“It’s brilliant and it’s very pragmatic, too,” Bonham Carter insists before giving pause to the idea that their setup offers the same combination of privacy and communality she had living in her parents’ home in her 20s. “That’s true, actually. I hadn’t thought of it like that. It’s like you’ve got the umbilical cord but also independence — separateness but togetherness. It’s perfect. Couldn’t recommend it more.” (She reveals that she and Burton are having work done to make the houses more connected, conveying the news with mock surprise. “Shock!” she gasps, wide-eyed. “ ‘What are you doing? You’re supposed to be living apart!’ ”)
As much as anything, the renovations are for the benefit of the couple’s children, Billy Ray, born in 2003, and Nell, born in 2007. “It’s such a relief,” Bonham Carter says of parenthood, which has proven a kick in the pants to the actor’s self-critical side. “So much less boring, so much more entertaining and fun to have greater interests than yourself. The other day I caught a bit of A Room with a View [on TV], and I just saw my son in me. I walked past and said, ‘Jesus, that’s Billy!’ It’s funny, I’m pretty allergic to watching myself, but now that I can see my son in me, or my daughter, it’s like, ‘Aww!’ ”
Bonham Carter has acted in each of Burton’s films since Planet of the Apes — from Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Alice in Wonderland. Their working relationship has been strained at times: During 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, she took to calling him Big Chief Little Patience; she, in turn, was dubbed Little Squaw Running Mouth. “We’ve gotten better — much better,” she reports. “We learned lots of commandments. The main thing is that we have to change our dynamic. Whereas at home, basically I’m the boss” — she breaks off to guffaw — “on set, I have to … keep my mouth shut and concentrate and not be a talkative irritant.”
This month’s Dark Shadows, the couple’s seventh movie together, is a reimagining of the supernatural daytime soap opera which ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971. An ensemble including Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Christopher Lee, Jonny Lee Miller and Chloë Grace Moretz is headed by Burton’s leading man of choice, Johnny Depp, who plays Barnabas Collins — a centuries-old vampire trying to reclaim his New England manor from a troubled modern family, headed by Michelle Pfeiffer.
Initially, Bonham Carter was slated to sit this one out. “Tim was saying, ‘You know what, let’s give it a miss, you and me working together. It’s getting a bit boring and predictable,’ ” she recalls. “And then he came back and said, ‘I’ve got a rather difficult admission: I’m going to have to change my mind because actually you are right for this part.’ What was scary was the absolute certainty — from not only Tim but the producer too — that of course I was right for the alcoholic psychiatrist.” She lets loose another hysterical laugh. “Also, I don’t think you turn down Tim Burton, even if you are with him and have two children.”