Helena Bonham Carter spent years covering her ankles in all of that period garb. Now, as the female chimp lead in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, she is able to hide much more, as she jokingly confides in Part 2 of Paul Fischer’s in-depth look at one of the most anticipated films of the Summer.
Helena Bonham Carter had good reason to look exhausted. So would YOU be if you had done 66 television interviews the day before,” the 35 year old British actress exclaims. Yet simply attired in a short black dress, dangling a cigarette in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, Bonham Carter was not all that reticent about playing a chimp in Tim Burton’s revisionist interpretation of Planet of the Apes. “It’s either one of those things where you think about it a LOT and make a decision over, or say: Fuck it, I’m going to do it.”
Suffice it to say, the latter argument won the day. “It ended up being an easy decision because I thought: I can’t NOT do it given that Tim phoned me up and said: Don’t get me wrong but you were the first person I thought of.” Bonham Carter adds that she couldn’t resist playing a chimpanzee because “it’s the kind of part I’ll never be asked to do again ” Set in the year 2020, the new Apes has pilot Mark Wahlberg stranded on a gloomy planet run by militarist Apes, some of whom are determined to rid the planet of its sub-human population. He is eventually helped by Bonham Carter’s sympathetic chimp who strongly believes in the equivalent of racial equality.
Making Apes was no easy task for the actress who had to endure 6 hours of make up, beginning at 2 a.m. Bonham Carter says that what kept her awake during that process was that “the whole experience of doing this film was so surreal, because I knew that it was going to be this perpetual climate of absurdity throughout, then it became even more absurd because it suddenly felt normal to be woken up at 2 and have people reset one’s upper lip and say: Oh God my chin’s falling off or can I have my teeth? The whole thing became rather strange.”
The process, she explains, “was just basically a patchwork of rubber and glue, just very painstakingly applied with bits of rubber and lots of facial hair; my entire head was covered in rubber.” Through this entire make up, Bonham Carter also had to create a performance, and encapsulate a believable character. Achieving this, she explains, “was a mixture of traits, beginning with your eyes, which is really the most important thing. Then there’s the physical stuff. A chimp obviously smells a lot and there’s a lot of that, tempered with the less-is-more notion in film, trying to do big things but be subtle at the same time. It was quite the juggling act.”
Comparing this film to the original 1968 classic, she aggress with the film’s producer Richard Zanuck, that this Apes is more simplistic and entertaining than the original. “It’s less seriously intended than the original, I think, and probably less political. On the other hand, if I’m in the middle of something I don ‘t think about those issues.” Though the actress does admit being a fan of the Heston original. “I thought it was a very beautiful and also quite complex film, but ours merely borrowed the title and premise; it’s a completely different story. If anyone could get away with doing that it’s Tim, whose imagination is perfect for this material.”
Ironically, Bonham Carter’s career began in the past – literally. Having made her screen debut in Lady Jane, the actress became personified with quaint period dramas of the likes of Room with a View, Howard’s End and Wings of the Dove. Now here she is in a futuristic drama where it’s not her ankles that are covered up. “With this one, I just moved up”, she adds laughingly. “I’m obviously masochistic because I have different types of constrictions.” Yet, she adds, those types of constrictions have benefited her acting. “I’m the kind of actor who has ventured into escaping from me, in a weird way, which is why it was so good to play a chimp, because every time I THINK I’ve lost myself in a character I look at it and think: Oh, it’s ME again, but I wasn’t aware of that at all in this case.”
18 years since her debut in Lady Jane, Bonham Carter has grown in stature as one of England’s brightest stars. With success comes celebrity, and despite her more recent high profile relationship with Kenneth Branagh, Bonham Carter remains fiercely protective over her private life. “I’m terribly shy about that stuff. I mean it’s different when you’re an actor and playing a part, but when it’s just you, you feel immensely vulnerable have strangers prodding and prying, as it were.”
Bonham Carter is happier talking about her work, such as in the upcoming Australian film ‘Till Human Voices Wake Us, which she shot in Melbourne just prior to Apes. “I was going from one extreme to the other.” A very low budget, gentle and lyrical film, Bonham Carter stars opposite Guy Pearce in this story about an amnesiac woman mysteriously linked to a seemingly cold and isolated psychiatrist. “I had a great time working in Australia and Guy is such an amazing actor to work with.” The actress will also soon be seen in the new Steve Martin film Novocaine, also featuring Steve Martin. As for Miss Bonham Carter’s plans to do an Apes sequel, all she will say is “let’s see what happens with this one.” This is one actress who at present is content to monkey around until the right part comes her way.