A Conversation with Helena Bonham Carter of "The Wings Of The Dove"
by Cheri Barner
After her debut at sixteen in “Lady Jane“, Helena Bonham Carter established
herself as one of England’s premier leading ladies. But after roles in
Merchant Ivory’s successful literary adaptations of E.M. Forester’s, “A Room With A View” and “Howard’s End“, Bonham Carter found herself typecast in
period pieces. Struggling to break the industry and the public’s view of
her as the “queen of the corset”, Bonham Carter began actively seeking more
contemporary roles, such as Woody Allen’s wife in “Mighty Aphrodite“, and the
miner’s widow in “Margaret’s Museum“. Here she talks about her latest role in
Ian Softly’s “The Wings Of The Dove” and why she chose to put on the corset
one more time.
indieWIRE: Is this your first time playing the bad guy?
Helena Bonham Carter: I don’t think (Kate Croy) is conventionally nasty.
When I read the script I thought she could be, but then I thought for it to
work we couldn’t just have that one reaction. “Oh, she’s a nasty femme
fatal, an evil incarnate character,” because you do have to care for her,
and care for Merton and her relationship, otherwise the end scene goes for
nothing. I’d have taken my clothes off for nothing. I felt it was very
important that people should have a chance at an ambivalent reaction to
her, and perhaps be somewhat confused by their own reaction. You know in
lots of movies you know exactly where you stand, you know exactly who’s the
baddy and who’s the goody, and in this way I thought it was more like real
iW: You mentioned taking your clothes off, were you at all worried about
doing the nude scene?
Bonham Carter: Well, I thought I could make a big deal of it and say
“is it right or is it wrong?” In England certainly, the tabloids make such
a big deal about it. I know that when I come out to the press there, it’s
going to be all about the nude scene and to hell with the rest of the
movie, and what it was about. Actually I’m innately not very prudish, and I
don’t really have a problem with taking my clothes off. As long as there is
a reason behind it, and as long as I didn’t feel I was exploiting myself,
then it was fine. And I thought pretty much from the start that there was a
very good reason for it, and that it could be powerful. You know the
alternative was shooting it as per in the novel, which was then around the
fireplace, but I thought it the reason for doing that scene in the way we
did do it was the crux of the whole idea behind doing the movie.
Reinventing a way perhaps, of doing period drama.
iW: In the past you’ve said you wanted to avoid doing more corset pieces,
was this “reinvented way” one of the reasons you chose to do the film?
Bonham Carter: Yup. (laughing) Get the corset off! That’s really why I did
it. Apart from the fact that I recognized that it’s a different kind of
character. But you know when I read it, to be honest, I thought, “No, I
shouldn’t do this.” But then I thought it’s a great story, and I thought of
Ian and his approach, and the script was very unliterary, and very
un-wordy; so I thought it might be a dynamite film and be very different.
So I justified my getting back in the corset again.
iW: Were you the only choice for the role?
Bonham Carter: Actually when I met Ian, it wasn’t an offer and I thought it
was, so I was being a bit blase, “Should I do it, or should I not?” And
then he said at the end, “Well, do you mind screen testing?” And I said
“Um, no.” I found out after, that he was worried that I was too old –
that’s when I got really interested. I thought it wouldn’t work with a
younger actress. I thought Kate was a mature woman, not a girl. So, I
proved I wasn’t quite over the hill.
iW: Did you read the novel?
Bonham Carter: I did try and read the novel. I did read to get information,
but this is a very free adaptation. I got more of an atmosphere. At one
point, it was getting confusing so with relief I put the book aside. Linus
didn’t buy the book, he just treated the script as an original script.
iW: Alison Elliot said she couldn’t finish the book either.
Bonham Carter: I saw her carrying around the book until the bitter end, in
ever optimism. Elizabeth McGovern, she got through it. She was the only one.
iW: But she has a very small role.
Bonham Carter: She had time to read it.
iW: No one else read it all the way through?
Bonham Carter: I suspect the screen writer did, but I’ve not complete
confirmation on that.
iW: You said that you don’t see Kate as the baddy, but she is manipulating
the other characters.
Bonham Carter: She’s a victim of her own manipulation herself. She’s caught
in an emotional blackmail, staying with her aunt in order to ensure the
welfare of her father. She’s prepared to give up the money for the love
when it’s just a matter of her own welfare. But when she realizes that it’s
her father, that her aunt has put one over on her — it’s just like a
chain, she manipulates in turn. Equally, it can be seen that Millie leaving
the money (to Merton) is the most manipulative gesture of all, because she
knows that by giving the money, she might ensure the breakup of the two.
iW: What do you look for in a project?
Bonham Carter: First of all a well written script, which is very rare, so
that usually strikes a few off immediately. And then the part, if it
compels me one in way or the other. And then the director. But you know,
different projects attract you for different reasons.
iW: What will you be doing next?
Bonham Carter: I did a thing called “The Revenger’s Comedies“, that’s with
Sam Neill, Kristin Scott Thomas and Rupert Graves. It is a contemporary
black comedy. Then I did a romantic comedy. I play Richard E. Grant’s
girlfriend. Then I did something called “Theory Of Flight“, it’s a very good
script by a first time writer. That is a sort of friendship story between
this man, and a girl who’s got motor neuron disease.