Why Helena Bonham Carter Takes So Many Weird Roles In Hollywood

Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) stands in the kitchen in 'Sweeney Todd'

Helena Bonham Carter has made bold choices throughout her career. From playing a talking ape in Planet of the Apes to helping Johnny Depp murder barbershop customers in Sweeney Todd, she’s had a knack for playing some pretty weird characters -- in fact, the only thing you can really expect from her is that she’ll do something unexpected. If you ask Helena Bonham Carter why her career has unfolded this way, she has a pretty interesting answer.

Not many people can say they’ve starred in one of the biggest cult classics of all time and gone wand-to-wand with Harry Potter. Helena Bonham Carter can, though, because she’s built her career on taking on some bizarre characters and completely owning them. In a recent roundtable discussion with THR, she explained that from the get-go, she found it challenging to fit into the Hollywood scene:

Well, way back 100 years ago when I started in the profession, I was very much an ingenue and appeared in a lot of costume dramas. That was my typecasting. And I remember I came to L.A. in my early 20s, and I just felt like such a freak because I knew I didn't have the legs to survive in L.A. And the parts that were available for women were just so bad. The only dimension was about your body, and I was very small and my legs weren't thin and I just thought, ‘Jesus.’

Her uncertainty over what a career in Hollywood would look like sounds like it must have been frustrating. She eventually found a way, though, to take roles in movies and still feel like she was staying true to herself, no matter how weird the role was:

So when Tim Burton, who I ended up having two children with, phoned me up and wanted me to be a chimpanzee [in 2001's Planet of the Apes], I thought, ‘Thank Christ, somebody is casting me for not what my envelope is.’ So even though the script was terrible, I thought, ‘I've got to play a chimpanzee in a Tim Burton film because I'm getting out of my skin,’ which is all I want to do. I want to crawl out of this envelope and be somebody else. And I always think I’m doing it and then I watch five minutes and I give up quickly because I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m still me.’ But very early on, when I could, I started just doing everything that was different. Not for the sake of being different, but I always knew that I was, at heart, a character actor and I didn’t want to be the lead. I was in A Room With A View when I was an embryo. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but I was learning on the job.

It’s cool to hear her perspective on this -- that she knows who she wants to be as an actress and that her decisions have been driven by that knowledge. It’s also an important reminder that Helena Bonham Carter’s filmography is stacked with a wide range of roles. For every Fight Club or Dark Shadows, there’s a The King’s Speech or Howard’s End. So yeah, maybe she can be a little weird sometimes -- that’s just more proof of her immense talent.

What’s your favorite Helena Bonham Carter movie? Let us know in the comments!

Katherine Webb