Anyone acquainted with actress Helena Bonham Carter’s oeuvre probably expects corsets and bustles to accompany her every role. But recently the diminutive star has been putting her regal bone structure and posh accent to more eccentric uses, from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to “Wallace & Gromit.” This month the actress takes on one of her most contemporary (and costume-free) parts to date when she stars opposite Aaron Eckhart in “Conversations With Other Women.”
Shot and shown entirely in a “dual frame” mode, with two cameras for every take, the film explores the reunion of former lovers, Bonham Carter and Eckhart, who meet at a wedding in New York after decades have passed. The characters reminisce on what went wrong and where their lives have taken them since, while the split-screen format allows their inner thoughts to be revealed and their teenage affair to be reenacted.
“I thought it was the most intelligent and most literate thing that I’d read in ages,” says Bonham Carter. “Plus the fact that I could recognize the woman: she was subtle and multidimensional as opposed to the two dimensions you get — or maybe one — in most scripts. Also, an older woman. She was allowed to be late 30s. I’m just sick these days of the bad rap that age gets, when in fact, we should trendify age and make it fashionable.”
It’s easy to understand Bonham Carter’s frustration with what she calls Hollywood’s “strange sense of age — it’s almost like medieval times when people died at 40.” More than two decades into her career, the actress shows no signs of hitting a dead end, personally or professionally. She will soon begin filming “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” and lives with director Tim Burton, with whom she has a two-year-old child, Billy. The couple live in London in a house of two distinct styles.
“They were originally, before we joined them up, separate big artist studios. Now it just looks like a weird house with no decorative cohesion,” laughs Bonham Carter. Each side of the home is done in its respective dweller’s preferred taste. “He calls mine Beatrix Potter and he thinks his is James Bond, but I think differently,” she says, of Burton’s side, which is scattered with film memorabilia including dead Oompa Loompas.
This story first appeared in the August 3, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Bonham Carter recently added another property to the mix, buying the Oxfordshire Mill House estate that once belonged to her grandmother, Lady Violet Bonham Carter.
“It’s very ‘Howards End’-sy, a house coming back to its spiritual air,” she remarks, with a wry reference to one of her many period roles.
Film and domestic endeavors are not the only projects on her schedule, though. Earlier this year, the actress started a fashion company, Pantaloonies, with a friend, Samantha Sage, whom she met in prenatal class. Indulging the actress’ love of scrapbooks and crafts, Pantaloonies custom decorates jeans for clients.
“I really like making things with my hands and I was like, I really want to do something that’s not made out of me all the time, which is basically what acting is because the raw material is always self, self, self,” explains Bonham Carter, who has designed six pairs of jeans, including one with a Dorothy Parker patch.
Her entrée into the fashion industry might seem somewhat ironic to those who have witnessed the vortex of criticism that follows her every style move.
“I’ve got the worst reputation. That’s basically what my narrative in the British press is: how badly I dress. And I guess it’s because I’ve never been much of a conformist and I think so much of fashion is based on the idea that everyone, to be in fashion, has to conform to what’s ‘in’,” she sighs. “I went to the Oscars when I was about 18 and I just went and got something out of Top Shop and put everything together myself. Now, it’s like the fashion industry has really hijacked the film industry.”
Though she professes to have moved beyond the brutal style commentaries, Bonham Carter admits that Burton’s aesthetic has helped her of late, sartorially speaking.
“He really does have an eye and a sense of proportion and he gets what’s flattering and what isn’t,” she says. “I used to wear these clumpy shoes. And he’s trying to disabuse me of the fact that I thought it made my legs look longer. He said, ‘Absolutely the opposite.'”