I know what you mean, but it's still got a huge following. The most unlikely generations, even.

Your character in The King's Speech is interesting because it's set decades ago, but this is a woman that only died a few years ago and was very much a public figure. Does that present a greater challenge?

She was a phenomenon. She lasted the entire 19th century -- no...

Wow, longer than I thought!

[Laughs] 20th century! Wow! So long! But she was a century old. Her lifespan, she represented that century, almost. She was an extraordinary figure. It was a tough call in some ways. I mean, it's about the boys, but if you're going to play the Queen Mum, you have to -- and I didn't look like her -- but I had to capture some kind of essence of her.

I'm assuming you just can't show up and ask to speak to her daughter?

No, you can't really do that. I'm not sure necessarily the daughter would be the... Well, I did show up and speak to the biographers and people that knew her very well. I think [her] strength is what Bertie [George VI] drew upon. She was a really brilliant public figure and she knew how to do it; he didn't and he couldn't.

Were you trying to portray her as a fairly normal person? She does come off that way.

She had a common touch. She was called "The Commoner." She was much more blue blooded than the royal family. She had enough grace, she had a kind of -- on the whole -- normal childhood. A healthy childhood.

Looking at The King's Speech in a certain way, it's almost a prequel to The Queen.

No, it is. I think there's a lot about this episode that informs the queen's sense of duty and what everyone attacked her for -- her age, stiffness and a lack of emotional intimacy or openness. A lot of it was her formality, she got directly from this episode she saw her uncle's betrayed sense of duty. She was made on the sense of duty, and so was the Queen Mum.

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  • Chester says:

    "The film features Carter as Queen Elizabeth"
    True enough, but, for clarity's sake, not THAT Queen Elizabeth. She plays the woman best known throughout the 20th century as the Queen Mother, i.e., the mother of currently reigning Queen Elizabeth II and the wife of King George VI.

  • ILDC says:

    I get the feeling Helena just can't say no to Tim.

  • Kellen Harkins says:

    Nice interview. I've always enjoyed and been impressed by HB-C, and its nice to see some of the internal dialogue that she has. it seemed a more real and human interview than many of the usual fluff pieces.

  • Harker says:

    Please Helena, please stop appearing in Tim Burton´s movies! He´s holding you back!

    • Woah! stop that! he is not holding her back! do you see how creative she gets to be with him? alice in wonderland, the corpse bride, sweeney todd, all of those movies she did with him? they were so creative and let her let loose all of her creative energy, and play a bit of dress up, which she loves. You obviously have not read enough interviews on why she acts. come back and talk when you start listening to what she has to say. helena is the best actress ever, and my dream is to meet her and tim. she has just the best personality, she is fun and creative, and true to herself. i hope she knows how much she has inspired me and countless people all over the world with her acting.

  • Samantha says:

    Hello, this weekend is pleasant for me, as this time i am reading this wonderful educational piece of writing here at my house.