Helena Bonham Carter

Corpse Bride

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

“Kids love death. They need it, and they need to have stories which explain it, and a place to put their fears ”

An Oscar nod for period romance Wings Of The Dove (1998) opened up a world of possibilities for Helena Bonham Carter. She followed up with a much less demure turn in Fight Club (1999) and continued to mix it up in Tim Burton's remake of Planet Of The Apes (2001). She promptly fell in love with the wacky director and has since worked with him on Big Fish (2003), Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (2005) and stop-motion fairytale Corpse Bride. (She also lends her dulcet tones to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.)

You've worked with Tim Burton - your significant other - four times now. Does he treat you as he would any other actress on set?

I think Big Fish was the first thing we did together when we were 'together'. In fact I was pregnant with his child, and the first day he did completely ignore me. Ewan [McGregor] was on set and got all the small talk. He also got all the superlatives, whereas I got "Let's move on, that'll do." Tim did say that he didn't want to seem as if he had a favourite. I explained that Ewan wouldn't mind if he was nice to me. From the next day he was moving chairs for me, giving me cups of coffee and tea - the only time he's done that - but on the whole it's pretty normal. Sometimes he'll tell me to do things and sometimes I won't.

But he did make you audition for the role...

Yeah, he did, kind of. But in a way I think it's kind of nice and touching - well, maybe not touching. You need to have an objectivity sometimes. Of course I have to be right for something otherwise it would be appalling just to get a part because I sleep with him. Luckily I got the part so it was a happy ending.

Did you find any difference in the way things worked on Corpse Bride and Wallace & Gromit (both stop-motion films)?

Not really, it's still the same thing, everyone knows you record the voice first and so you're sort of creating the score to which they choreograph it all. Obviously you're there to please the animators and it's definitely a collaboration. The only thing with working with Nick [Park, director], they tend to be a bit more anal, the Aardman lot. They're ever so sweet, as any animator is, they're very polite. But I think they're happier working with dolls rather than people. They'll say. "That was marvellous," and you know that you're going to have to do it 80 more times. But of course they're going to be anal, because they're miniaturists, they do a second a day. They can hear nuances which you'd never hear. But it's fun, I love doing them. It's great because it also doesn't matter what you look like, and you get to play a range of parts that you'd never get to play in your own body.

Although Wallace & Gromit spoofs the horror genre, Corpse Bride takes a darker approach...

Fairytales have always got to have that scary quality, as long as you make them laugh. I think I watched something about Roald Dahl who said, "You can frighten them a bit, as long as you make them laugh at the same time." And Dahl was the darkest. I asked my Mum, who's very clever and a psychotherapist too, and she said that kids love death. They need it, and they need to have stories which explain it, and a place to put their fears. So.. actually it's a beautiful and a very comforting and joyous portrayal of what might be beyond.

The animators used footage from the sound booth to copy facial expressions. Is it unnerving to see aspects of yourself in Corpse Bride?

It was a lot less painful than watching myself, because I hate watching myself. In fact it was kind of a relief to watch Corpse Bride do it - maybe she can do every other part and I'll just phone the voice in! I can't really recognise myself, but there are the eyebrows. I've got hyperactive eyebrows, so maybe that's a legacy. I'm not blue obviously - except in certain lights - so I don't really know what she inherited from me. Actually Richard E Grant phoned me up, - he's an old friend - and said, "She's you, she's so obviously you!" And I said, "Oh. Thanks."

Corpse Bride is released in UK cinemas on Friday 21st October 2005.