Helena Bonham Carter gasps, throwing herself onto a sofa in a café near her North London home, the black flaps and folds of her clothes flying. She’s in a characteristically striking Gothic-cute outfit — chic jacket over knee-length floral-print skirt, mismatched knitted stockings and clumpy boots, all of it black — and not in obvious need of the double espresso she orders.
Praised for her offbeat portrayals and infamous for her style, Helena Bonham Carter knows she’s a little unorthodox. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Apropos of nothing, she describes an innovation she has been pondering. “I’m always coming up with ideas for apps — I love apps!” she says. “So many times, you send a text or email and regret sending it. This would let you retrieve it before it gets there. It’s called Boomerang, ’cause boomerangs come back. That would have saved my life!”
She gives a throaty cackle, her beautiful, lightly lined face convulsing beneath a mass of dark hair. Great idea, I suggest, adding that perhaps, 25 years of acting notwithstanding, she’s in the wrong game. “Oh, I’ve always been in the wrong game,” she says with a chuckle. “I’ve known this for years, indisputably! As long as other people are ready to employ me as an actor, I’ll keep on doing it, ’cause it’s fun and very well paid, but … ” She pauses. “… everyone, I think, is pursued by a sense of impostordom. If you ever think you’re not an impostor, you’re probably rather bad at what you do.” She erupts in another fit of laughter.
Bonham Carter has posh vowels, but her raucous, confiding, self-deprecating manner immediately dismisses any lingering notion of her being buttoned up or closed off. During our hourlong conversation, she dismisses a call from her agent with good-natured swearing, and a text message from her partner with a shrug (“It’s Tim Burton — he wants me, but never mind”), and she frequently proffers her pink-bunny-eared cellphone to show off photos from recent on- and off-set escapades. There’s one of her posing next to a model of her own corpse (“Can you tell which is which?”); her and her kids gaping at the balloon Burton designed for last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; her in a wedding gown and burned-skin makeup (“It was so sticky!”); the faux New England harborside set of her latest film, Dark Shadows, constructed at Pinewood Studios outside London (“It was like going to Maine without a passport — the only thing missing was seagulls”).
You might expect more reserve from someone so famous, but that’s the thing about Bonham Carter: You never know what to expect. For years she was synonymous with the period-costumed literary and historical dramas that made her famous as a teenager, such as Lady Jane, A Room with a View, Howards End and The Wings of the Dove (Dove earning the actress her first of two Oscar nominations). Her offscreen pedigree fed the association: Born in 1966, she was raised in comfort in leafy Golders Green, an upscale district in North London. Her father, Raymond Bonham Carter, was a banker whose uncle was the director Anthony Asquith and whose grandfather had been Liberal Prime Minister H.H. Asquith; her mother, Elena, is sensitive and beautiful.