Perhaps the actress most widely identified with corsets
and men named Cecil, Helena Bonham Carter was for a long time
typecast as an antiquated heroine, no doubt helped by her own
brand of Pre-Raphaelite beauty. With a tumble of brown curls (which
were, in fact, hair extensions), huge dark eyes, and translucent
pale skin, Bonham Carter's looks made her a natural for movies
that took place when the sun still shone over the British Empire
and the sight of a bare ankle could induce convulsions. However,
the actress, once dubbed by critic Richard Corliss "our modern
antique goddess," managed to escape from Planet Merchant
Ivory and, while still performing in a number of period pieces,
eventually become recognized as an actress capable of portraying
thoroughly modern characters.
her double-barreled family name, Bonham Carter is a descendent
of the British aristocracy, both social and cinematic. The great-granddaughter
of P.M. Lord Herbert Asquith and the grandniece of director Anthony
Asquith, she was born to a banker father and a Spanish psychotherapist
mother on May 26, 1966, in London. Although her heritage may have
been defined by wealth and power, Bonham Carter's upbringing was
fraught with misfortune, from her father's paralysis following
a botched surgery to her mother's nervous breakdown when the actress
was in her teens. Bonham Carter has said in interviews that her
mother's breakdown first led her to seek work as an actress and
she was soon going out on auditions.
She made her screen debut in 1985, playing the ill-fated
title character of Trevor Nunn's Lady Jane. Starring opposite
Cary Elwes as her equally ill-fated lover, Bonham Carter made
enough of an impression as the 16th century teen queen to catch
the attention of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant,
who cast her as the protagonist of their 1986 adaptation of E.M.
Forster's A Room With a View. The film proved a great critical
success, winning eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture
and Best Director. The adulation surrounding it provided its young
star with her first real taste of fame, as well as steady work;
deciding to concentrate on her acting career, Bonham Carter dropped
out of Cambridge University, where she had been enrolled.
although she did indeed work steadily and was able to enhance
her reputation as a talented actress, Bonham Carter also became
a study in typecasting, going from one period piece to the next.
Despite the quality of many of these films, including Franco Zeffirelli's
Hamlet (1990) and two more E.M. Forster vehicles, Where Angels
Fear to Tread (1991) and Howards End (1992), the actress was left
without room to expand her range. One notable exception was Getting
It Right, a 1989 comedy in which she played a very modern socialite.
Things began to change for Bonham Carter in 1995, when
she appeared as Woody Allen's wife in Mighty Aphrodite and then
had the title role in Margaret's Museum, in which she gave a powerful
performance as a coal miner's wife driven to madness by various
tragedies visited upon her. Bonham Carter's work in the film prompted
observers to note that she seemed to be moving away from her previous
roles and although she still appeared in corset movies -- such
as Trevor Nunn's lush 1996 adaptation of Twelfth Night -- she
began to enhance her reputation as a thoroughly modern actress.
In 1997, she won acclaim for her performance in Iain Softley's
adaptation of The Wings of the Dove, scoring a Best Actress Oscar
nomination in the process.
playing a woman stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease opposite offscreen
partner Kenneth Branagh in the poorly received The Theory of Flight
(1998) and appearing with Richard E. Grant in A Merry War (1998),
Bonham Carter landed one of her most talked-about roles in David
Fincher's 1999 Fight Club. As the object of Brad Pitt's and Edward
Norton's desires, the actress exchanged hair extensions and English
mannerisms for a shock of spiky hair and American dysfunction,
prompting some critics to call her one of the most shocking aspects
of a shocking movie.
After a brief turn in the romantic comedy Women
Talking Dirty in 1999, Bonham Carter was soon gearing-up for another
surprising turn in director Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001).
If critics were shocked by her unconventional role in fight club,
they would no doubt be left dumbfounded with her trading of extravagant
period-piece costumes for Rick Baker's makeup wizardry as the
simian sympathyser to Mark Wahlberg's homosapien plight.
"I drink a lot of Diet Coke and belch. I've been
known to use the "f" word."
"I went to drama school for four weeks"
"I hate this image of me as a prim Edwardian.
I want to shock everyone."
"...I should get a few ribs taken out, because
I'll be in a corset for the rest of my life."
[on breast-feeding her baby] "People say,
`You're still breast-feeding, that's so generous.' Generous, no!
It gives me boobs and it takes my thighs away! It's sort of like
natural liposuction. I'd carry on breast-feeding for the rest
of my life if I could."