Helena Bonham Carter took the stage and the hot seat at Bay Street Theatre on Saturday to tell the New York Daily News film critic Joe Neumaier what it's like to go to monkey school and having to audition for Stephen Sondheim even though she couldn't sing. The talk was part of the Hamptons International Film Festival's Conversation series.
The actress has been married for 12 years to Tim Burton, the quiet and idiosyncratic film director. On Saturday, she was very candid about their early years, not mentioning a recent photo of her husband kissing a "mystery blond" in the New York Post that she has debunked elsewhere as a cropped photo of a large group of people, including family and friends.
She said dating someone who says relatively nothing and is notoriously shy was a challenge. "I've often said there should be a home for all the abandonned sentences of Tim Burton," she noted. "It was a long courtship, very Victorian. When you are dating someone who doesn't say anything it's all very subtle. But eventually, we did get two kids."
The actress has appeared in films since the 1980s when she debuted in "Lady Jane" and became instantly iconic in "A Room with a View." She discussed her films such as "Plant of the Apes," for which she went to school to learn how to be an ape; "Fight Club," a comedy that no one really got; and "Sweeney Todd," which she said auditioning for was like being on "The X Factor" and "American Idol" for all the nerve-wracking callbacks she had to endure to finally convince Mr. Sondheim she was right for the part.
She stars in the BBC America production of "Burton and Taylor," which will premiere on the station on Wednesday. It was shown at the Sag Harbor theater on Saturday night where she sat down with the film's producer and director to discuss making it. Her version of Elizabeth Taylor at 50 years of age is seamless and uncanny at times. Those making the film wanted to be sure it was not just an impersonation and it times it appears that she is channeling the actress at a time just weeks before she would enter rehab.
The relationship the film chronicles includes Dominic West's strong portrayal of Richard Burton. There is a sense of the clash of the gods on Mount Olympus in the production as she sends the mere mortals around her hurtling out of cars and he continues to be called back to her always in her thrall, despite a happy relationship with another woman.
Ms. Bonham Carter said she found that her subject was both smart as well as sexy and she used the sing-song cadence and elongated vowels of her voice as a tool for manipulaton. That is part of the essence that she captures in the film.
An article containing more of the Bay Street interview will appear in this week's Star.