It’s difficult not to love Helena Bonham Carter: she’s witty, idiosyncratic, and a versatile, twice Oscar-nominated actress who’s played everyone from Dame Elizabeth Taylor to a female chimpanzee! Ahead of her appearance on this week’s episode of The Graham Norton Show, during which she’ll discuss her role as Princess Margaret on The Crown, here are some things you might not know about “HBC.”
1. She comes from a great political family.
Her paternal great-grandfather, H.H. Asquith, was a leader of the Liberal party who served as Prime Minister of the U.K. from 1908 to 1916. Asquith’s daughter, Violet Bonham Carter, Helena’s grandmother, was also a prominent Liberal politician who was close friends with Sir Winston Churchill. Meanwhile, Helena’s paternal grandfather, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, was a Spanish diplomat who helped thousands of Jews to escape from Nazi-occupied France during World War II.
2. Her father, Raymond Bonham Carter, a respected banker, suffered a stroke when Helena was 13, leaving him severely disabled.
Helena says this tragic incident explains her decision not to leave the family home when she became an successful actress. “I lived with my mum and dad till I was 30,” she told The Guardian in 2010. “Looking back, I’d been staying because of my dad – to try to make it better in some way. I thought, crazily, somehow, if I remain a child, I will make up for what happened to dad.”
3. She likens playing a character to having a “lodger” living inside her who “rearranges the furniture.”
She’s said that Dame Elizabeth Taylor, whom she portrayed in BBC America’s acclaimed 2013 miniseries Burton & Taylor, was one lodger who “stuck around.”
4. She auditioned to star opposite David Bowie in cult ’80s fantasy movie Labyrinth.
But the role of Sarah, a 15-year-old girl who heads into a labyrinth to find her baby brother, went to Jennifer Connelly.
5. She once gave a British theater critic a sassy clap-back.
When Helena starred in a West End revival of Pinero‘s Trelawny of the Wells in 1992, The Independent‘s Paul Taylor wrote that she “gives the sort of performance that makes you pine to be in the restricted visibility seating.” She responded by writing him a letter suggesting that next time he reviewed one of her plays, he should let her know in advance so she could guarantee him a restricted view seat.
6. She says of Colin Firth, her co-star in The King’s Speech: “I love [him dearly], but he talks too much.”
During a recent interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, she also shared her thoughts on past co-stars Brad Pitt, Rihanna, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Daniel Radcliffe, plus her The Crown co-star Olivia Colman.
7. She was cast in arthouse director Lars von Trier’s acclaimed 1996 movie Breaking the Waves.
But pulled out “at the very last minute,” according to von Trier, because the film was a “strange mix of religion and sex and obsession.” Emily Watson then took the role and earned an Oscar nomination for her performance.
8. She has no time for pretending to be “perfect.”
“I drink booze, I smoke, and I’m hooked on caffeine,” she famously said once. “I actually have been known to swear at times and belch and even raise my voice when provoked. And I’m not physically repressed!”
9. She’s a distant relative of the Duchess of Cambridge.
She and Duchess Catherine share the same great-great-great grandfather, who’s said to have been “a Yorkshireman who worked in the wool trade.”
10. When she was asked to play Princess Margaret on The Crown, she contacted the late Royal by psychic to seek her approval.
Apparently Margaret told Helena that she was a “better idea” for the role than another actress in contention. Check out Helena telling the story on Friday’s episode of The Graham Norton Show, which airs 11/10c on BBC America.
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