Helena Bonham Carter returns to the big screen this weekend with a larger than life performance in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s the latest in a long line of films that the pair have worked together on alongside frequent collaborator Johnny Depp. When the actress attended the press conference for the feature she was laid back and open with the press about her thoughts on her character, the film, and whether or not the movie should be seen by young children.
In the film, Carter stars as the Red Queen, the sole tormentor of Wonderland, who’s been prophesied to fall from power at the hands of Alice. She’s a caricature in ever sense of the word, but Carter has fun with it and makes her enjoyable to watch. She’s aided by several supporting actors most notably Crispin Clover as The Knave of Hearts, but for the most part she’s a one woman show.
Over the span of Helena Bonham Carter’s career she’s been known to tackle a wide range of characters. She’s been the sweet optimistic girl, the careless free-spirit, and the beautiful sex symbol. In Alice she stars as the frightening villain, which makes you wonder if there’s a specific type of role she gravitates towards more than the other.
Because I’m older, I only get villains. It’s about whatever is well written and has somebody behind the camera that knows what they’re doing and is a really good storyteller.
In this case, the story was well known and versed by the general public so she knew exactly what she was getting into. It was the physical stuff, including the makeup and the digital work that surprised the actress. The Red Queen is known for having a big head but they wanted her body to still be petite. They went through several methods to get the ratio between the two just right.
Because they [journalists] go on about my head, but my waist is digitized. He [Burton] told me that right at the beginning. He said, ‘Don’t worry. You’re going to have it obviously. Don’t go for the full pull-in with the corset every morning.’ And so, I didn’t. And then, halfway through, he said, ‘You know, the waist is going to cost too much.’ So then, halfway through, suddenly I went for the pull and then luckily at the end somebody just told me ‘No, we did. We could do the waist.’
If Carter had to deal with that type of back and forth debate with her costume, we can only imagine what happened with her hair and makeup. The Red Queen has a very unique look, which took a couple of hours everyday to put complete.
They had to get rid of my hair line so you put a bald cap on, that takes about two-in-a-half-hours, then they have to paint it, and then they put my beauty make-up on, that took some time, and my huge wig, so yeah. They didn’t blow my head up every morning, they did that on the camera. I had this one camera, there are two cameras in the world that do this and they just blow your head up. That’s all it does. I had this huge camera dedicated to me. He [Burton] likes to deform me. I like it. I always like looking as different as I can.
Alice in Wonderland uses a lot of heavy CGI for the majority of the characters. There’s only a choice few that aren’t altered in a huge way, Anne Hathaway’s White Queen is a prime example. Every actor didn’t always have the opportunity to perform opposite a human being when the camera’s started rolling. Sometimes they had to improvise.
It was all green, but I don’t know, when you’re acting you have to imagine anyways. The unsung heroes of it are these various green people who gave us their lines off and we had real proper actors who were dressed in leotards. They gave us, if like for instance — I’ve only met Michael Sheen in the last 12-hours, I mean I have met him in life before, but he wasn’t there, I just had like a 12-inch drawing of a rabbit. Behind him was a green screen, green actor, that’s what we had to act opposite. I would have appreciated if [Sheen] would have come in his bunny outfit once, but he didn’t.
She also had to star opposite an unconventional version of Matt Lucas who starred as the Tweedles and talked about how Anne Hathaway improvised her own effects.
Matt had to be like always hunched over, on the floor, whenever I had to look at Matt, he was always in deepest conflict because he had to try to make himself smaller. [Hathaway] is the one who does her own special effects because she doesn’t have anything special done to her, she just does her own gliding, but Matt and me, and Crispin [Glover], I don’t know how he did it. He was on crutches, had no eye and somehow managed to remain upright, I don’t know how he did that. And you all have to act opposite tennis balls and bits of tape, but you do that anyway. Actually, tennis balls and bits of tape can be good actors, the minimal.
The movie has a lot of fantastical elements and does center on the basic story of Alice, but we wanted to know if Carter considered it a family film. There are a lot of Gothic themes and darker moments that take place that might scare small children.
Tim always has this theory that it’s us that have the problem, that we impose fears on our kids and the kids are actually quite robust. But it depends on your kid. I don’t know. We were trying to find a nursery school for our son, Bill. Apparently, according to the Montessori method, they can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy until age 6. They had recommended no fairytales so that’s why we didn’t send Bill to Montessori because having Tim Burton and fairytales and his world of ideas. Oh! Okay!
Alice in Wonderland debuts in theaters this Friday, March 5, 2010.