In Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Helena Bonham Carter portrays Iracebeth, the Red Queen; the tyrannical monarch of Underland – the real name of the country that Alice misheard as a child. With an oversized head and a blistering temper she is often heard screaming, ‘Off with their head,’ whenever anyone displeases her.
This is the fifth movie she has collaborated on with her husband, Tim Burton, and at the press day for the film in Hollywood, it was obvious that the actress was having a good time.
I loved your big head in this.
I’m not as inflated (today). Maybe that’s why Tim gave me the job. I’m one of the few actresses who can blow up their head.
Can you talk about the challenges of doing this against green screen?
It was all green. When you’re acting you kind of have to imagine anyway, but the unsung heroes of it are these various green people that gave us the lines off(stage). We had real proper actors who would dress in leotards; didn’t look at their best but they gave us the lines.
I’ve only met Michael Sheen in the last 12 hours. I’ve met him in life before but he wasn’t there (physically on this movie). I had a 12-inch drawing of a rabbit but, behind him was this green screen actor so that’s what we had to act opposite. I would have appreciated it if Michael had come in a bunny outfit once, but he didn’t!
And then Matt (Lucas) had to always be hunched over on the floor (playing Tweedledee and Tweedledum), every time I had to look at Matt, he was always in deep discomfort because he always had to try to make himself smaller.
Crispin (Glover, who plays the Knave of Hearts), I don’t know how he did it. He was on crutches, only had one eye and somehow remained upright. We all had to act opposite tennis balls and bits of tape, actually tennis balls and bits of tape can be good actors.
You have sympathy for the Red Queen at the end of this I think.
Oh, thank you.
I heard you had to spend hours in the make-up chair each day. What was the problem?
You see the problem! (she laughs) Speak to my husband. It wasn’t that long. I just said hours for the sympathy effect but it was only two and a half hours. I did an exaggeration I guess. But they put a bald cap on to get rid of my hairline then have to paint it and put my beauty make-up on, that took some time, then my huge wig.
They didn’t blow my head up every morning. They did that on camera. There are two cameras in the world that do this; they just blow your head up. I had this huge camera dedicated to me, which was fine by me.
Was it longer than the make-up for Planet of the Apes?
No, that was much longer. That was four hours. He (Tim) likes to put make-up on me, likes to deform me. I love it. I always like looking as different as I can.
As a mom, what do you think is an appropriate age for kids to see this film?
I don’t know what age. We impose fears on our kids and the kids are actually quite robust. So, it depends on your kid. We haven’t shown it to Billy (age 6) yet because it wasn’t finished until a few days ago, so I don’t know. When we were trying to find a nursery school for our son Bill, according to the Montesorri method, (kids) can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy until age six. She recommended no fairy tales, so that’s why we didn’t send our son to Montesorri because telling Tim Burton that fairy tales are not a good idea is (bad)!
What was everyone in your family’s reaction when they first saw you in costume?
My little daughter, who was only one, just went ‘Mommy!’ That’s what I look like at home, but it was bizarre. But my son, slightly frailer and sensitive, he just didn’t want to look at me.
You’ve played everything from sex symbols to villains. Do you gravitate more to one than the other?
Thank you. Is this the sex symbol one, frightening sex symbol? Actually somebody did approach me in the lift today because they found me attractive with a big head. No, the older I get, I only get villains at the moment but whatever is well-written and has a good somebody behind the camera who knows what they’re doing, and is a really good storyteller… I’ll act anything.
Tim did digitize my waist. Did anyone notice that? They go on about my head but my waist is digitalized. He told me from the beginning, ‘Don’t worry. Don’t go for the full pull in with the corset every morning,’ so I didn’t. Then halfway through says, ‘You know? The waist is going cost too much.’ So halfway through I suddenly went for the pull and then luckily, someone told me, ‘We can do the waist.’