Helena Bonham Carter Interview

The actress talks about her two straight stop animation films and how she loves every minute of it

After hearing the news about Aardman Studios burning down this morning in England, I was heart broken knowing how much everyone worked so hard to get a film like Wallace and Gromit into theaters, especially since they were going to celebrate it being the number one film of the weekend.

Helena Bonham Carter talked about her new character Lady Tottington up in Toronto. She really enjoyed doing the voice for this film and she discussed trying to change her voice.

The other film she talked about was Corpse Bride, another stop animation film, directed by her fiance Tim Burton. It's interesting what she says about the differences between the two films:

So when did you first discover Wallace and Gromit?

Helena Bonham Carter: Oh, when they came up; they became instantly popular, about 10 years ago. I love the Creature Company; I find the zoo one, with the animals being interviewed in the zoo, I just find those so inspiring.

What do you think is the appeal of this kind of animation and what kind of parallels are there between Tim Burton's kind of animation?

Helena Bonham Carter: They're different styles, but highly original. What I like about both of them is they always say Tim is so dark, there's a real tenderness to both worlds, there's a real innocence. I liked working with all the animators across the board from Mike Johnson; you can see with Nick (Park) and Steve (Box), there's a real sweetness to them. People have forgotten to grow up, there's a real innocence and hope. But Tim's got a heavy dose of sense in him, too, but they're all really sweet cause they're really different styles and completely invented their own worlds. The whole stop motion, it's so integral as a medium. Like Wallace and Gromit and Corpse Bride, they're stories; and they'd be highly effected if they were computer generated. But they're hand-made and they've got a soul to them, the characters and the whole story. Wallace and Gromit, just the fact you can see the fingerprints, it takes up back to that time when we fiddled with them. And Nick, you can see he still walks around with them. (lots of laughter)

Nick said you had teeth sent over, was that for inspiration?

Helena Bonham Carter: No, no, I saw her and I said ‘Oh, she's got teeth. I've got teeth at home, we should have them sent over.' I usually, when in doubt, have teeth at home. (laughter) It's a good thing; they did that on Charlie, she needs teeth cause there isn't much to this part. The only problem is my upper lip kept getting stuck; I looked like a chipmunk in the outtakes, at least, cause you can't really unhook it.

You had to take out the teeth to do the part, so what kind of state of mind do you have to be in to do Lady T?

Helena Bonham Carter: With that one, it's more about the placement of the voice so you can play her; she was sort of goofy, very ditzy, very comedic. There's a comedian in England, sort of hit me once and it got to me; I don't know, just speaking indie, I suppose. But you still have to act, you still have to act, and big, and the bigger you have to act, especially in Wallace and Gromit, the more focused it has to be so it's not terrible or hammy.

What's that mean?

Helena Bonham Carter: Hammy?

No, the big part.

Helena Bonham Carter: It's not really over the top, you just get to be big, it's just energy, big in energy. You must admit someone like Maria Salas, she's big, she's happy, hammy. But she is herself too. I have to wonder what Nick thought of her; just people's expressions must be like ‘woah.'

You don't want to follow her.

Helena Bonham Carter: But in a way, you do, because she kind of wakes you up. If you're slagging in the day, you get Maria and ‘wow;' it's just like an enema shot. (lots of laughter)

How would you characterize Lady T as a person?

Helena Bonham Carter: She's a character; she's of humane temperament and very, very kind.

Would you say an ecotype?

Helena Bonham Carter: Yeah, that's perfect, that's very economical, too. She is an ecotype, lots of vegetables.

You must know her?

Helena Bonham Carter: Oh yeah, England's riddled with her; I'm not going to mention any names, but not take it exact, with the lateral hairdo. But definitely, women of a certain age, in the upper classes, who love their gardens, the place is full of them. My mother's foreign and so when she hit the country, she looked at me; people don't talk here, and the only way to get people to talk to you, the Brits anyway, is if you got a dog, some people will start chatting. Or if you're a gardener, and unfortunately, she kills everything; she's got a dog, she's got the dog and she likes chatting, but the gardening thing never really took off for her. All the gardeners, they always say ‘you have to plant at the right time of year.'

But this movie really points that out.

Helena Bonham Carter: Oh yeah, it's definitely British, the whole garden thing.

Even though Dreamworks is over it, it's a very British movie.

Helena Bonham Carter: Nick's been good at protecting his people, his little people, Wallace and Gromit; they're so definitely themselves, and not watered down.

With that said, were you maybe made more Mid-Atlantic than you wanted?

Helena Bonham Carter: No, not at all.

Nick was saying that some of the speeches were re-recorded, not American, just more clear.

Helena Bonham Carter: Oh, that's interesting; well, I was so tired after the sessions, so after about three hours, I wasn't sure what he was asking me to do. (lots of laughing)

Is it exhausting?

Helena Bonham Carter: Oh yeah, it's exhausting.

It sounds simple.

