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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Helena Bonham Carter, Actor

“I suddenly realized that I was a character actress rather than a matinee idol.”

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Bonham Carter as Pandora in Dancing Queen.  

Very, very early on, my main inspiration was an actress friend of my parents called Lisa Harrow. My father fell in love with her — everybody had a crush on her, including my brothers. I just thought she was so glamorous and so beautiful, so I think she was an instant role model. And then I remember at school, one of my school friends, Carey Born, was on television. And I had a kind of envy really. But the main instinct was that I didn’t really want to be me. I wanted to reinvent myself, I suppose.

My first big part was Lady Jane and I thought, “Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing at all.” And then I did A Room With a View, fumbling around in the darkness, really muddled, genuinely confused, which was probably quite suitable for Lucy Honeychurch because it went on about her being muddled. And then that was a hit. But I was going, “Now I should really be doing something else that I’d be better at.” Then I played a stripper with a different accent, called Dancing Queen. I thought, “Oh, I think this is more like it.” I suddenly realized that I was a character actress rather than a matinee idol. That was the turning point — “Oh, I’m comfortable when I really don’t have to be me.” An accent for me is a real relief. It’s just fun, like putting on a new pair of shoes, and it makes you walk differently. It’s a thing that really does free you. With each job comes a different area. It’s like, “Oh, now I’m going to be a suffragette, oh, now I’m going to be a doctor, now I’m going to be a chemist.” It’s pretend — make-believe, really.

Carter’s most recent film is Suffragette.


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