Helena Bonham Carter: It does sound simple, and it is simple on a certain extent; you go into a booth and stay in there for about six hours and it does take a lot of energy. Some actors are quite traumatized by it and won't do it again; but I know some actors, without mentioning any names, who said ‘never again' because I think it's kind of relentless, you do have to repeat yourself. And you do need energy, like I said, you need to be up, and they're very bright and alive – these speeches.

No costumes or corsets.

Helena Bonham Carter: Nope, but with film acting, you don't act more than a few hours a day, the rest is waiting; and this is the reverse, you're acting all the time and you never get to sit down. And then it makes you easier to concentrate because you're not waiting for anything to happen.

Was this any more difficult than Corpse Bride?

Helena Bonham Carter: Corpse was a little less arduous because Tim's a bit impatient so you don't get to repeat yourself so many times. But I say it's fine, and aside from that, it's about the same. But I love it, it's kind of liberating, cause you don't need make-up, you don't need to get up at 5:30 in the morning, and it's just you, there's no constraints, you don't have to hit your marks, you're not dealing with anyone else, the mic is on and you just do it. Then you watch a lot of post sync, and I found myself getting a little emotional when I thought Wallace had died at the end; it's very touching. (getting emotional herself, then laughing)

Does it surprise you that you're getting emotional about clay?

Helena Bonham Carter: Well, very easily; I think the dog, he's very effecting actually. (lots of laughing)

We're all laughing about this.

Helena Bonham Carter: I know, but any master knows what it's like to have a dog, so a do and his master, it's a very sincere relationship.

Do you have a dog?

Helena Bonham Carter: No. (lots of laughing) We had a dog (the room empathizes). No cats, no cats; we had a childhood dog. We'll get a dog probably for Billy, and my mom's got a dog, who's just beautiful, but not a bread winner, he's not a Gromit.

When you first started in acting, could you ever conceive that you'd be doing two stop motion -

Helena Bonham Carter: That I'd become a puppet? Most people thought I was a puppet; they thought I was on wheels, I was under a corset and a costume for so long. No, but I'm quite glad how it's turned out really, cause I suppose it's quite the opposite of what people thought of my career. But I stopped bothering about what people think, it was such a big deal – ‘You're being type casting.' And now in the last five years, I've done all sorts of parts – you know, puppets, apes, witches, corpses, all sorts of things, Fight Club. It's just nice that I'm still around, cause it's just not a given, longevity is sort of rare in this business, or consistency.

Do you have any projects coming up?

Helena Bonham Carter: No, maybe I'll retire now. (laughing)

Do you have less incentive to work now?

Helena Bonham Carter: Yeah, unless I – I've got incentive, cause I love it and I enjoy it, and I definitely get excited by it, but I don't think I need to as much. If anything, I got my confidence; that is where I got my sense of self, but I've got a family now. I'm actually enjoying the time off.

Do you want to get behind the camera?

Helena Bonham Carter: No, one's enough in the family. (laughter) And it's absolutely, horrifically hard work. All these choices, and I'm not a good decision maker; it'd be a nightmare for me, cause that's what a director's about.

Does Tim bounce any ideas off you?

Helena Bonham Carter: Yeah, he definitely does; he's sweet in that he asks me opinions and things sometimes. We'll both give each other what we're working on, what the other one thinks. I like to think we each respect each other's opinion. (laughter)

Was he excited about Wallace and Gromit?

Helena Bonham Carter: No, not at all, because he wanted me to do a voice in Corpse Bride – ‘You can't do that and be in mine.' (laughter)

What was the compromise to let you do both?

Helena Bonham Carter: I got my own way. (lots of laughter) There was no compromise. (laughter) So that worked.

Where is the controversy?

Helena Bonham Carter: See, that's what I said. I think he just thinks that there's no stop motion for years and suddenly two come in at the same time. They're so different, that's what I kept saying. He hadn't read it, because everything with Wallace and Gromit is secretive, but they're so different. There's nothing to compare; it'd be like comparing two live action movies that have nothing to do with each other, except maybe have the same actress in them. And they've got an audience to go around for both.

And they're overlapping.

Helena Bonham Carter: They're easily overlapping, it's simplicity and sophistication and I think it works, both of them. And I'm really happy to be in both; they're probably two of the best movies I've ever been in, in my whole career.

What were your favorite entertainments when you were a child?

Helena Bonham Carter: I loved Mary Poppins, and I loved all the Disney animated films; I was a big fan of Walt Disney. And I was a big fan of Snoopy; I was in love with Snoopy. (laughter) I still have my Snoopy bean bag, it slept with me, he was obviously white once. The Rescuers, I loved The Rescuers when I was a kid, and Dumbo, cause I remember reading the novelizations of all those. The Jungle Book, my mom used to tell me it's awful, he's going to die. (laughter) – ‘He's never going to wake up.'

Is there a character or a person who you haven't played yet?

Helena Bonham Carter: Oh, there are hundreds, infinite; I think I'd like to do more comedy, before my face falls off. We'll get the puppets to do it, they can do it, I'll just do the voice.

So who's more Helena, Lady T or Corpse?

Helena Bonham Carter: Probably Corpse, minus the worm who pops out of her eye; I'm a terrible gardener too.

Wallace and Gromit is in theaters now; it's rated PG.